Employee collaboration and trust in the age of remote work

Communication, collaboration, and trust are all entwined.                                                                                                            

Carter Liebscher|
June 12, 2020

Engagement, productivity, collaboration.

Although nearly all industries, save for those deemed essential, have made large-scale transitions to remote work, many organizations still have fears of long-term implementation. Employee engagement, employee productivity, and collaboration between departments are undoubtedly company leaders’ top three fears.

It’s understandable: With physical distance as a barrier, how can managers know exactly what their employees are doing? How engaged they are? Whether they’re interacting with their peers for both work and morale purposes?

Management can, of course, measure output, but it’s a one-sided measurement that could place more stress on already stressed employees.

The fact of the matter, however, is that even before the shift to remote work, employee engagement rates—which have a direct impact on productivity—were low. Remote work only exacerbates these stats when their organization doesn’t have effective failsafes in place.

How, then, can company leaders quell their fears about remote work when it’s quickly becoming employees’ preference?

As simple as it sounds, they should instill trust into their remote employees.

Rather than closely monitoring employees for productivity, leaders should connect openly and frequently with their employees on their working preferences.

A recent study conducted by IBM found that 54% of U.S. workers want to keep remote work as their primary mode of work, while 70% would like it to at least be an option going forward. Even if you haven’t asked your employees if they feel similarly, you can be certain that many have a preference they just haven’t voiced yet.

Conducting your own formal cross-organizational survey can help leaders better understand where their employees stand and what steps they can take to act on it.

Similarly, managers can conduct an informal survey to understand some of the pains employees have when telecommuting. Even though employees like working from home, they still have barriers that, if not given the space to voice those barriers, will hurt their organization.

Of course, disruptions like child care should be far less prevalent after the pandemic. This mandatory period of remote working was not voluntary and came without warning, so cannot really be compared to typical home working scenarios. However, if more employees want to work remotely in the future, it’s essential that organisations take these learnings into account.

“Why trust is the biggest barrier to remote working,” Phil Chambers, HR News

Trusting your employees involves setting realistic goals and standards. Company leaders should complement their understanding with caveats: “I understand that while you prefer working from home, you still have barriers to being as productive as you can be. Here’s what we’ll do.”

As far as what your organization can do:

• Implement a combination of remote work and in-office work.

• Hold regular meetings on any work-related pains.

• Encourage interdepartmental collaboration, even if it’s solely online.

Employee trust starts at greater communication, and communication fosters collaboration.

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