Saturday, May 5, 2012

Why "Trust" is Essential in the Workplace

A big part of my job is talking to people about alternative ways of working.  Specifically, about how to embrace mobility and the idea that most knowledge workers can work anywhere - the office, their car, an airplane, the library, home - anywhere.  Companies are very interested in allowing their employees to work at home (or other places other than the office) to increase worker productivity, satisfaction, and of course save real estate costs.  They accomplish this by allowing workers to come in and sit in "mobile areas" or "touchdown" seats when they are in the office, but these are not seats assigned to a particular person.  Mobile workers, with the right technology, can come and go to the office as they need to and get work done where it is most efficiently accomplished.

Video and tele-conferencing technology in particular has really boosted workers' ability to work remotely and across continents.  Truth be told, we could all just sit at home in our bunny slippers and pound the keyboard all day, saving commute time, costs and our carbon footprint at the same time.

This all begs the question:  Why come into work at all?

Some people say mentorship, others say hobnobbing with their bosses, could be fortuitous or unpredictable encounters with colleagues or maybe just camaraderie is what brings them together.  Of course there are also many people who live in tiny apartments or with their parents or with noisy pets... all reasons to want to get to an office to be productive.  But I think one element is always missing from the discussion of being in one place together and that is the importance of building TRUST.  I work in a global company, and with people all over the planet.  Nothing beats being in the same room with someone and working with them elbow to elbow to really build a long-lasting working relationship.  This is absolutely essential for business.  It's hard, I would argue, and almost impossible to build trust virtually.  Especially in working groups involving different cultures.

So as much as I love all of the strides we are making to reduce our office space to meet the needs of our mobile workforce - hey, it's one of the greenest ways to save energy, water and waste by far - I worry about our need to be face to face and to build trust, which is the glue that connects us together when other factors may not.  The value of trust is not something we often quantify, but case in point, there aren't a lot of virtual marriages out there.  We need to lock eyeballs and work through issues in person to really work through problems and maintain relationships.  And in the future, we're going to have some pretty wicked global environmental and economic problems - trust in each other will be the foundation to any solution.

Maybe one answer to saving real estate at the office and building trust at the same time,  is committing to being together with our colleagues on a regular basis, but not necessarily always meeting at the same place.  That way, we're aligned and ready when tough work needs to be done, not spending time questioning each other's judgement or motivations.

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