Workers' and bosses' trust in teleworking is key

March 26, 2023

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Workers' and bosses' trust in teleworking is key

In recent years, remote working and “hybrid” working – spurred by the implementation of information and communication technologies and by the recent pandemic in particular – have become accepted in many countries (with the notable exception of China where virtually nobody works remotely). Many companies have now made this form of working available to their employees, but it is still far from common practice in today's labor market outside of the US (in Europe 70% of professional and clerical workers are back in the office full-time).

A team of Spanish researchers have analyzed the different perspectives and perceptions on working away from the office, looking  at the wide range of factors that affect it, including the psychosocial aspects, productivity or costs.

What the researchers say: "We explored different models to identify the factors affecting – positively or negatively – performance of employees working remotely, showing how trust, and the lack of it, excessive workloads, social isolation and work-related fatigue impact their performance," said the study's lead author.

Research into the topic has shown that working remotely has a positive impact on the individual, group and organizational performance of companies and organizations. More specifically, comparative studies have shown that remote workers feel more productive and display lower levels of fatigue.

Nevertheless, other studies also indicate that working away from the office may lead to an intensification of work and, consequently, prolonged mental or physical effort impacting staff efficiency and performance levels. "These results raise a dilemma, since, on the one hand, we see favorable conditions and beneficial effects, but, on the other, there may be a dysfunctional impact and limitations on optimal staff performance," said the lead researcher.

After analyzing data on more than 200 employees at different companies that have implemented remote working, the authors saw that if they trust the remote working model, they’ll probably believe that working remotely will help them to be more productive. If, however, they do not trust either their employer or the concept of remote working, this belief in higher productivity diminishes. This could also lead to social isolation or work-related fatigue problems the researchers claim.

"Fatigue is the factor that has the greatest (negative) effect on teleworking performance, followed by lack of trust and social isolation," the researchers explained.

In this context, "trust" means that teleworkers have a perception of support from their superiors, that this form of working does not negatively impact recognition of their contributions or their career progression. "Trust in remote working as a model establishes favorable conditions for fostering it and obtaining optimal performance from those working from home. Whereas a lack of trust can lead to and accentuate the negative impact of social and professional isolation – given that there is less perception of social support."

It is here that the absence of social connectivity is a significant variable in individual performance. Whilst it is true that a reduction in irrelevant interactions and the availability of more time leads to greater effectiveness, if employees suffer from a feeling of isolation, this can negatively impact their on-the-job performance.

"Social isolation refers to an individual's feelings of a lack of inclusion or connection at work. Isolated employees have less trust in their skills and knowledge and have few opportunities to interact with colleagues, as well as a diminished capacity to manage things. That's why the role of managers is essential in facilitating the effective social integration of staff who work remotely."

According to the study’s authors, trust in remote working and in the organization promoting it needs to be the cornerstone of its on-the-ground implementation. This means that companies and other organizations need to focus on creating trust, ensuring visibility and supporting the career progression of teleworkers, so as to enhance their performance. "Trust is key in adapting to teleworking, and also reduces any feeling of isolation or fatigue," the researchers said.

In this regard, to ensure effective implementation, it is also important to address perceptions of isolation and loneliness on the part of employees through the implementation of certain practices. "Face-to-face interaction, the ongoing exchange of information and leadership training have all been highlighted as good practices for preventing isolation."

So, what? Alicia and I have been working remotely for most of the last 30 years. It’s easy for consultants to arrange their own working conditions, and we like working from home.

However, for most people the danger of social isolation is very real. When we talk to employers, they tell us that there is a considerable productivity fall-off in remote working. There are many factors which lead to this deficit, but mostly it’s the fall-off in communication, the loss of the opportunity to casually exchange ideas, difficulties in collaboration and the fall-off in trust which are to blame.

The NYT has a good piece on remote working which is well worth the read.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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