Declining productivity is a constant concern for both governments and companies, especially small- and medium-sized ones. And it’s no wonder: private enterprises generate over 80% of jobs in developed countries, and 90% in developing economies.
Many employers wonder if hybrid work formats are to blame for this decline, or at least struggle to define effective policies to govern these new models.
To shed light on these issues, I recently spoke with Christina Janzer, director of research and analytics at Slack, a cloud-based collaboration platform. In her survey of 10,000-plus professionals, she found that many use tangible metrics to gauge productivity – figures like email volume or number of hours worked.
But what if these are the wrong metrics?
For Janzer, the answer is clear: the intangible notion of trust is the real driver of greater productivity.
1 – Trust is everything
Trust is more crucial than ever in today’s labor market, as more and more companies adopt hybrid work policies and employees demand greater flexibility.
The foundations of trust are laid in the selection and hiring processes, says Ibukun Awosika, business innovator and leader of her family firm in Nigeria: employers should have the utmost trust in their new recruits, rather than expecting them to prove their trustworthiness once hired.
In this sense, Janzer highlights an interesting paradox: the significant resources companies allocate to finding the perfect fit, only to dial the “employee trust-o-meter” to zero once they join the firm, e.g., doubting whether to entrust them with company information or questioning their wherewithal to make an important presentation.
Both Janzer and Awosika concur on this point: employment relationships should start at 100% trust levels.
2 – Flexibility in the workplace
While employees in Europe are gradually returning to the office, this isn’t the case in the U.S., where telecommuting remains the norm (although with notable exceptions in some larger organizations).
Flexible work schedules allow employees to work when they are most productive, leading to asynchronous timetables and, ultimately, the need for firms to trust their people to do their jobs.
While flexible work policies can help build trust, they can act as a double-edged sword for women as Prof. Isabel Villamor found in her recent research.
Feedback and two-way communication channels are fundamental in building trust: managers should be able to share their thoughts and decisions with employees, and receive the latter’s concerns and challenges with an open mind.
Trust suffers when feedback is offered and left without a response.
3 – Leading by example
Communication is a powerful tool that needs to be modeled by example in both family-owned and non-family firms alike.
Words are important, but actions are even more so. Fluid lines of communication and trust-based cultures are grounded in clearly defined expectations, values and vision, interwoven at every level of the organization.
Trust moves in both top-down and bottom-up currents. Organizations have the power to shape their team members and help them reach their full potential, which has a positive spillover effect on overall productivity.
Communicating these values is especially critical in family-controlled firms, as explored in recent posts. Many owners assume their decisions, culture and family values are communicated automatically to their teams – they would be wise to ensure that this is actually the case.
In the regard, company leaders should explicitly define their values and spearhead those they consider the most important. In this way, the firm’s actions will reflect their core values and principles, building trust in the team and the organization.
What is not said often communicates more than what is verbalized, warns Prof. Alfonso Chiner. He advises business leaders to laser-focus on what truly matters to them – which values and principles – and act accordingly.
“Doing good strategically” is a powerful way to translate these core values into action, says Awosika, who urges leaders to branch out alone and then aim to spread positive change to their teams, organization and communities. In this sense, she has no problem embarking on projects alone: with a compelling proof of concept, she knows others will follow.
The need to embrace empathy
Gaining trust requires clear and open lines of communication, with empathy as its core to better navigate difficult decisions and create a more collaborative work environment.
Offering context and empathy goes a long way in communicating tough decisions. As noted by Meryl Streep, recipient of a 2023 Princess of Asturias Award, this doesn’t mean watering down the message; it means listening with a more attuned ear:
The gift of empathy is something we all share. The mysterious ability to sit together, strangers in a darkened theater, and feel the feelings of people who don’t look like us or sound like us, is one we all might do well to take outside with us into the daylight.
Empathy may be a radical form of outreach and diplomacy useful in other theaters of endeavor as well. In our increasingly hostile, volatile world, I hope we might take to heart another rule every actor is taught, which is: it is all about listening.
As we adapt to new ways of working, let us remember the importance of leading by example, communicating effectively and fostering an environment of trust in our organizations.
Homepage image: Pexels · Christina Morillo