Why do employers still not trust people to work from home?

The pandemic has proved not only can people work from home, but they can do so effectively.

So why is the topic of trusting employees to do a good job while WFH still dominating conversation?

Just this morning on Good Morning Britain, Richard Madeley asked Government minister Rachel Maclean why civil servants are still working from home – stating there’s ‘no way of checking how much work’ they’re doing.

His comments echo Boris Johnson’s last week, who insisted individuals are more productive in the office – because he’s previously been distracted by coffee and cheese, when working at home.

This discourse of employer distrust towards employees is still prominent  – despite the fact many have been actively practicing flexible working for two years.

So why is this still a topic for discussion? And why can’t some employers get on board with flexible working?

Leaders stuck in the past

Dr John Blakey, founder of The Trusted Executive Foundation – which helps CEOs create a new standard of leadership defined by trustworthiness – says it’s all down to old-fashioned ways of working, and leaders unable to let go.

He says: ‘The likes of Alan Sugar and Boris Johnson are judging others by their own standards. Some leaders are simply failing to build trust in the new world of work.

‘Leaders who do trust people to work from home generally have built a “results only” work environment. This is the idea that activity is not necessarily monitored but the outcome is what is measured.

‘As long as the employee is delivering results consistently and they contribute to the organisation’s goals, it doesn’t matter if they don’t start work until 1pm, or they work through the night, as long as they deliver on their results. 

‘But old-style bosses are still relying on trust in power, rather than the power of trust. People don’t want to be told what to do anymore, they want to be empowered to be trusted in the job they do and to deliver the results required of them.’

An obsession with visibility, not productivity

This is something backed up by professor Emma Parry, from Cranfield School of Management, who says: ‘We still place too much emphasis on where people work and their visibility in the office, rather than on what they do and the value that they add to organisations.

‘The evidence suggests that employees who are allowed to work in a way that suits them – such as from home – may be more engaged and productive.’

In fact, recent research found the majority of organisations (72%) saw an increase in productivity as a result of remote and hybrid working – with productivity increasing on average by 27%. 

Emma says this is proof that businesses need to dispense with this ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude to managing people. 

She adds: ‘Decisions should be based on outputs and outcomes rather that what managers “see” to avoid discriminating against those who are not as visible in the workplace as others. We’re in danger of creating a “two-tier workforce” where opportunities for pay and promotion are harder to come by for those working from home.’

But also that employers who adopt this attitude will simply miss out on top talent.

Chief executive of digital marketing firm Verb Brands Chris Donnelly – who has previously been dubbed as ‘Britain’s best boss’ – stresses that the world has changed over the past two years, and many companies and individuals have embraced this.

He says: ‘Moving forward, individuals will self-select the companies they want to work at and those putting a hard line about mandatory work from the office will struggle to attract the best talent and be competitive. 

‘People have experienced now that you can do your work, from home, without commuting, saving money and achieve the same outcome. 

‘At this point in time, we have to move past the subjectivity and bias of the public debate and look at the evidence. The evidence has been positive for work from home; with most studies now stating that there is a small, 3-5% increase in productivity when working from home.’

(Wrongly) associating flexibility with ‘skiving’

David Hunt, the CEO of Hyperion Executive Search, also stresses there’s a key difference between working flexibly and ‘slacking’ – and companies who don’t see this will run into problems down the line.

He says: ‘Companies who lack this trust culture suffer from a failure of leadership. And the pandemic has only accelerated the trends that were already happening.

‘Working flexibly isn’t the same as “slacking” – it’s about productivity and better working practices.

‘While it is clear not every job could be done remotely, it is nonsense to say that those who do work from home cannot be trusted – unless, of course, you have a low trust culture in your business, then you have a self-fulfilling prophecy.

‘You don’t trust your staff, so your staff act in an untrustworthy way.’

And, just like in a relationships setting, trust issues in a business can be detrimental – and they don’t bode well for long-term plans.

Jo Caine, the managing director for recruitment agency, Cathedral Appointments, says: ‘If employers are questioning the trust they have for their teams, then they must look inwards and understand whether this is a potential insecurity they have in their own leadership or problematic communication streams which have not been improved and adapted for this post-pandemic world. 

‘Nine times out of ten, this lack of trust is not warranted, and may be extremely detrimental to the retention of top-quality talent.’

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