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Hybrid work will be all about trust


Some leaders are showing their true colors in the debate over remote work.

Organizations are trying a number of strategies to get their people back into the office. There’s the Goofus and Gallant approach: “Uberly engaged” employees want to return to the office, WeWork’s CEO claimed. “Those who are least engaged are very comfortable working from home.”  

Apple issued a simple order that employees would need to come back to the office three days a week starting in September. About 80 employees responded with a letter that said they felt “not just unheard, but at times actively ignored.” 

The CEO of Washingtonian Media resorted to mafia-esque threats: “If [an] employee is rarely around to participate in…extras” like celebrating birthdays or helping colleagues, Cathy Merrill wrote in the Washington Post, “management has a strong incentive to change their status to ‘contractor.’” In other words, if you enjoy your employer-provided health insurance and 401(k) match, you’d better get back to the office. Because you’re urgently needed to…enjoy a slice of supermarket sheet cake? 

I can understand the desire to have everyone located in the same office. The task of leading employees and teams, that are collocated together is easier. However, the pandemic upended our thinking on this issue. And when you ask employees what they prefer, all the studies I’ve seen clearly indicate a preference for a hybrid model of work where employees have the freedom to work from home some days and an office on other days. 

I find this interesting even given the fact that the grand work from home experiment of the last sixteen months clearly showed that employees have been able to maintain their productivity or even be more productive. Even though this has created greater stress, a sense of isolation and personal challenge for many employees, even after all of this, they still prefer a hybrid model of work going forward.   

In my book, Accountable Leaders, I write about the five big trends and drivers that all leaders will need to grapple within the coming years. One of these is the revolutionizing of work that is underway. The pandemic accelerated many of the profound changes already taking hold in our economy and workplaces.  

Whether we like it or not, we need to deal with this critical issue head-on. I believe taking an adversarial and even threatening approach towards employees will backfire. 

From a personal standpoint, I have had a lot of experience working and leading in hybrid environments. I’ve led many virtual global teams. These teams have driven amazing performance over the years. So, I know this model works and will work in most organizations. 

This is why I’m so intrigued by the response that many executives and companies are taking on hybrid work options. 

As I reflect on these negative reactions, I believe something more fundamental is being uncovered here. What is it? It’s about trust. 


Trust is the glue that holds a team together, whether remote or in-person.

 What I learned early last year from my work with customers is that those that went into the pandemic with a strong degree of trust and community among leaders felt more confident and were better able to weather the storm ahead.  

On the flip side, the teams that entered the pandemic on less solid ground struggled. Some were able to find a way to come together in the face of the crisis, but most were challenged in a big way.  

Hybrid work is here to stay. Let’s accept that. In this excerpt of from my Lead the Future video podcast, Alain Dehaze, CEO of The Adecco Group, shares the three key outcomes from their recent global study of the future of work. Two of the points reference the hybrid environment and what the daily work schedule looks like.

All in all, as we move forward, trust is going to continue to be a central issue to make hybrid work a viable reality in our organizations. 


High-trust work environments drive more engagement and productivity.

Workplaces with a high degree of trust are happier and more productive. Research shows that people at high-trust companies experience less stress, more energy, fewer sick days, more satisfaction, and less burnout. They’re also 50% more productive.  

A leader who doesn’t trust their employees is likely to micromanage and looks for ways to surveil them. Constantly looking over their employees’ shoulders, second-guessing their decisions, and demanding unnecessary updates is only a recipe for frustration, demotivation and disengagement. Who would want to work in that environment? 

What we are also failing to appreciate is that there was plenty of underperformance and disengagement in the ‘good old days.’ Just because someone is in an office, doesn’t mean they’re performing.  

Ultimately the critical question is not where people are doing their work, but whether or not you trust them. 


Are you focused on results?

The solution to remote work is simple: treat people like adults. But if we’re honest with ourselves, this doesn’t always happen in organizations.  

Ricardo Semler, a Brazilian entrepreneur known for creating empowering work cultures, wrote years back in his book, Maverick, that companies have a tendency to hire adults, then bring them into their companies and proceed to treat them like children. 

I believe the negative reactions to hybrid work already displayed by some executives and companies clearly show that fundamentally they don’t trust their employees.  

At the end of the day, this isn’t really that complicated: where someone performs their job doesn’t matter – what matters is results! 

As a leader, you need to be clear about expectations and hold people accountable for living up to them. As long as you know what every person on your team is accountable for delivering, you don’t need to watch them do it. All you need to know is, are they delivering the results they need to in a timely manner? And are they doing it in a way aligned to your core values? 

Let people decide their own fates. If they’re unable to deliver on outcomes, then you need to have a performance conversation. But if you’ve been a leader for any amount of time, you know there’s a certain number of people you’ll need to have those conversations with no matter what. Some people do their jobs, and you can trust them to do the work anywhere. Some people won’t perform no matter how closely you watch them.  

Furthermore, if you do believe you need to be watching over your people in an office environment, then you need to ask yourself, do you have the right people on your team?  

Do you really trust the people you lead?


About Leadership Contract

We are Leadership Contract Inc (LCI), your partner in strategic leadership development. We help you operationalize leadership accountability at all levels of your organization so you can drive strategy, shape culture, and spark change.

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