The Trust Dilemma: Why Remote Workers Work More Hours But Feel Untrusted

by | Productivity

Do you have a hard time trusting remote workers? Are you a remote team member that feels you aren't trusted? The good news is that trust and working remotely can go together.

I've worked remotely since 2001. I worked in the field in various hospitals and labs or conducted training on-site. I traveled almost weekly for a decade, so working from home was a great compromise to being on the road. 

When COVID hit us, and everyone quickly shifted to working from home, I was inundated with requests to train teams to work well remotely. I'd been delivering training on that topic for over a decade. I was happy to help companies shift & thrive in a remote working era.

Some things I heard from companies, managers & leaders shocked me. They were afraid they couldn't trust their employees actually to be working.  This is also mentioned in recent research by Microsoft Work Trend Index (Hybrid Work is just Work. Are we doing it wrong?), which states that there is a stark disconnect between the portion of leaders who say they have complete confidence their team is productive (12%) and the percentage of employees who report they are productive at work (87%). Consequently, this leads to the emergence of the trend of productivity paranoia: leaders fear that lost productivity is due to employees not working & lack of trust. This is even though the number of meetings, hours worked, and other activity metrics have increased significantly during and since COVID-19.

Leaders didn't believe employees were putting in their hours. In some instances, I was speechless at what I heard and saw. One person stated that she was required to log in to Zoom the entire time she was clocked in. She felt smothered. I felt enraged. If you can't trust your employees to work from home, they shouldn't work for you in the office. And really, the number of work hours is arbitrary. If they can get their work done in less time, celebrate that! Don't make them continue to sit there and surf the web!

Do you sit behind your staff and monitor their tabs? I guarantee there's some ordering from Amazon, whether they're at the office or home. 

If the time of day doesn't matter, celebrate that we all have high and low points during the day of productivity and energy and allow people to capitalize on that. Don't punish a night owl by making them start work at 8:00 am unless there's a real need. Maybe you can't give complete flexibility, but could you have a block of 4-6 hours required, like 10:00 am-3:00 pm, and any other work can be done when they're at their best? This is best summarized by Satya Nadella, chairman and CEO of Microsoft:

“Our new data shows there is no one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid & remote work, as employee expectations continue to change. The only way for organizations to solve for this complexity is to embrace flexibility across their entire operating model, including the ways people work, the places they inhabit, and how they approach business process.”

Working from home for some is a privilege and a necessity. When people lack trusting others, I wonder if they must be untrustworthy and not work efficiently from home and project that onto others.

We work more hours when remote.

Did you know that people who work from home tend to work more hours, not less? Especially during the pandemic, the increase in work hours shot up by an average of three hours per day for US employees. Since there wasn't anywhere to go, we just worked more. Now that we are in an endemic state, it is still the case and always has been for most people…we work more hours when we're remote. And we're also more productive!

Why?

There aren't as many drive-by conversations or idle chats. We don't need to go across a building or another floor to use the bathroom or refill our water. It's just a few steps. We're less likely to go out for lunch or take a break at lunch. People eat more in front of their screens when they work from home, which isn't healthy or productive.

Remote workers feel nervous about stepping away. They're afraid if they go out for lunch (which is something they would do in a typical workplace), they may get a message during that time and ‘get caught .'

They make excuses if they can't be reactive to your Microsoft Teams or Slack chat. They don't turn it off at night because their office is right there, often returning to work after dinner or checking email before bed. 

Please relook at your stance on trust with your remote workers. Don't create a culture of secrecy and hostility because that's what a lack of trust is. If you can't trust them at home, you can't trust them in the office.

Moreover, suppose you continue not to trust your employees. In that case, it could even lead to Quiet Quitting (doing the bare minimal tasks of your job description well enough that you don't get fired). Consequently, this can affect your business KPIs like employee retention, attraction, bottom line, etc. To succeed in remote work, the core is to keep your 'employees' at the center. This would give them that trust to give their 100% to you and succeed at the job.

Per an employee from Alaska, “if my company is going to come in and give me this flexibility, then I'm going to be the first to give them 100%.”

We’re unable to have a thriving remote work culture & need training on how to work well remotely.

Per the Digital Wellness Institute Playbook, 83 percent of employees look to their employers for guidance in navigating the pressures of remote work. Yet many employers feel ill-equipped to deal with these new pressures. 

Thus, there is a vast need to upskill & train on ‘working well remotely' & creating a thriving remote work culture. It's also one of the training topics in our Work Well Remotely series, where we train managers and team members on how to work well together from home so that there is a culture of trust and flexibility while keeping our employees at the center of this new change & transformation. 

How are you planning on thriving in this new remote & hybrid work era?

Post written by Marcey Rader and Rijul Arora.

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