Paul Hargreaves: Large Gains in Trust
A handful of people have told me off recently for being too positive about the long-term benefits to our society from Covid-19. This is not to minimise the pain, loss and hardship of the current pandemic at all, but we hear all that on every news bulletin. There is also surely room to see some positives coming out of the dark negatives of Coronavirus. And I see one of these positives as a large increase of trust in the workplace.
You see, we have had the technology for people to work at home for a couple of decades. Right at the beginning of Cotswold Fayre, 21 years ago, I worked at home at least two days a week, so it was possible then. However, most companies have not allowed that flexibility for their people over the last twenty years, so why not? The main reason has been to do with managers and leaders not trusting their people to work effectively without someone watching them. The need for control and the inability to let go has overridden the ability to trust. Now, some managers may have possibly had good reasons not to trust people due to that trust being abused in the past due to having the wrong people. So having the right people is absolutely essential, but, assuming you do, most work far more effectively being trusted and therefore empowered. If you don’t, it may be time to find another solution!
This pandemic has forced many millions of people to work at home, some for the first time, and suddenly hundreds of thousands of managers have had to let go, some for the first time. And guess what? It has worked, people have worked hard and have been productive, as they would have been if they had been allowed that flexibility years ago. The workplace is revolutionised for ever. Some managers have seen the best of their people, while possibly fearing the worst, and they have learned to trust.
After the PM’s announcement yesterday people may start slowly migrating back to their offices, but I believe the world of work has changed for ever. Some companies are talking about losing their HQs permanently. Personally I do think there is added value in gathering the community of work colleagues together as a whole and in smaller teams. The levels of emotional engagement are less on Zoom and as humans we need to read body language below the neck too, so I think most companies over say 20 people will be keeping their offices. However, there will be more flexibility for many employees ongoing: less sports days missed, less need to take time off when your child is ill and as a result more productivity.
Another huge positive knock-on effect of many more working at home is fewer cars on the road, so when we do need to go somewhere, it will be less stressful to drive or catch the train. Notwithstanding too, the great benefit to the environment with around one third of cars on the road being people driving to work. You see good always comes out of bad – we will be a healthier nation after this than before.