While policies and systems can be updated to support flexible working, there needs to be a true shift in the work culture, share experts from Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP). This can be done through knowledge sharing, effective check-ins, and investing in your employee development.
In a poll of over 600 employers, HR personnel and supervisors during the recent COVID-19 Circuit Breaker were keen to continue telecommuting post Covid-19 and willing to adapt to a new way of working, but the lack of visibility and physical presence in the office remains a concern. The online poll by TAFEP revealed that the top challenge in implementing telecommuting was the inability to track employees’ work progress in real-time. More than 60% expressed that they had concerns on whether employees were as productive and efficient in doing their work as required.
This highlights a subtle yet significant challenge that many companies face in the early stages of implementing flexible work arrangements (FWAs). While policies and systems can be updated to support flexible working, there needs to be a true shift in the work culture. Mutual trust is needed between employer and employee as well as across teams, in order for FWAs to be sustainable.
Here are some practical ways that employers can cultivate a culture of trust within the organisation.
#1: Facilitate knowledge sharing
Progressive employers recognise the value of knowledge sharing in the workplace. The process of knowledge sharing has two critical components; one, the individual must be willing to generously share what they know, and the other must be ready to acknowledge gaps in their knowledge that can be improved. Through knowledge sharing, mutual trust is built as employees learn to give and receive information from one another.
When employees share their varied experiences and skills with colleagues, the overall learning and capability level of the workforce increases. Knowledge sharing allows employees to benefit from the diverse experiences of others, including using these as a springboard to refine strategies and processes and identifying the most efficient methods of addressing work challenges.
As an employer, you can incorporate knowledge sharing segments into your current team meetings. As employees field questions from colleagues and engage in regular discussions, the quality of communication within the team is also likely to improve. Consider scheduling team members to do a brief sharing on:
- Takeaways from recent trainings they have attended;
- Learnings from a useful resource, or
- A case study on a challenging project.
#2: Host effective check-ins
Regular check-ins are one way to support a remote working team. Supervisors who lead these sessions should reflect if these sessions provide a safe space for their team members to share candidly about work challenges. Consider asking yourself the following questions:
- Do my employees feel they can be open and honest about potential issues in a project or task and know that they will receive constructive feedback?
- Can they ask questions during meetings without worrying that they will appear incompetent?
When check-in sessions with remote working employees are elevated from work-in-progress updates to meetings where sticky problems can be shared freely and everyone is invited to brainstorm and suggest solutions, this fosters greater autonomy. You would observe the following changes to the team dynamics:
- Employees taking greater responsibility for work outcome.
- Employees proactively sharing productivity challenges they face, even as they work from home.
- Supervisors identifying and addressing work needs quickly, without the need to monitor employees directly in the office.
#3: Invest in employee development
Building trust is a two-way street. When an employer is dependable and takes an interest in staff well-being, this encourages employees to be trustworthy and reliable as well. One common employee concern is that the use of FWAs reduces their physical presence in the office, which may lead to being overlooked when it comes to development and advancement opportunities1.
Investing in the learning and development of your employees assures them that the organisation values their contributions. As an employer, you can:
- Support both formal and informal learning opportunities (e.g. professional certifications, webinars).
- Encourage staff to take ownership of their career development and to approach their supervisors directly to discuss training or learning opportunities.
This signals your support of their on-going career progress and nurtures a loyal and committed workforce that is focused on the organisational goals and performance, regardless of where they work from.
Cultivating a positive culture of trust is not a task that can be accomplished overnight. It takes time and sustained effort from the leadership to set the tone and gather buy-in from employees. However, employers who have stayed the course have seen that it contributes to the sustainability of the overall work-life strategy and adds value to the company in the long run. For a more effective work-life strategy, take the first step to evaluate existing flexible work arrangements and consider how you can incorporate these practical ideas into your work processes today.
 K. D. Elsbach, D. M. Cable and J. W. Sherman, “How Passive ‘Face Time’ Affects Perceptions of Employees: Evidence of Spontaneous Trait Inference,” Human Relations 63, no. 6 (June 2010): 735-760.
TAFEP provides information and resources to help employers and HR professionals keep abreast of HR best practices. Visit tafep.sg to find out more.
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