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Trust is imperative to the future of hybrid work

HR Directors find themselves at the forefront of workplace transformation, navigating the uncharted waters of hybrid and remote working models. While some organisations have embraced this change with open arms, others have struggled to adapt, revealing a deep chasm between high-trust and low-trust cultures.

The pandemic has catalysed a seismic shift in the world of work, challenging long-held beliefs about productivity, engagement, and equality. HR Directors find themselves at the forefront of this transformation, navigating the uncharted waters of hybrid and remote working models. While some organisations have embraced this change with open arms, others have struggled to adapt, revealing a deep chasm between high-trust and low-trust cultures.

The Great Divide

Gartner’s recent findings paint a stark picture of the current landscape, with the ongoing polarisation of views on where work is best done forcing hybrid work into the “trough of disillusionment.” For many employees who believed they had proven that the conventions of time and location were irrelevant to their productivity, this threatens a return to the old ways and the loss of newly gained autonomy.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, 85% of leaders say the shift to hybrid work has eroded their confidence in workers’ productivity. This lack of trust has prompted some high-profile companies, such as Netflix, Deutsche Bank, and Goldman Sachs, to demand a return to the office, sending shockwaves through the business world.

The Power of Trust

Amidst this turmoil, some organisations have emerged as beacons of hope, demonstrating the transformative power of trust in the hybrid work era. HSBC, for example, has been recognised as a pioneer in hybrid work models, recently winning the Personnel Today inaugural Hybrid Working Award. Similarly, companies like Asana, ClickUp, Salesforce, Microsoft, and Facebook have all reported significant benefits from embracing hybrid work, citing improved productivity, wellbeing, and engagement.

The secret to their success? A deep-rooted culture of trust. According to a recent Harvard Business Review study, organisations with high-trust cultures have found it far easier to enable hybrid working than those with traditional command-and-control structures. By fostering a culture of autonomy, empowerment, and accountability, these organisations have laid the groundwork for a smooth transition to remote work.

The Cost of Control

In stark contrast, low-trust organisations have struggled to let go of the reins, often resorting to micromanagement and surveillance tactics in a misguided attempt to ensure productivity. This approach has not only eroded employee morale but has also undermined the very benefits that hybrid working promises to deliver.

The lack of trust in these organisations has given rise to a culture of control, with managers relying on invasive monitoring tools and rigid schedules to enforce compliance. This not only strips away the flexibility and autonomy that are the hallmarks of successful hybrid working but also perpetuates the very issues that led to the rise of remote work in the first place.

It’s worth remembering that even before the pandemic, productivity was on a downward spiral, and work-related stress and burnout were reaching epidemic levels. For many employees, the shift to hybrid working has provided a much-needed escape from the pressures of the traditional workplace, opening up new possibilities for work-life balance and wellbeing.

Navigating the New Normal

For HR Directors, the challenge is to chart a course through this uncharted territory, creating a culture that enables the success of hybrid working. This requires a fundamental shift in mindset, from viewing employees as resources to be managed to seeing them as valued partners in the organisation’s success. But this isn’t as easy as it sounds, as many HR Directors find themselves the meat in the sandwich between powerful senior leaders who want to turn the clock back and modern, tech-savvy employees who want the freedom to work where and when is most appropriate.

HR Directors need to navigate their organisations to achieve a culture of trust and empowerment, investing in employees, building competence and providing them with the support they need to thrive. This includes equipping them with the tools and infrastructure necessary for effective remote work, as well as offering training and development opportunities to help them adapt to new ways of working.

It also means letting go of outdated notions of productivity and embracing new metrics that prioritise outcomes over hours logged. By focusing on results rather than presence, we can create a more inclusive and equitable workplace that supports the diverse needs and aspirations of our workforce.

Crucially, we must recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid working. Each organisation and team must chart its own path within an agreed-upon framework, taking into account its unique culture, values, and operational requirements. This demands a willingness to experiment, iterate, learn, and adapt, as well as a commitment to continuous learning and improvement.

The Trust Imperative

As we stand at this critical juncture, it’s clear that the future of work hinges on our ability to build and maintain trust. By prioritising trust, empowerment, and accountability, we can unlock the full potential of hybrid working and create organisations that are more resilient, adaptable, and successful in the face of change.

The ‘trust’ word is often used, but what does it really mean? The Oxford Dictionary defines truth as being a ‘firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something’. So, it’s a belief that you can rely on the information, messages, behaviours of the organisation, leaders and colleagues. There is a competence component to it, too. It’s difficult to rely on the information and knowledge of someone who may be reliable but is not competent enough to undertake a task.

It’s interesting to place your team members on the Trust model below because sometimes they are perceived as not being ‘trustworthy’ because they are not competent enough to work without instant face-to-face support. In other cases, they are competent but are perceived as being untrustworthy because they don’t deliver on time or the right quality of work or don’t show up on time or don’t deliver on their promises. This can perhaps be because of their over-optimism on timescales, lack of respect.

And as we know trust is hard won and easily lost, so it needs to be front and centre of organisational values and culture and protected.

This is not just a business imperative but a moral obligation. We have a unique opportunity to shape the future of work and create a more humane, fulfilling, and equitable workplace for all. By leading with trust, we can not only navigate the challenges of hybrid working but also lay the foundation for a brighter, more prosperous future – for our organisations, our employees, and society as a whole.

The road ahead may be uncertain, but one thing is clear: the organisations that prioritise trust will be the ones that thrive in the new world of work. HR Directors have the power and the responsibility to lead this charge and to create a better, more trust-driven future for all. The question is, are HR Directors ready and equipped to rise to the challenge?

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