Home / Blog / Trust And Transparency Are Key To Hybrid Work Success

Trust And Transparency Are Key To Hybrid Work Success

Originally published in Forbes on Feb 15, 2022, as Forbes Technology Council Post

I recently read an article from 2014 that felt like a prescient guide to performance success in today’s hybrid workplace. 

Based on a study by Harvard Business School professor Ethan Bernstein, the article focused on the importance of balancing the transparency and privacy of workforce analytics data in pursuit of increased innovation and productivity. It’s a fascinating and highly recommended read. It also highlights a concept that is top of mind with CEOs today: the critical role of trust in employee-employer relationships.

Trust is a two-way street. It entails me sharing something of importance and value with the belief that you will care for and value it just as much. As Forbes contributor Dennis Jaffe notes, “Its presence cements relationships by allowing people to live and work together, feel safe and belong to a group… When trust is intact, we will willingly contribute what is needed, not just by offering our presence, but also by sharing our dedication, talent, energy, and honest thoughts on how the relationship or group is working.”

This leads me to hybrid work — a model that challenges employers to satisfy and balance their need for visibility into employee work activities with a level of trust that allows for employee schedule and location flexibility.

Trust is the foundation for hybrid work success; when each party contributes to the shared purpose of an organization, everyone wins. But establishing this implicit “agreement” can be complex — varying from team to team. Here are four key considerations: flexibility models, visibility needs, trust and transparency, and performance indicators.

Flexibility Models

According to McKinsey & Company, 52% of employees prefer a more flexible, hybrid working model post-pandemic — yet this model is open to a wide variety of interpretations. Options include:

  • Universal: applied across the organization, with fixed days in office and remote
  • Variable: applied across the organization, with decisions made at the team level  
  • Case-by-case: set at the individual level, adhered to week over week
  • Fluid: schedules without constraints, whereby individuals come and go as they please

With clearly established options and boundaries, leaders can shift their focus to better understanding how employees work and providing the necessary support and tools for them to achieve their goals.

Visibility Needs

As flexibility gets more clearly defined, visibility must be as well. Organizations should work backward from the insights needed to run their business to the data needed to see progress and results. When properly measured, analyzed, and applied, these insights can help teams identify barriers to working effectively and make improvements grounded in a fair and supportive culture. By role, these insights may include:

• Leadership

  • Employee engagement and well-being
  • Strategic alignment
  • Cross-functional collaboration and coordination

• Managers

  • Employee engagement and well-being
  • Team and individual burnout risk
  • Training opportunities
  • Focus capacity and capability
  • Workload balance

• Individual Contributors

  • Personal well-being and balance
  • Schedule preferences
  • Break habits
  • Controllable distractions
  • Training needs and skills gaps

Trust And Transparency

Trust is attained through a series of actions representing a consistent set of values. Leaders must clearly communicate their flexible work expectations and provide the appropriate support mechanisms to facilitate productivity. These mechanisms can only be determined when leaders, managers, and employees collaborate to identify opportunity areas and take action together.

Organizations that do this effectively build transparency agreements for their new flexible work environment that outline not only what data they will collect for visibility purposes, but how they will use it, when they will share it and who will have access to it. 

Performance Indicators

Healthy metrics are critical to providing insights that improve well-being and productivity and support leadership efforts to strengthen trust with employees. Raw data can be tremendously useful, but it can also be used to form metrics and insights ridden with biases and misleading conclusions.

The examples below contrast two different scenarios in how data is collected and applied to understand employee engagement and productivity — ultimately leading to two very different outcomes. 

Data collected: Time logged on/off each day.

Scenario One (Poor Example)

• Metrics: Average hours worked over a 60-day period

• Insight: John works the most hours among his peers, averaging 9+ hours/day over the last 60 days

• Action: Leadership generates a report by hours worked and identifies the top quartile. John is recognized for being among the hardest workers in the organization.

• However, time worked is not always a true indicator of productive time.

• Outcome: Other employees get frustrated, lose trust in leadership and adopt unproductive behavior.

Scenario Two (Good Example)

• Metrics: Percent variability of start times over a 60-day period

• Insight: Jessica typically starts her day between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. Recently this started to change, with Jessica beginning work at different times of the morning.

• Action: Jessica’s manager checks in to see how she is doing. Jessica says she’s beginning to feel disconnected from work and it doesn’t energize her the way it once did.

• High variability in start time behaviors can indicate a change in engagement and provide an opportunity for discussion

• Outcome: Jessica and her manager collaborate to come up with a plan that makes her feel more engaged and excited about work.

In scenario one, merely studying hours worked as an indicator of productivity leads the organization to make a series of assumptions that are not always correct — this goes back to the findings in Bernstein’s article.  

In scenario two, the same data is used to create an entirely different metric around variation that ultimately leads to a more positive outcome and prevents the company from losing a highly valuable employee.

In conclusion, workplace data can be a powerful tool in ensuring the success of the hybrid work model. If employers don’t have the visibility they need, they can miss valuable opportunities to provide employees with optimal training, resources, and support to be successful. If employees don’t have the flexibility they want, they may grow frustrated and lose interest and engagement. Striking the balance between data transparency and privacy is the key to establishing a culture based on trust and should be an ongoing process of definition, evaluation, and learning.

About ActivTrak

ActivTrak’s workforce analytics provide predictive insights that help leaders, managers, and employees build trust, deepen engagement and boost productivity in the modern, hybrid workplace. This work is supported by the ActivTrak Productivity Lab, a global center for ground-breaking research and expertise that leverages data sourced from more than 9,000 customers and over 550,000 users. Based in Austin, Texas, ActivTrak is backed by Sapphire Ventures and Elsewhere Partners and is led by a seasoned team of software industry veterans. To learn more visit: https://activtrak.com/.