An emerging crisis of trust at work fuelled by remote work

trustQatalog has published a survey of 2,000 knowledge workers which uncovers a crisis of trust within the modern workplace, fuelled by a chronic lack of visibility within companies. The study claims that remote work is feeding a chronic visibility problem within the modern workplace. When working remotely, two-thirds (66 percent) of respondents reported that they lack visibility of what colleagues are working on and how it fits into the bigger picture.

This is creating blindspots and silos right across the modern organisation, on everything from customer feedback to marketing campaigns. It undermines confidence that colleagues and managers are working on the right things, consistently hitting their goals, and can be relied upon. It’s no wonder that 63 percent say it’s harder to build trust with their colleagues in a remote environment.

After nearly two years of remote work, 40 percent say they still find it hard to manage work across distributed teams. This may be due to complacency and underinvestment on the part of employers. About a third (34 percent) say their employer has either not invested, or has not adequately invested, in the tools and policies needed to support remote or flexible work.

Either way, this lack of visibility means that good work is often going unrecognised. Less than a third (28 percent) of the workforce feel that their positive contributions at work are regularly recognised, and one in ten (10 percent) say that their positive contributions are ignored altogether.

These visibility challenges also impact career progression: 47 percent of workers believe it’s easier to get promoted if you spend more time in the office.

Tariq Rauf, founder and CEO of Qatalog, says: “Employees feel valued when they know how their work fits into the bigger picture and are given the space to work on their own terms. That’s hard when the workplace is so fragmented and visibility is so poor. To fix this, employers must be intentional about helping teams work with a shared perspective even when they’re not in the room together.”


A growing trust gap

The findings also claim that, in this fragmented working environment, workers’ faith in their leaders and colleagues is eroding.

Employees are suspicious about the motivations of employers that want to bring them back into the office. Although only 2 percent of those surveyed feel positive about the effects of returning to the office, 37 percent attribute a return to their bosses’ interests.

Although 60 percent of workers say that they are more productive while working remotely, only 30 percent believe their bosses are more productive when working this way. When people suspect their leaders are taking the foot off the gas and are not being held accountable, it erodes trust within the team.

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The lack of trust isn’t just felt between employees and their leaders. 63 percent of workers believe it’s harder to build trust with their colleagues in a remote environment.

Empathy is also eroding in the remote and flexible working world, with suspicion and frustration creeping in its place. If a colleague is slow to respond to a message when working remotely, 34 percent say they get more frustrated than they would do in person. Worse, 10 percent say they’re more suspicious of colleagues that take sick leave when they’re working remotely.

Rauf adds: “The modern workplace is putting pressure on our ability to empathise. You used to be able to walk into the office, talk to people to get their perspective, and absorb everything going on around you. Now, it’s the opposite: the workplace is highly fragmented, people are working in the dark, and it’s hard to put yourself in others’ shoes. In this environment, it’s tricky to build a strong connection with colleagues and feel engaged with work.”


Flexible working is here to stay

Despite the growing trust crisis, flexibility looks like it’s here to stay, with employees willing to tolerate the downsides because of the advantages it brings.

Nearly half (47 percent) of employees prefer working from home full-time, while 48 percent prefer working flexibly, sometimes at home and sometimes in person. 75 percent, meanwhile, want the flexibility to completely or partly work to their own schedule. The feeling is so strong that 73 percent of employees believe that remote and flexible work are key to a company’s ability to compete in the war for talent.


A looming confrontation

The survey data also points to a potential confrontation brewing between workers and leaders on pay, benefits, and access to flexibility.

Any companies considering cutting salaries for remote workers based on their location could face a striking backlash. More than 90 percent think it’s unfair to cut the wages of remote workers based on their location, while 90 percent of workers say they will quit their jobs if salaries are cut based on proximity to the office.

And that’s not all. With the cost of living increasing, 93 percent of workers plan to make some sort of change in their professional lives. From asking for a pay rise (29 percent) to working from home more often (17 percent) or quitting their job for something else (17 percent), workers will demand change if their employers don’t offer it – something for management teams to be mindful of as they plan for 2022.

Rauf adds: “The Great Resignation is a huge danger for every business today — the balance of power is shifting away from companies to employees. Building a culture of trust and flexibility has never been more critical to keeping people engaged in this new world of work.”