Trust in the new normal
Make room for more
Has it ever happened to you that you start thinking about or reading a particular topic and then every discussion that you have leads up to the same topic? The more you read and deliberate over a particular subject, the more interesting it keeps getting. More branches keep emerging.
Something similar happened to me when I wrote my blog post on Naomi Osaka and vulnerability a few weeks back. One thing led to another, and I can’t stop thinking about how the constructs of vulnerability and trust intermingle at workplace – from leadership to now my latest muse, how does it manifest in the new normal remote workplace?
As an independent consultant, I started working from home in late 2019 – much before the pandemic struck. Even before that, I was fortunate to have worked in a culture that encouraged flexibility and trusted me to deliver outcomes – not clock hours! So, when the lockdown first started, I heard several of my friends and associates share horror tales of being in front of the laptop camera for 9 hours, having to deliver daily reports of how they have used their day (some subtly but mostly not), keeping their teams busy with meaningless work because otherwise they don’t know how else to show productivity and worse – being micromanaged using time-sheet tools!
My mixed emotions of gratitude for not being in their situation and despair for not being able to help, got me thinking about the reasons behind such behaviours. I also did a few webinars on working in the new normal, but frustratingly most of the questions by participants were around ‘monitoring’ employees. With time, employers and employees started accepting that this was how things were going to be, but every time there is a dip in the pandemic and the lockdown is eased, employees are called back into work. You’re probably nodding your head right now as you’re reading this, if you’re one of those back at work – all masked up and stocked with sanitisers!
Now if you’re a factory supervisor or a sales manager, I get it that your work requires you to be on field. However, if a corporate staff member is asked to work from office on a regular basis, I sense that there is a trust deficit in the organisational culture. Trust itself is a complex paradigm. Layer it up with the complexities of the pandemic and it becomes truly hard to comprehend. However, I am attempting to see trust in the new normal from the following three dimensions:
Care: The cornerstone of any relationship during these unprecedented times, I would place authentic and genuine care about your team members ahead of any other thought. The keyword being authentic, of course!
Competence: I would have normally put this first, but these are tough times. Even then, competence cannot be traded for any other trait at work. If an employee is struggling to deliver, to understand what is expected of her/ him, is unable to ask the right questions and seek help when needed, is finding it difficult to use the empowerment provided – then I would be reluctant to trust such a team member. This is especially true of a time when I cannot see where s/he is struggling and s/he isn’t able to articulate it well enough, even if I can take time out to coach the employee. Being remote puts the onus of development and competence building on the employee – and that’s an interesting topic for my next blog post hopefully😊
Communication: I cannot over-emphasise the importance of this dimension. From being extremely clear in the goals and expectations of an employee to establishing a cadence for check-ins and reviews to finally, providing constructive and timely feedback to the employee, communication is the spine that runs all along a remote work environment. Moreover, do you really think that in a virtual setting, our erstwhile communication principles of ‘70% efficacy comes from body language’ will still hold ground? Words have become so important – and hence it is critical we communicate clearly, with simple words and confirm that the other person has understood our message. Assuming that the person on the other side of the laptop screen has read your defensive body language or the sad eye expression is setting you up for major surprises!
There is a lot being written and discussed about how workplace relationships are changing in the new normal. Trust is just one building block of organisational culture that is undergoing major flux. Data security, organisational policies, and business models are some of the others. All of these inter-mingle and have a lot to do with how trust manifests in an organisation to define what shape its culture will take when the dust settles on this pandemic. Let’s hope it’s a shape that enables us all to bring our best to work.