Clarity is the best policy: three steps to building trust with your remote workforce
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Clarity is the best policy: three steps to building trust with your remote workforce

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Clarity is the best policy: three steps to building trust with your remote workforce

November 07, 2016 Geoffroy De Lestrange

With the workforce becoming more and more candidate-led, employee happiness is increasingly important to retaining companies’ best staff. The pay cheque is no longer going to cut it for keeping people around, and benefits are important too.

We recently conducted research with IDC that showed flexible working has a direct impact on employee happiness, particularly those aspects related to technology and freedom to work remotely. We found that these factors can greatly impact employee pride and willingness to recommend their employer, meaning flexible working as an employee benefit should be a top priority.

In some parts of Europe, this prioritisation has happened, but there is a North/South divide, where the Nordic countries had the highest acceptance of flexible working and Central and Southern Europe had the lowest – including the UK.

So flexible working is pretty important, but particularly the areas of career flexibility and tool flexibility. Organisations with a high tolerance of internal mobility had much happier respondents than those who did not. Likewise, organisations with flexible IT systems and policies to support remote working had a significantly better happiness score than those without such policies. 

Trust is essential here, and the more trusted the employees feel, the happier they are. There’s still a way to go though. Recent research by OneLogin found a lack of trust between UK businesses and their remote workforces, with half of full-time workers feeling employees below mid-manager level shouldn’t be allowed remote access to the corporate network, from both work-owned devices (47%) and personally-owned devices (54%). In addition, 27% believe remote access should only be granted to senior management and above.  The same study found 90% of respondents said they wouldn’t share passwords for work devices.

So what can managers do to build trust among their remote workforce and keep their workers happy?

Never assume anything

Thinking of people working at home, it can be easy to assume they’re getting distracted or not doing as much as they say. However, this is a dangerous assumption of a worker’s character, and can impede you from ever building trust with them. Make sure you gain a clear understanding from each worker on what they’ll be doing day-to-day and how much work is on their plate at a given time. Give your workers a chance to prove themselves. If you let your worker communicate their workload with you, they have then set the standard for themselves and will be less likely to let you down. If they do, then revision discussions will need to happen – but don’t assume it won’t work when you haven’t tried.

Set expectations and brief well

In line with the above point, set clear expectations with workers for specific tasks, and even more minor things like the appropriate response timeline for an email. Clear deadlines will help prevent any ambiguity for managers and workers alike, and ensure everyone remains productive wherever they are working. You may find the same approach doesn’t work for all of your team, and if you’re conscious you’ve got someone who regularly misses deadlines, factor that in and set your deadline slightly earlier than you really need it. Likewise, ensure tasks are given a clear, concise brief and anything unclear on either side is clarified before the work commences. This approach will prevent getting the wrong work done by the right deadline.

Contact regularly via phone or video conference

Finally, there’s an old saying that if you want something done, pick up the phone. It’s something that rings true (pun intended) more and more as we become increasingly email-reliant. If something is suddenly urgent, you’re not sure what someone’s up to, or you need to clarify something you’re not sure of, your best bet will be to call them directly or video conference. It’s fast and can eliminate miscommunication (of briefs or attitudes) better than an email.

It’s impractical for some workers to work flexibly because of their industry. But some barriers to flexible working can be overcome. To see more statistics on flexible working and other European workplace trends, read the full IDC and Cornerstone white paper, ‘Future People: Workplace Evolution in the Age of Digital Transformation’, here.

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