Returning to the Office Provides an Opportunity to Demonstrate Trust
Organisations have an opportunity to intentionally increase trust with their people by the open and collaborative way they handle plans for people returning to the office, says trust expert Randy Conley.
“As a leader, you have a choice on where to invest your energy. You can do it through micromanaging and strictly enforcing everyone's work schedules—or you can spend your time empowering your people, investing in them, trusting them, and helping them achieve their goals, regardless of whether they're sitting in a nearby office or joining a Zoom call from home.
“A large percentage of people have enjoyed the freedom and work-life balance that working from home has provided. They are concerned about losing some of these positive changes as companies begin to roll out their plans for returning to the office.”
Sending people home at the start of the pandemic was a great trust experiment, says Conley.
“Organisations were forced to extend trust to their people. There was no more physical monitoring. The norm of everyone showing up at the office at 9:00 a.m. was broken.
“The good news is, by all accounts we've seen, the ‘experiment’ was a great success! Leaders and their teams found new ways to work and were amazed by not only the increase in productivity but also the satisfaction with their life and work situation.”
So what do organisations do now? Continue to build in that direction—or collectively exhale that it went well, bring everyone back to the office, and return to the old ways?
“I think that train has left the station,” says Conley. “Employees have had a taste of a new way of working and they want certain aspects of it to continue. They're not willing to go back to the old life. If their organisation doesn’t want to make a change, many will look for something else or stay only until a better opportunity comes along.”
This has employers worried about losing their best talent as well as finding new talent in the future, says Conley.
“It’s a very practical concern. I think a lot of old-school mentality leaders still believe the office is where people need to be to do their work.
“It's dangerous to generalise around this topic. Leaders have a lot of sticky issues to work through. It’s important to take some time to think things through, be open, share information, and make decisions based on data—not on old-school mindsets or ideas.
“If you have data points that support onsite collaboration and productivity, make sure your team understands that. Conversely, if your data supports remote work, share that. Have an open dialogue about it. Involve people in the change and the decision-making process.”
The key to creating this atmosphere of open dialogue is building a culture with high trust. That begins with connectedness, says Conley.
“Go slow. Tread lightly. Unless you have a rock-solid reason for bringing back people immediately without their feedback, take it slowly and involve them in the process. Let them know you're hearing their concerns.”
Another leader behaviour that builds trust is having clear expectations, says Conley.
“Be explicit about what the hybrid work model will look like for your team. How many days per week are people expected to be in the office? Are some days mandatory? The more you can spell out the details, the more confident people will be about complying with team norms.
“During times like these, it’s important to build on the trust we extend to each other in how we get our work done. By setting clear expectations, involving everyone in the process, soliciting feedback, and staying flexible as leaders, we can better enjoy the progress we’ve made and will continue to make as we move into the future.”
About the author:
Vicki Stanford is a marketing director for The Ken Blanchard Companies.