Is Remote Work Creating a Trust Crisis?
November 29, 2021
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by Stephen Kanyi

Remote work is here to stay, that much is certain. Despite many companies having switched to remote work as an adaptation to pandemic lockdowns, most have retained it as their mode of operation, at least for the foreseeable future.

The question now is whether remote work is suitable and sustainable for the future or will it prove to be a failed experiment. Only time will tell. However, one of the most important ‘variables’ with which we can use to determine the effectiveness of remote work is trust.

Trust is the most important aspect of any team. It is only with trust that a group of individuals can depend on each other to do their part and also help teammates as they strive to achieve a set objective. Trust is the oil that lubricates every cog in the modern organisation.

The challenge, therefore, for companies that are now adopting remote work is to ensure that the shift does not erode trust.

When trust breaks down at the workplace

For employees, a breakdown in trust between team members means that your manager cannot rely on you to deliver quality work and in a timely manner. This is normally manifested in the form of increased supervision, decreased flexibility, more meetings and eventually job loss way down the line.

Trust goes both ways; a fact that many managers fail to accept. What happens when employees don’t trust their managers? Fear, loss in productivity, communication breakdowns and zero accountability are just some of the negatives that creep in.

Remote Work Breaking Down Trust?

A study by Qatalog published a survey of 2000 knowledge workers uncovered a crisis of trust within the modern workplace which was fueled by a chronic lack of visibility within companies. The study claimed that remote work was feeding this chronic lack of visibility within the workplace.

Such lack of visibility means that good work will often go unrecognized. Almost a third of the interviewees reported that was the case for their workplaces. One in ten felt that their positive contributions were completely ignored.

About two-thirds of interviewed remote workers reported a lack of visibility which is creating blind spots and silos across companies. Furthermore, about 63 percent of workers said that they found it harder to build trust with their colleagues in a remote environment.

40 percent also found it hard to manage work across distributed teams. This can be brought down to complacency and underinvestment by employers, an estimate corroborated by about 34 percent who said that their employer had not adequately invested in tools and policies needed to support remote or flexible work.

Perhaps the most damning statistic above all was that about 47 percent of workers felt that it was easier to get promoted if one spends more time at the office.

“Employees feel valued when they know how their work fits into the bigger picture and are given the space to work on their own terms. That’s hard when the workplace is so fragmented and visibility is so poor. To fix this, employers must be intentional about helping teams work with a shared perspective even when they’re not in the room together,” said Tariq Rauf, founder and CEO of Qatalog.

Despite these damning statistics, there are still reasons to believe that remote work may actually be helping build trust in the workplace.

For one, while remote work makes supervision harder it also leaves the onus on the employee to manage his/her own productivity. This means that work will be assessed less on time spent on the computer but more result-driven. Managers will be able to weed out less driven employees leaving only the most committed and hard-working employees who are far easier to manage.

Also, less supervision encourages flexible working and upend rigid hierarchies while at it. In a remote working model, traditional hierarchies seem to fall down as there are no physical walls and private offices separating employees at different levels. With online work the organization becomes flat and there is more or less an open line of communication. Lower-level employees will be able to communicate freely with their managers and thus be able to build trust within the organization.

Remote work is by no means a perfect model and requires quite a bit of tinkering to make it work for everyone. Whatever its flaws even in building trust managers should not throw the baby with the bathwater by discarding the whole model completely but rather mold it to make it work for every employee.

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