Trust is vital for flexible workers and their managers – here’s how to help create it

Companies who encourage and succeed with flexible working report that trust is an important element of making it work.

report by Diageo and Timewise revealed that  The level of trust is exceptional and it is also normal for employees to flex where they work as and when it makes sense… What matters at Diageo is what you deliver, not where you sit.”

Millennial workers (and younger) are attracted to companies who offer flexible working and autonomy so this trend will continue to grow. Plus 59% of worker say flexibility makes them more productive, not less.

Trust is a barrier that businesses find it hard to overcome – why? Old command and control style? Fear of precedents or of people taking advantage?

Here are some ways to help trust grow and enable successful flexible working:

For employees:

We are a pioneer generation and have the opportunity to pave the way for flexible working becoming the.norm.  We need to make a success of it not just for ourselves but for every on who comes after us!

Make sure that for the time you’re in work you are putting the organisation’s interests first.  Show you’re doing this in your energy, focus, priorities, behaviour – this is about quality time not quantity.  If everyone can see that you’re making every working minute count, getting a good job done and have the company’s best interests at heart, they are more likely to give you the trust and autonomy (and flexibility) you need.


Go out of your way to ensure your manager is comfortable that you’re delivering what you need to
– err on the side of over-communicating and updating.  Ask them what they need to know and how often.. And agree clear measurable deliverables.

The same goes for  colleagues.  If everyone is on different schedules and / or being super efficient then those useful 5-minute over the desk updates, casual questions or water cooler chats won’t happen so much.  Make the effort to keep up good relationships and stay plugged in to what’s going on.

If you feel there is a trust gap with your manager – have a good look at why. Does trust need to be built (or rebuilt) before empowered and autonomous working can be on the table?  If so can you discuss this openly to agree what changes you need to show?  Understand whether the barrier is something you can change, whether it is something personal to you, to them, or if it’s an organisational barrier.  Depending on the answer it may be fixable, or it may not.  Some of the manager tips below may help you put yourself in their shoes.

For managers and organisations:

Start from the belief that everyone deserves trust until proven otherwise: after all you hired these people – you should rate their integrity!   Plus people usually behave then way you expect them to (Pygmalion effect) so the good ones will reward your trust in spades.  If this is employees’ preferred way of working they will want to prove to you that it works.

Discuss and agree what flexibility means and what you’re prepared as an organisation to support.  There are many different flavours of flexible working.  SmartWorkingRevolution has a great summary of the full range of options here and some may work better for your company than others.

Having senior staff model flexible working will show that the company means what it says and can also provide a great example of the required behaviours and attitudes.

You can put limits and safeguards in place: hours/days or key meetings where physical presence is required, routine progress updates etc.  And it’s perfectly possible to offer empowered flexible working on a trial period and review basis – if clear objectives and deliverables are agreed.  Basically, do what you need to to reassure yourself and the organisation that everything is on track (without throwing up unnecessary hurdles or micromanaging).

Focus on managing via clear, measurable (achievable) objectives – then empower employees to deliver them in the way they see best (including where and which hours). Research has shown that this management style gets the best results anyway LINK and is increasingly valued (and demanded) by the younger generations of workers.

If people aren’t performing it gives a framework to understand and communicate issues (and withdraw flex working on an individual basis if they need more help or trust is being abused).

Have clear guidelines and be as consistent as possible about how you apply them across teams (or have a clear explanation why you’re not!).  Nothing causes resentment faster than individual managers allowing different sorts or amounts of flexibility without clear reason…

Flexible working is here to stay, and not just for parents. We owe it to ourselves, our companies and our future workers to make it work.

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