Article

How to build trust more easily in a digital-first world

Hybrid working is forcing managers to trust their teams. It may also require workers to trust their managers and colleagues more.

Trust has always been a major factor in workforce effectiveness. But companies are finding it is even more important in a post-COVID environment where remote working has become the norm and the ability to monitor employees directly is dwindling.  

According to the Cisco® Hybrid Work Index, 64 percent of employees say being able to work from anywhere directly affects whether they will hold onto or leave a job. Globally, only 19 percent of workers fancy the idea of spending three or more days a week in the office.  

This poses a challenge for leaders favoring old-school command-and-control styles of management. Not being able to monitor workers directly can lead to trust issues, despite ample evidence showing home workers tend to be as productive or more so than office-based peers. 

Increasingly, too, trust issues are emerging in the opposite direction. Employees working from home during coronavirus lockdowns frequently put in long hours and were highly productive.  

Now they are facing burnout and may be unsure of who to turn to for help—or whether colleagues are pulling their weight. The pandemic productivity peak is understandable, says Roxanne Bisby Davis, senior director of people research and intelligence at Cisco.  

People felt, “I don't know what else to do but work, because the world is stressful right now,” she says.  

Post-pandemic, managers and team members alike must work on trust so employees can succeed—and help their businesses succeed.  

And digital tools could be key, adding a more human dimension to remote working so employees feel heard, supported, and able to play to their strengths—all factors in helping them be more creative and productive. “Video, strategically used, is the right thing to do,” Bisby Davis says.  

Videoconferencing tools can deliver eye-to-eye contact that is key to a personal, connected experience, as well as providing a platform for other forms of interaction.  

In the recently revamped Webex platform, for example, Cisco has included features designed with inclusion in mind, aiming to give remote workers an experience that is as rich in interactions as one they would get in an office. 

Within Webex Teams, says Bisby Davis, “You can create any type of space in which you can connect with individuals. It’s fast-paced, it can have a lot of humor, it can be serious if you want it to be. And it’s a great place to do asynchronous work.” 

But building trust through video also involves giving people the option of switching off. “I don’t think you should have to worry about your video being on when you’re in a call with a large amount of people,” Bisby Davis comments.  

Indeed, one of the issues with trust in hybrid working is that dealing with colleagues via a screen limits your ability to signal things to your co-workers, whether the message is “I need to use the restroom” or “I’m going through a really bad patch right now.” 

There are ways managers can overcome this, says Bisby Davis. “Number one, understand every person is experiencing the world differently,” she advises. “Two, spend time talking to people about how they’re experiencing the world. Three, ask people to explain their boundaries.” 

Importantly, too, leaders should ask if and how they can help team members, thereby fostering a sense that the employee is not on their own. It helps to establish a ritual that allows employees to express themselves if needed.  

Bisby Davis cites best practices such as a weekly check-in to see how all team members are doing. Above all, she says, it is about letting people know they can be heard even while away from the office. “It can’t be one-sided,” she says. “True trust is all within the individual. You have to feel empowered to speak up for yourself.” 

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