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Future of work trends: building trust

Our associate partner Rik is writing a blog series about trends in internal communications and digital collaboration. Indispensable for both is trust, and that is the subject for this week.

The trusting type

New ways of communication and collaboration will only work if co-workers trust each other. As humans, we have a few million years’ experience in building trust in physical groups. Now we need to think about how we achieve this in a hybrid-work setting.

In an earlier blog in this series, I introduced Harvard Business School professor Tsedal Neeley. She examines this subject extensively in her book Remote Work Revolution.

Neeley distinguishes between cognitive trust, which is based on competencies, and emotional trust, which is about interpersonal relations. Cognitive trust is quite easily given on the basis of someone’s role, profile and first contributions to a group. Building emotional trust takes much longer but is essential for engagement and team cohesion.

The 10% rule

This is why you should make sure you spend 10% of your work time on personal interaction. This also applies when working remotely and communicating digitally. Online meetings tend to be very to-the-point and efficient, but a better approach is to use the first 5-10 minutes of every meeting for social talk.

The same goes for time spent at your workplace: team meetings, one-on-ones, and brainstorming sessions are in themselves great for engagement and cohesion, of course. But resist the urge to cram them all in one day, so you can work from home the rest of the week. Allow time to mingle, have coffee, and connect at a personal level with co-workers.

Online social groups can help, too. I often hear people complaining that internal social platforms like Yammer or Workplace are too chatty. Their focus should – and can – definitely be on creating business value, but they can also help create personal rapport. Even a (facultative!) cat-pictures group can have its use – and that's from a dog person! Also, stimulate the use of emojis and gifs to make communication more personal.

Follow the leader

It won’t come as a surprise that leaders and managers have a key role to play in building trust. Not only should they make it possible and encourage their people to follow the 10% rule, but trust starts with them. Professor Neeley urges leaders and managers to trust in employee autonomy. Remote work during the pandemic has shown that productivity remained high, even when people were out of their manager’s sight. “Stop counting butts in seats”, as Neeley says. Given the tools, empowerment, and support, people will thrive.

Conversely, the worst thing you can do as an organisation is to install monitoring software to spy on people’s digital work behaviour. In the US, no less than 60% of companies use this very effective means of killing trust, sometimes even without their employees’ consent.


Trust underpins all effective human interaction. Design new digital and hybrid ways of communication and collaboration so that they help build trust. Set aside 10% of working time for this purpose, in every meeting, office day, and online interaction. Leaders and managers should trust in employee autonomy and stimulate trust-building within their teams and organisations.

Next trend: The Great Resignation, or: what happens if trust is lacking.

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Maathesh Acharya
Maathesh Acharya
Jan 04, 2023

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