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The importance of trust, flexibility, and focus in the workplace

People first, corporations second. That's the way companies should be operating nowadays. The new world of work has offered autonomy, flexibility, trust, focus, and belonging to workers everywhere. When companies don't rise to that standard — they are at risk of falling behind the competition. 

I wanted to uncover the truth behind the management, access, sharing, and creation (MASC) of information in a software-enabled workplace where professionals work in distributed teams.

Qatalog teamed up with Cornell University to get a better understanding of tacit knowledge in respect to the modern workplace. 

They looked at how you use internal knowledge, such as cognitive learning, mental models, and technical skills to make high-quality decisions. The 1000 participants were asked about how they organized information, made it available, and passed it on to generate practical and creative ideas at work.

The three separate surveys revealed that 62% agree there is a reduction in opportunities to collaborate with others with a shift to remote work. And yet, the majority of knowledge workers aren't willing to return to the office and go back to the old methods of collaboration. 

Our slew of software tools that are theoretically supposed to connect us aren’t helping. We're drowning in the noise and struggling to find focus in the workplace. 

But more than that — our companies require a mindset shift. And since companies don't have brains, that responsibility falls to our leaders. 

Trust makes flexibility possible

How does your team perceive trust when it comes to the workplace? It's not just about being reliable. It's about having mutual respect and confidence developed due to faith in each individual's expertise. And that is reinforced with consistently fulfilled expectations.

When you have aligned and managed performance expectations, every member knows their objectives and how they need to achieve them. And they provide support to each other to make that happen.

Enabling complete transparency for your team when they're working together on projects also increases their ability to be flexible and trust each other. If everyone's apps are and shared tools are part of a streamlined work hub, their workflow is improved.

Empower your team and reduce micromanagement by increasing independent work tasks. What decisions can you make without approval? What can they do without your consent? Demonstrate which tasks have the highest priority. Then let them know which tasks need a supervisor and what they can manage individually.

In a remote environment, the lines between personal and professional lives can become blurred. There is no "buffer zone" of leaving work. It can lead to your team feeling they have no safe space when getting feedback. If employees think you are going above and beyond when it comes to considering them being empathetic and vulnerable, they will respond with more ideas, pose more questions and give more feedback. And in turn, they will feel more valued.

Ask these questions when you are considering the levels of trust in your team:

  • Do your team members have confidence in their support of each other's goals? 
  • Do they feel valued enough by their supervisor to ask questions safely and take smart risks? 

Empowering flexibility in your people-first team

Now that your team has flexibility created through trust, how can you manage this optimally?

A remote work environment needs to be managed with an agreement of expectations. Make sure your team understands the boundaries and implications of your remote work policy schedule, and they have reviewed the agreement. 

And yes, while flexibility does have a degree of autonomy and self-management, your team members need the right resources to do this efficiently and effectively. You can provide this through a work hub that enables easy access to solutions and answers so they can overcome hurdles independently.

Provide an asynchronous digital infrastructure with your software tools that can be utilized regardless of time or region.

When work location is global, a recorded communication charter is also integral to the organization. Your cultural standards need to be aligned so your team members are unified and can fulfill expectations, irrespective of time or place.

Ask these questions when you are assessing flexibility for your people first team:

  • Do your team members have the autonomy necessary to manage their tasks and schedules? 
  • Is anyone's productivity dependent on certain people, places, or times? 

Flexibility enables focus

When your team has focus, it can unlock their true creative potential. But did you know context-switching can drain cognitive function? And this can be very tiring for team members. 

In Qatalog’s research, 89% of respondents said they believe their company thinks they can find all or most of what they need on the company system. 

But in reality, 7 in 10 people (69%) report that finding the information to do their job is time-consuming. 

Create a work-life balance that enables your team members to unplug and recharge. And make it clear what is expected of individuals when responding outside of those hours.

Give your team space to create mental energy to participate in creative and innovative processes. While it's great to get good results, too much pressure to deliver can actually be detrimental to performance. 

Delegate fairly by using metrics in your project management system to measure assignments.

Ask these questions when you are assessing focus for your people first team:

  • Are there specific tools or channels that indicate an emergency? (This can be a signal deep work can commence, and you can silence all other channels)
  • Do we ever lose time or concentration looking for specific files or information? If so, are there commonalities between the types of resources that get lost? 

Focus makes belonging possible

One of the critical aspects of "company culture," which is hard to imitate with a remote workforce, is the lack of proximity from being together in the same space. That sense of belonging and security that you get when interacting with each other physically and personally face to face. But does that mean you are truly unified?

If you have a positive, transparent culture that encourages interaction, praise, and reward, proximity in person is not essential.

By regularly encouraging public recognition and celebration on a virtual platform, you can recreate that sense of community.

Your remote work environment also allows you to have a greater diversity of individuals and access to ideas, skills, and experiences. And with these different working styles and cultural perspectives, you can increase the capabilities of your team and company.

However, it is essential to note that without stopping by someone's desk to check in on how they are, it can sometimes be challenging to assess how your team members are feeling. But by creating a system of signals and various communication methods, you can empower employees to illustrate how they feel. 

Ultimately, you need to unite your team through a common cause to create that sense of belonging. When everyone is working together towards the same goal, their shared experience will make them feel more connected than spending time together in an office environment.

Ask these questions when you are assessing belonging for your people first team:

  • Do your team members feel valued and appreciated?
  • Which tasks, projects, or brainstorming sessions would it be helpful for your team to work on together using interactive screen sharing and video calls

Wrap up: leading people-first

When your team shares trust, they can embrace a flexible working environment irrespective of whether they are in the same place or working simultaneously. And the flexibility that comes with that means they can arrange their workloads to fit their optimum creativity and productivity. 

Giving your team autonomy doesn't mean they are being left to fend for themselves. Ultimately focus can lead to space for deep work and collaboration.

And when your team is focused and has space to be creative, they feel more unified. Your team will have a sense of belonging, which means they will trust each other to a higher level.

This blog was based on Qatalog’s research with Cornell University. You can find the full report, as well as the Modern Work Index here.

Zoe Nauman is a journalist turned remote-work writer.
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