What We Need Is Trust

Part II of the Discussion – The Workplace and, Meeting Space Deficits


Trust Writ Large

We talked earlier this week about the serious erosion of social trust, including the all -important but often unrecognized weak link trust that makes for a functioning society. We discussed that while a bit of this is a part of human nature, the downside of such distrust got a long term and deep boost from the Reagan era, which fed right into what the conspiracy theorists and far righters have brought to maturity over the last 4-6 years.

If you are looking to be xenophobic, paranoid, racist, or all of the above, boy have you had a good few years. But there is another aspect of all this that is affecting another element of society – how people in a company or organization work together (or fail to do so). The long-term consequences of this aspect of the problem are only now beginning to be recognized. And they are ugly.

How is This Playing Out at Work?

Remember when the pandemic first hit, and millions had to start working from home? What a zoo! Most did not have the software or connections they needed. If two of you were working from home, the band width war got ugly. Kids were underfoot, distractions were rampant, people missed their coworkers. Not a happy time for workers or managers.

But over time, many of these speed bumps evened out and an interesting social change took root. People decided they liked the flexibility and autonomy of working at home. They came to enjoy spending more time with their kids (OK, that one depends on the kids in question). People really started liking the flexibility of how they organized their workday. Want to stop working on that memo for a bit and walk the dog in the woods? Sure, why not. The work still got done.

Now What?

 Surprise, a lot of people decided they do not want to go back to work – they like the remote model – a lot. For leaders and managers, this creates some real problems. The old issues of accountability and ensuring the work is getting done always were largely bogus and don’t count much now. But how to build a corporate culture and mentor the next generation of leaders? That is now a real problem. I am not sure many workers have thought about that yet, but they should.

For one thing, it will affect the global workplace environment in which they work. For another, those who really insist on working only from home may not all recognize just yet they likely have zero future in their workplace (or any workplace) going forward, beyond simply producing outcome. This is a formula for isolation and stagnation, both of which feed the aforementioned lack of social trust. Not good.

 Any Effects on Volunteer Groups, Clubs, etc.?

 These types of groups are seeing similar effects. For a while, online meetings were the only choice. Eventually, live meetings came back, and hybrid (combining live and online) has gotten more popular. Like so many things, we end up with some two-edged swords.

On the one hand, hybrid meetings continue to provide protection for those in need of extra protection. Some people who could not or would not come to a meeting on purpose now have a way to participate. But just as in the workplace, the human dynamic of people patting each other on the back, sharing a table and breaking bread together, generates invaluable bonding and levels of mutual trust. A little give and take on disagreements come easier in person.

I have been reading about and talking with leaders of social and cause based organizations who are worried about not fostering a “let’s come together” modality. Just as in the workplace, it is difficult to build a community culture and develop leaders when we all are images on a screen. In at least some cases, there is a worry that the essential tool of electronic meetings is being overextended for reasons of simple convenience. Why get dressed and drive 30 minutes when I can do it all here online? What is lost is not always obvious, but it can be corrosive.

Who Needs to Do What?

I’m glad you asked, because I think everyone has a role to play in getting this right. First, businesses need to be smart enough to understand some form of hybrid work is likely the new norm. They need to figure out how best to use it. One good approach is a mixed calendar – in the office some days, online others. Everyone gets the advantages of both approaches.  What about those who insist on remote only work? Leaders will have to decide if they are worth retaining (many will be) but be clear with them that they are setting themselves up more as production units than team members. They should know this choice likely limits what their future looks like.

Social and cause-related groups might have a bigger challenge and less leverage, but the outcomes are no less important for them. Given the option, I would begin weening regular events from the online option where possible but use them at least often enough to maintain the technical capacity to do them well when they are needed.

And lastly, the rest of us – workers and volunteers – need to recognize we are part of many communities, and our physical comingling has important outcomes for us all. We all need to be willing to make a few tradeoffs in preferences and commitments as the world takes the next couple of years sorting out what the world will look like as all this settles in. Until we get Star Trek style holodecks down pat, we need to breath a little shared air with some regularity.

This Means All of Us

Those of you who know me well recognize this last statement was a big deal for me to share. I am a hermit at heart. But, for better or worse, we need each other and that means we need some essential level bonding and a baseline of mutual trust.

Come, let us gather.

         Bill Clontz

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Let’s grow our circle.


2 replies to What We Need Is Trust

  1. I agree that leaders need to find a way to entice people back to the regular workplace, at least with some form of a hybrid model.
    My last 4 years in the Corporate world, I worked in the office 3 days a week and 2 days working from home. This sure was welcome since my commute was a 2 1/2 hour round trip. Even from home, I was always in touch with my group leaders

    • Exactly the kind of model that should be the new baseline.

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