The COVID-19 crisis has forced a major shift to remote work. What are the implications of this shift for workplace confidence? Such trust plays a crucial role in the way we coordinate, work together, repay, and respond to risk and uncertainty. Just as the need for confidence in the workplace is heightened by the severe insecurity that COVID-19 creates, the huge shift to distance work can undermine this confidence.
This concern is shared by many. A simple search on the social media platform LinkedIn has more than 70,000 posts about trust and remote work. Many companies are trying to respond to this. Some try to create trust in employees that they are trusted. Others increase surveillance as a mechanism to control their workers from afar.
An underlying premise is that remote work threatens confidence in the workplace. But there are reasons to believe that working remotely can also help build trust.
Management and organizational psychologists Roger Mayer, James Davis, and David Schoorman identified three pillars in their core question about trust in organizational environments that inform how we judge others. reliability: their ability (skills to perform a task successfully in a given domain), their goodwill (with good intentions) and their integrity (with acceptable principles and values).
Everyone has been affected by our collective shift to remote work. Teleworking has enabled us to have a newfound appreciation for learning skills, especially under pressure. We are placed in a situation that enables us to display our good intentions more easily. Finally, and most importantly, we look at the manifestations of our shared values in a more transparent way. It all contributes to increasing our confidence.
Remote work and reliability
To turn to capacity first.
Many of us have had to switch to online teaching methods, facilitation, consultation, management, coaching and workshop. It brings a new appreciation for the effort and dedication it took to learn new skills in such a short time and under challenging circumstances. Something as simple as seeing others (though virtually) struggling to get a new software working on their device for the first time, while trying to keep the flow of the meeting going gives us more perception of what it is means to have ‘domain specific knowledge’. Many of us have gained more empathy for not fixing things the first or second time. It can not necessarily negate our confidence in the ability of our colleagues.
Then there is benevolence or judging others’ intentions. Surely this is not easy in a virtual space? Not so. One thing we have realized during these difficult times is the need for it. compound – and the feeling that we are part of something. With all the obstacles we have faced in recent months, the sign that we have good intentions towards our colleagues could be as simple as’arrive’. Colleagues show up from their homes during meetings, despite a variety of personal challenges such as homeschooling or caring for elderly parents. It is often the promotion of empathy and a shared sense of mutual ‘good intentions’.
Finally, on the question of integrity. We struggle to trust someone if we do not conform to their values and principles. When interaction with our colleagues is limited in scope and domain, it is difficult to judge and interpret what their values are and how deeply they are held.
But we struggled to maintain common sense between work and life made something clear, and we shared more values than we thought. In general, we have shown that we prioritize health over prosperity, love and commitment over competition, well-being of family and loved ones over personal gains, hope over despair, resilience over resignation, and much more, such as the Dutch historian and man who proves famous billionaires faced with tax evasion at the Davos summit in 2019, Rutger Bregman. Bregman’s tribute to us better nature claims that human nature at its core is decent and good. And in times of turmoil and collective challenge, that decency reveals itself even more.
The current circumstances have created an opportunity that would not otherwise be there. For example, during our virtual meetings – whether cameras are on or off – we showed and saw vulnerabilities, prioritization, and a display of core values that were probably not apparent in normal office settings. The use of these shared values can have a positive and lasting effect on how we maintain and develop trust with our colleagues in our workplaces.
At a broader level, confidence has been shown to decline on a national, institutional and organizational shallow. But in our daily lives, on a personal level, we have the opportunity to build stronger relationships of trust that can eventually permeate our organizations, institutions and our nation-states.
COVID-19 may have posed a threat to this trust, but it also provided ample opportunity and we must not lose sight of it.
Badri Zolfaghari, Lecturer in organizational behavior, University of Cape Town