Gusto for Partners

Don’t You Trust Your People? 

Jennifer Scott  

I know of multiple firms that have been remote for decades. It can (and does) work. My own company, HireEffect, has been 100 percent virtual since founded in 2007. And I think I have some authority when I say that I don’t believe the issues companies are having with remote work have anything to do with Zoom, or not knowing what their people are up to. Bosses have successfully managed remote workers for decades—millennia, even.

No, remote isn’t new. The tools aren’t insufficient. (In fact, they’ve never been better). Having worked in recruiting for more than 30 years, I can tell you the much larger and more concerning issue is this: Today, managers don’t trust their people. And my question is, why? Is it really the individual they don’t trust? Or could it be the hiring process or a bias formed from past experience? And here’s the big one: What if that lack of trust is creating the very issues bosses hope to avoid?

Today, I share what I’m seeing, what workers want, and how you can help your clients help themselves by coaching them to trust their people.

Check out this on-demand video of my latest webinar with Caleb of Gusto where we discussed the future of the workplace.

Bossy trust issues

I believe that most work dysfunction comes back to a fundamental absence of trust. If a boss doesn’t trust employees to do the work unless someone is standing over them, they aren’t hiring the right people (or, frankly, they have other trust issues). It’s on them, and I kind of hate to say that. Bosses should be satisfied with measuring the results, not the hours. My motto: It’s about deliverable output, not hours put in.

Yet many traditionally minded managers struggle with not being able to see what their team is doing day in and day out, hour after hour. I’ve heard a lot about people throwing mouse movement tracking software on their employees’ laptops, and that’s crazy. If you can’t trust them to do the job, why hire them? 

And it’s worth mentioning, overt signs that a boss doesn’t trust their people can actually cause the sorts of negative behaviors nobody wants. Gartner studied 10,000 digital workers to confirm what lots of empathetic people already know: 

Employees who don’t feel trusted lose self-confidence and contribute less. Micromanagers stifle creativity and growth, and need to take action and work on both their own behaviors and the norms they set for their teams.

Then let’s factor in all that people have had to stomach after the last two years. They are done with working long hours for little pay. They are done with feeling like a number. They are done with the stress, the lack of appreciation, and the absence of flexibility from their employer. 

Now, when recruiting, the first question my team and I get is, “Is it remote or hybrid?” That’s the very first question. And if our answer is no, they aren’t interested. Certainly, there are those who want to be in office, but it’s a smaller percentage of the population, and most people don’t want to be in office as much time as they did before. According to Gusto research, 80 percent of workers now want at least two days out of the office.

During COVID-19 people got in touch with their own mortality. They realized that life is too short, and if they might not wake up tomorrow, they ought to get a better deal. Back in 2018, HireEffect was 100 percent remote and gave you a laptop, monitors, 401(k) plus a match, and flex time, and it was a great value proposition. Now it’s no longer cool, unique, or a bonus. It’s required. 

Bottom line: If you want to compete, you have to offer your people remote and hybrid work, and more than that, bosses have to trust their people to do it.

People are done with feeling like a number. They are done with the stress, the lack of appreciation.

But won’t remote ruin culture, or prevent it from forming? 

Even if bosses can overcome their qualms about not knowing exactly what remote workers are doing every minute of every day, they still may object on the grounds that it’s hard to instill company culture remotely. And to that, I say, they’re right. But you know what? The same is true in person. Contrary to popular belief, companies operating in person don’t have a huge advantage. Culture happens whether you want it to or not, wherever you are. And, if you’re not remarkably intentional about establishing your culture company-wide, you lose, no matter where you are.

It’s difficult to entrench anyone in an intentional culture if you’ve never done it before. How will workers understand how things are done?  Your mode of work? Your feelings about clients’ rights? Perpetuated habits? Methods of communicating? None of this is dependent on where your employees are working.

Culture happens whether you want it to or not.

I’m not going to say building a positive, constructive culture is easy. It’s not. But it’s equally difficult no matter how you’re organized, no matter where you gather. If your clients want to do it well, they need to fret a lot less about where people are, and more about how the company recruits, pre-boards, onboards, trains, treats, and keeps them engaged and connected to teammates seated eight states away. No, you can’t always pull everyone together in a conference room and give them a big hug. But you can do the next best thing. I pull my team together in a virtual conference room every day,  and have for 17 years, long before we had the tools we have today.

Challenge your clients to trust more

If your clients can learn to trust their people, manage performance remotely (leveraging technology), and recruit the best talent, not only local talent, there is a lot to gain. For one, they can attract all those candidates who ask if the role is remote or hybrid. And that alone is huge. Thirty-four percent of businesses that offer remote work said they were able to find more qualified workers, according to Gusto research. And people are sincerely grateful for that flexibility. A study of 100,000 workers on the Gusto platform found that remote workers are 13 percent less likely to quit

And if after all that, clients are still unwilling to trust remote workers, it may not be about the workers, or remote work. It’s a trust issue. It’s their issue. And it’s going to cost them.

Jennifer Scott founded HireEffect™ in 2007 and leads the team as CEO and Chief People Officer. With a background in HR and now, running a growing, multi-state consulting firm, she brings a unique view to small business leadership.
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