It’s a Matter of Trust

Early in the pandemic, organisations with office workers scrambled to allow them to work from home. Many leaders and managers saw it only as a short-term crisis response. To everybody’s surprise, productivity increased and many people enjoyed working from home – and want that to continue one or two days a week.

This is a hybrid team, which – broadly speaking – employees love and managers hate. For those managers, it’s the next necessary evil, and they will do everything they can to bring everybody back into the office as soon as possible. For more open-minded leaders, the hybrid team offers new opportunities for the workplace of the future.

We’re seeing this now, where Australian CBDs are steadily moving towards getting people back into the office. Most of the talk is about safer offices, protecting against possible COVID-19 clusters in office environments, and OH&S responsibilities for employer.

These are all important issues, but the real issue with letting people work from home is trust.

Many leaders and managers have spent all their professional life working in an office, so they just don’t know how trust works with people they can’t see.

Some even admit it!

In July 2020, Harvard Business Review published research that said about 40% of leaders and managers aren’t confident they can manage workers remotely.

Harvard Business Review research says about 40% of leaders and managers aren’t confident they can manage workers remotely.

Some admit they themselves are part of the problem, because they:

  • Can’t coordinate remote workers effectively
  • Can’t manage remote workers effectively
  • Don’t have confidence to influence remote workers

Others think their staff are also not capable. The leaders:

  • Believe remote workers usually perform worse
  • Think they don’t have the skills to work remotely
  • Are sceptical they will remain motivated

That leads to crazy workplace ideas.

Many leaders try to fix this in the wrong way – for example, with pointless Zoom/Teams meetings or random phone calls that interrupt productive work. Some even force people to keep their webcam on all day (yes, this is a real thing!) or install monitoring software that proves people are at their desk.

For example, one employee said:

“If you’re idle for a few minutes, a pop-up will come up on your screen saying, ‘You have 60 seconds to start working again’.”

All of these are inappropriate solutions, because you’re trying to fix your discomfort with feeling disconnected by adding extra monitoring.

The better solution is to build trust.

The better solution is to change your focus from process to outcome, from activity to results, and from inputs to outputs. When you work in an office, you subconsciously measure inputs, such as when people arrive (especially if it’s late), when they leave (especially if it’s early), and whether they’re ‘busy’.

You can’t do this with a hybrid team because you can’t see everybody’s inputs. You must rely on their outputs instead. Instead of monitoring their processes, activity and time spent, measure the results they achieve, the quality of their work, and their contribution towards your goals.

As Chris Dyer, CEO of PeopleG2, says:

“We let our team members set their own hours as long as goals are met, trusting they know when they perform at their best.”

It’s not easy to change this mindset, because you have probably become unconsciously competent in the old way. With a hybrid team, it’s tempting to focus on the in-office team members. But that hurts collaboration and productivity in the short term, and damages your team culture in the long term. Make a conscious effort to measure and reward everybody based on their results.

Just as an airline pilot needs different leadership skills than a ship’s captain, you need different leadership skills to lead and build a thriving culture in a hybrid team.

The first step is to recognise that. The second is to decide to do things differently.

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