The pandemic has wrought many changes in all our lives, little and large, but perhaps one of the biggest is how the world of work has pivoted to accommodate working remotely. While we’ve been at it for a good few years now, managing a team remotely or in a hybrid set-up is still a relatively new way of operating, and one that leaders may struggle to navigate.

Creating a high-trust environment is even more important when you don’t see your staff face-to-face and day-to-day. How do leaders build trust in these work situations, and what challenges do they face doing so?

Building trust remotely
Trust is letting go and believing people will do the right thing when your back is turned, says Joe McGinley, chief executive and founder of Dublin-based Iconic Offices.

“You build the trust by releasing the reins and allowing the employees demonstrate their work ethic from a distance. So, for me, it’s handing over the freedom and then it is down to the employee to build the trust by doing what they need to do, and you are there to support them. I would apply that style whether it’s in an office or in a remote or hybrid setting.”

Key to supporting employees is building organisational processes that facilitate and foster positive communications in remote environments, says Seamus Kilgannon, founder of workLAB in Waterford. “It is critically important to invest in the infrastructure and technology that enables the employee to feel comfortable in their work environment be it at home or in a work hub. Organisations need to ensure they are utilising project management tools to ensure productivity and work timeline are in sync.”

Benefits of working in a new way
McGinley says the main benefit of a hybrid or remote work set-up is that the employees appreciate it, so it goes a long way towards improving retention.

“There is a business benefit in being able to shrink their real estate footprint for hybrid working leading to cost reductions. We are seeing a lot of leadership teams looking to shrink their office real estate and operate models in a flexible workspace that supports these cost savings for their business while providing an improved employee experience in a high-quality space.”

Kilgannon agrees that it is far easier to recruit and retain employees who seek a more flexible work-life balance. “For the employer who is happy to facilitate remote working, they have a global environment to recruit from.”

And the challenges …
McGinley says he dislikes the use of Teams and virtual meetings. “My preference would be in-person meetings, and so indirectly this probably encourages people to do their work when remote and do their meetings with me when in person. It can be challenging in that I definitely have to be more flexible with my diary when booking those meetings as a result, but I do it to support staff on hybrid working.

“In my opinion, there is no better alternative to in-person office working and meetings. You only have to look at the eyeballs when you are on a lot of zoom meetings to feel that most people aren’t present. In person, there is better connection and collaboration.”

Still, he says that to be a forward-thinking employer and to attract and retain skilled talent in a challenging employment market, offering hybrid solutions where possible is an absolute must.

Working from home — but not from home
Of course, it’s not always possible that people have adequate space at home to accommodate a home office, and for this reason they may turn to co-working spaces or work hubs.

“For employers and employees who embrace remote/hybrid working, work hubs are helpful to the employee’s wellbeing as they can support the employee’s social interaction needs,” says Kilgannon. “Employers must be acutely aware of their duty of care to their employees’ mental health.”

Hybrid working provides great flexibility within people’s personal lives, he adds. “Hubs allow people to work outside the home office but closer to their ‘home’. While people want to work remotely, not everyone’s home environment is suitable. If there are young families and broadband issues, we can provide an option.

“Hubs provide hot desks for users where they can work remotely in an ad hoc basis in a professional space. This can be a great way to get [a] feel for hybrid working for those that may have been working fully remotely for an extended period.”