Remote and hybrid work have emerged as the new reality for organizations around the world. A recent EY study reveals that nine in ten respondents want flexibility in where and when they work, and researchers at Stanford University say that 20 percent of full workdays will be supplied from employees at home after the pandemic ends, compared with just 5 percent pre-pandemic. Yet there remains a deeply rooted perception among managers that remote workers are not as motivated as their non-remote colleagues.
This leads to a pressing question for the future of work: how can employers preserve the benefits of hybrid and remote arrangements while ensuring managers feel supported and teams run effectively?
The answer comes down to one crucial element—trust.
The disconnect between managers and workers is often rooted in an overall lack of communication, transparency, and trust. For leaders who seek to reap the rewards of a hybrid workplace that fosters psychological safety, it is critical that they understand the role that trust plays in their success. This knowledge can empower frontline managers to build two-way trust within their teams, equipping them for greater success in the ongoing rise of hybrid and remote work. Research suggests that four steps are essential.
Build relationships with regular check-ins
According to a study of the 360-degree assessments of 87,000 leaders, three elements are the foundation for workplace trust: positive relationships, good judgment/expertise, and consistency. Managers can apply these elements to the specific challenges and opportunities of leading hybrid or remote teams. Since these teams are geographically distant, frontline managers must try to create a personal, positive, and consistent relationship with each team member.
To do this, managers can regularly check in with team members to discuss their work, goals, and any challenges they are facing with remote or hybrid arrangements. By giving each person the chance to share, managers can make informed decisions for how to best lead the team by “taking the temperature.” When managers demonstrate concern for employees’ challenges and mental health, they lay the groundwork for them to feel safe enough to share requests for accommodations—key to both mental health and effective collaboration.
Tailor strategies to individual needs
Not everyone builds trust the same way. Researchers say people generally fall into one of two categories: “automatic trusters” (people who trust by default) and “evidence-based trusters” (people whose default is distrust, until trustworthiness is proven). Employees who are evidence-based trusters need to accumulate experiences to build and reinforce trust. Frontline managers must be flexible when building and maintaining trust and avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Furthermore, in examining what kind of “truster” they are, managers will be able to have more understanding and compassion for the trust needs of their employees.
Send messages of trustworthiness
What is the best way frontline managers can demonstrate trustworthiness? In a word, communication. We know that disingenuous communication makes it difficult for employees to trust managers, so being honest and transparent will give employees more evidence of trustworthiness. Communicating during times of change is necessary, but maintaining trust relies on steady, consistent communication at all times.
Rather than checking up on employees and making them feel micromanaged, managers can schedule regular times to individually check in with the goal of providing guidance, sharing recent wins, and providing clarity on the direction of the company. The predictability of a standing meeting creates a sense of stability, which can go a long way towards building trust. The more employees trust frontline managers, the less likely that trust will be broken.
Strive for inclusion and support neurodiverse employees
As we move into the last six months of 2021, leaders who seek to build workplaces that center psychological safety must recognize how trust sits at the intersection of two truths: remote and hybrid work is here to stay, and these forms of work are often more inclusive. More companies are discovering the benefits of hiring neurodiverse employees, and crucial support for these employees is the flexibility to work from home. It is also likely these employees will need accommodations as leaders continue to adapt to and improve approaches to remote and hybrid work.
Workers, frontline managers, teams and organizations will benefit from prioritizing trust as hybrid and remote work reshape workplaces and work arrangements. A focus on trust means that teams will function at high levels because employees know that concern for their experience matters to the company—and their sense of employee loyalty will flourish.