Trust & Distributed Working

Uncategorized Jan 25, 2021

Check out our video of this blog on YouTube!

We have been looking at how hybrid working might now be a reality but business leaders are not yet ready to give up on the office, and it seems "Trust" might be at the heart of this and is leading to some interesting and also some pretty scary solutions…

USA Executive Survey

A recent Survey of 150 C-suite executives of large US Companies by Westmonroe Partners in Chicago found that business leaders are not looking to adopt exclusive on-site or exclusively remote - working practices going forward. The harsh reality is that a hybrid workplace will be a fixture for business for some time to come, if not permanently. But most of these business leaders weren’t giving up on the office just yet and the pendulum is still weighed heavily on staff coming in to the office.  With 47% saying they will be fully or mostly on-site with only 10% saying they will be fully or mostly remote.

However many senior management teams also seem to believe that a divided workplace will almost certainly hinder productivity. With 45% citing social distancing requirements and another 34% saying remote working was leaving them in siloes. Its fascinating to see that its not technology which is the limiting factor anymore - that inflexion point seems to have been met, where technically we can do this, but are struggling now with the people aspects.

Australian Survey - Employees & Employers

Back here in Australia, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has just released a survey highlighting the benefits and pitfalls of working from home for both the employer and employee perspective and there are again some real differences.

On the benefits of distributed work, both employers and employees strongly preference the flexibility it gives them (I suspect they might mean different things here on what flexibility might mean!), however the biggest difference was around less commute time and the cost involved. It seems like real bottom line of improvement on money in your pocket and actual time not travelling to the office is probably unsurprisingly what attracts employees.

The next benefit was in "increased productivity" but nearly double the amount of employees think they were more productive compared to employers.  And that’s not all. While employees believe the main challenge in remote working is the lack of social interaction, employers believe, by a very large amount, that "overseeing what staff are doing" is the main issue. This mismatch is worrying and I suspect that at the core of this , is the same issue we have been dealing with for years in organistations, and that is around "Trust"

So What Are Employers looking at?

There are many ways of addressing trust, and since we live in the digital age, many large tech companies are ridding to what they believe is to the rescue of this problem. Transparency can be a fantastic way to build Trust, and with the new Tools we now have its never been easier to visualise what it is that a team is doing. However when that Transparency leads onto detailed monitoring that is when problems potentially can arrive. Here are two very different approaches.

Microsoft Teams

The first is from Microsoft and its Teams Platform. As full disclosure, after trying many other solutions over many years, Teams is the one that we personally use and when used well is an incredible platform. But when you have a single platform that can theoretically perform nearly everything, what it is tracking and how it can be used can be quite troubling. Here are a selection of headlines from late last year when they launched their "Productivity Score" which was a calculation based on many of the interactions that are tracked. 

When you look under the bonnet of what is available in teams to managers its quite an eye opener. Here is just a small subset is what is available including all interactions in chats, messages, emails, likes, reaction etc. Also all your meetings and calls are logged, how many you are having, the time taken. Who is downloading what and when. What documents are being worked on. 

This then is all available (if managers decide to use it) in very easy, instantly up to date fashion with graphs that work at many different levels from the individual, the team and the team of teams. How do you feel being monitored in this fashion, and remember this isnt just now in your workplace, but if you are working remotely this is you being monitored in your own home?!

However, even knowing all this, do the benefits outweigh the downsides? Personally Teams is still our favoured platform. Maybe what happens in this hybrid distributed workplace is the same as what we have done in our private lives over the last decade where privacy concerns around tracking, location seems to have been over run with the benefits that come from our digital overlords in Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon? Trust can be a very fragile thing however and we need to tread carefully in this new world.

Wearable Tech

Here is an different take. This is a wearable technology, called a Moodbeam, that isn't here to monitor your physical health but rather allows your employer to track your emotional state. The idea is that you press the yellow button if you are feeling happy, and the blue one if you are sad.

Its aimed at companies who wish to monitor the wellbeing of staff who are working from home. Employees are encouraged to press the relevant button as they see fit throughout the working week. Managers can then view an online dashboard to see how workers are feeling and coping.

The co-founder originally came up with the idea for the product after she discovered that her daughter was struggling at school, and she wanted a way for her child to let her know how she was feeling.  She recently said "Businesses are trying to get on top of staying connected with staff working from home. Here they can ask 500 members: 'Are you ok?' without picking up the phone,"

Mental health at work was a huge problem before the pandemic began. According to the WHO, depression and anxiety estimated to have cost the global economy $1 trillion USD per year in lost productivity, that is surely greatly increased now after the pandemic. But how many employees are likely to balk at the idea of having to press a button on a wristband to let their boss know how they are doing? Is the Trust there to wear company trackers in your own home? Google have just concluded their deal with Fitbit and what that can measure is incredible these days. How long before monitoring heart rates and stress levels at work could be seen as worth the intrusion? Interesting times!



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