Remote working has brought the issue of trust into focus for both employers and employees. Workforces are now more than 12 months into remote working, and ongoing vaccinations will mean that many business leaders are looking forward and planning ahead for a return to work. And while the expectation of return to work differs across industries, the general perception is that flexible working will become the norm.
So, in a time where employees are likely to still spend a good proportion of their time away from the office, what can organisations do to instil trust and confidence in this new reality?
Provide employees with autonomy – During the pandemic, adopted cutting-edge employee monitoring software has provided managers and leaders with data-driven insights into their workforce’s productivity. However, this has been perceived by some employees as invasive and showing a lack of trust, resulting in resignations. With employees expected to be working from home in some capacity for the foreseeable future, how do business leaders illustrate their trust while ensuring productivity is maintained?
Providing autonomy. Employees need to feel some semblance of independence when performing their day-to-day duties. Otherwise, managers and business leaders fall into the common pitfall of micro-management. Research has found that employees who were given more control of their schedule and workflow benefitted from increased motivation, engagement and loyalty. By holding weekly 1:1s with team members to outline objectives, and then providing each individual with the autonomy to complete their work within an agreed timeline, managers can demonstrate their trust while ensuring deadlines and targets are still met.
Adapting expectations – Research has found that 44% of women believe they’ve taken on more domestic responsibilities than their partner during the pandemic, while its also been found that searches for ‘parental burnout’ have increased 5000% in the last two months, compared to 2020. In light of these findings, it’s become clear that organisations need to be more flexible in their expectations of when and how their employees work. Business leaders can neither expect employees to always be available throughout the day, nor can they judge productivity by how long an employee is sat at their computer.
Employers therefore need to provide clear communications outlining the organisation’s understanding that it may not be possible to work standard hours. Providing empathic communications can help put employees’ minds at rest, while showcasing the business’s trust in its workforce to maintain performance levels, even in the face of challenging situations. Furthermore, research has found that by encouraging regular 5-minute micro-breaks, whereby people step away from their computer, managers can help significantly reduce fatigue in employees working from home – further highlighting organisational trust and support for its colleagues while maintaining performance levels.
Manager conversations – It’s inevitable that following a whole year of remote working, any plan to return to the office will come with some questions and objections from employees. After all, The Times found that 49% of surveyed employees would consider changing job if they aren’t allowed to work in their preferred location post-pandemic. So, how do organisations ensure that employees buy into the idea of office-based work, and don’t perceive it as an illustration of distrust from their employer?
Business leaders will need to ensure that managers are sufficiently trained and equipped with the necessary knowledge to hold conversations with their teams on an individual basis. Each employee will have experienced the pandemic in their own way, and will therefore have unique concerns and thoughts around returning to work. In turn, managers will need to deploy active listening techniques to address these queries, while clearly stating the business case for a return to office regime. Has business performance dropped during remote working? Are clients still expecting face-to-face interactions? And is the wasted office space affecting profitability?
It’s answers to these questions that managers will need to be equipped with in order to generate buy-in from employees. Each individual will then better understand that there is a genuine business need for them to be back in the office, and that it is not a reflection of their performance as an individual.
In a world where so much has changed in the short space of 12 months, employees need reassurance that they are valued and trusted by their employer. And as many organisations begin preparations for a return to the workplace, flexibility, empathy and good communication are all going to be key to ensuring employee engagement and motivation.