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FLEX Episode 5: How to Create Trust Between Leadership & the Flexible Workforce

FLEX Episode 5: How to Create Trust Between Leadership & the Flexible Workforce
 

Alex Campanelli:

Welcome to FLEX, a podcast by Fuze. As a leader in the cloud communication space, we've been passionate about the future of work for over a decade. Join us as we discuss the future of flexible work with industry leaders and subject matter experts. Thanks for tuning in and let's get started.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Hi everyone. Welcome to FLEX, a podcast by Fuze. I'm your host, Alex Campanelli. Earlier this year, Fuze surveyed almost 9,000 workers across roles and regions to better understand their attitudes and emerging trends around flexible work. One of our key findings in our recent FLEX study was that it takes trust for flexible workforces to thrive. Today I'm talking with Sophie Wade, founder of Flexcel Network, to learn more about how leaders can foster trust among their distributed teams. Sophie, thanks for joining me.

 

Sophie Wade:

Happy to be here, Alex.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Before we start, I like to check in with how people are doing. How has the last year and a half been for you? What has your experience been like during the pandemic and has it been validating for your line of work seeing the rise in flexible work during this period of time?

 

Sophie Wade:

Well, the last 16 months have been challenging in many ways, for my kids dealing with hybrid and virtual learning at university and school and barriers to seeing more of my family in the UK, managing expectations that kind of stuff. But it's also been, I have to say, fulfilling in some ways just because I've been able to share my expertise and understanding. That is to help people navigate what we're going through with more clarity and really share some of that. So that's been quite fulfilling for me. Obviously, a lot of people didn't really know about the future of work or what I was doing. And so that has been quite validating for me in terms of everything I've been doing prior to the pandemic.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Absolutely. So, Sophie, let's jump right in. Tell us about your company, Flexcel Network. How did you come to create this business and how has your mission evolved since the onset of COVID-19?

 

Sophie Wade:

Yes, and it was surprising to me that it took something as drastic and tragic as the pandemic to actually change people's attitudes towards it. So that definitely was something I didn't expect. And it has accelerated the arrival of the future of work, which is something that we sort of needed to happen. We were resisting, but now we are here. Now we can actually start to emerge from the pandemic and do things very differently. So, well, this was, I guess, 2010. I've always worked full time, long hours for small and big companies. And then with two kids, getting home 7:00 PM, spend much of the weekends running around doing errands. And in 2010, my son, who was 10 at the time, asked if I could get a half job. And I actually found a job where I could work three days a week and have Mondays and Fridays to do all the other tasks that I needed to do. And so that generated... And then have the weekends. So I started researching about work flexibility, which is obviously so relevant now.

 

Sophie Wade:

And I first thought that it was really a woman's issue dealing with... Because women were mostly the people doing the caregiving in the family. And then the more I researched, the more I realized it was everybody's issue and that technology was enabling everyone to work differently and that everyone should have the option. And of course younger folks even then were increasingly aware of what technology was allowing us to do and sort of calling it out already. But that was 10 years ago. And very few people had very flexible arrangements. It was mostly sort of flexible hours that people were allowed to avoid traffic in. And so in what my work, I was actually doing executive recruiting for hedge funds at a boutique firm, which was, it was fascinating, but it wasn't the best fit for me. So the way I looked at it, I had two choices, either to take another maybe a year and a half to find a job with the flexibility I wanted or start my own company that would enable and advocate for workplace flexibility.

 

Sophie Wade:

That's what I did 10 years ago now. And since the crisis started, well, really it's actually just enabled me to really focus in and intensify my efforts on the three areas that had been really emerging prior to 2020. And these were sort of new leadership styles, the challenge of communication between generations, with speaking past each other, misinterpreting each other and the decentralized workforce. And for all of these three, I had been finding and working with companies and speaking about it, empathy was the solution. Sort of leaning in and helping people understand what the others were going through and how to sort of really connect with other people's experiences and that would help in these three different areas. And what's really changed since COVID started is because of this urgency I actually started working on my second book, which is all about the need to integrate empathy in the future of work.

 

Alex Campanelli:

So today we're talking about trust between leadership and their distributed teams. And as companies start to transition to permanent, flexible and hybrid work models, our recent FLEX study data shows that 63% of respondents said that they're more trusting of remote work since the beginning of the pandemic. And 54% said they think management is more trusting of remote work since then. Do those numbers seem right to you? Do you think they should be higher?

 

Sophie Wade:

Well, I actually think they possibly were higher in the second or third quarter of 2020. I did see a lot of very positive reports about productivity last year. But now we've been dealing with so much burnout, fatigue with the pandemic, increased stress. And this lingering, we want to be over this. We want to be beyond it and do things differently. And so many companies were not trying to set this up as being the long-term solution because, obviously, we were hoping when we would come out of this we'll be able to go back to the office or whatever it might be. So whether we're stuck in one place before at the office or one place at home, or in stressful situations on the front line, that none of those have been... It's been too restrictive.

 

Sophie Wade:

And so management are weary too. And wanting people to get back in the office and restore order and get back on track. And I think possibly management has also been misinterpreting the decreased productivity that I see as being related to burn out. So I think those numbers will be very different if we can recalibrate and give people options and be able to adjust with people individually and then management trust can go up when they sort of see that when you're adjusting for individual needs, it really changes.

 

Alex Campanelli:

And I know you touched on it, Sophie, a little bit, but what do you think are the key components to facilitating mutual trust between leadership and distributed teams?

 

Sophie Wade:

So trust is defined in all kinds of ways. But if we think about it as the strong connections between people who can rely on positive outcomes to their interactions. So it's about expectations and mutual dependability. So if we think about it that way, then key elements to that are being inclusive. And so really showing everybody is valued on the team. Being transparent, trusting people with more information and sort of really showing them no matter whether they're working, that they're sort of understanding what's going on with the organization and allowing people to have more information about what's going on, particularly also so they're not blindsided. But just that sharing of information helps people feel that they're respected, that they're part of the sort of community. And it's really building that sense of community, creating that safe space so people can speak up. And that they don't get shut down if they do speak up.

 

Sophie Wade:

And it's also being real. It's sharing vulnerabilities from the leaders. So showing that they're human and they can make mistakes. And so that if people, if they might miss an objective or not sort of perform at the top level, that they don't get punished for that. That they're supported and asked questions like what's going on and communicating about reasonable risks. And so it's really helping people individually, building up those relationships, understanding that each person is individual. And also critical piece of it is being very clear about tasks and objectives. So people know what they have to do, and so that they can fulfill on those tasks. So it's, again, that kind of, I have a clear expectation of what I'm supposed to do then I can fulfill that, and then that trust between you and I can build, between you and me can build, because I've been able to feel what your expectations actually were, which I understood.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Right. And on the flip side to my earlier question, what are the barriers to creating that trust?

 

Sophie Wade:

I think one thing that we have seen also, particularly in the pandemic when managers have been fearful or worried about things, it's the micromanaging. And micromanaging, obviously, undermines it. It's sort if, I micromanage you, it's effectively saying, I don't believe in your talents, I don't believe in your ability to get this done. So it really is destructive to trust. Again, obviously the flip side of being clear is being vague and not communicating clearly about the details and goals. That doesn't mean sharing strategies and methodologies for doing things to help you be successful. But without that clarity, it becomes very hard. Being secretive about information which not only can undermine my sort of feeling of being sort of trusted or feeling valued that you're sharing that information with me, but it also means I get blindsided and I start working on a project that actually has gone in a different direction.

 

Sophie Wade:

And then that's so destructive, because I'm like, "Why am I bothering with this? You didn't tell me about it." Not taking the time and attention to build relationships and actually nurture that positive work environment. A lot of people, a lot of them just have been stressed. They've been so much going on that they haven't taken the time to do that. But that work that's done in nurturing a positive work environment and that culture that's going to connect people really has multiple benefits. And so it is hard sometimes to carve out that time to build the relationships, but it is so needed. And also, I think one more thing is about recognizing that different people work best with different oversight. And that I might be able to give you just a deadline and off you go and run with it, whereas other people might need more milestones. And there's no critique, it's just that's the way... Checking in with them regularly maybe the best thing to sort of support them. Not trusting them, but just supporting them in an individual way.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Sophie, on your blog, you talk a lot about leading and managing with empathy. How does that tie into this broader conversation around mutual trust? I know you touched on it a little bit, but could you expand more on that?

 

Sophie Wade:

Yes. Yes. Well, it's a core component. So empathy is defined as being the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes and experience. So feel what they're feeling, experience what they're going through. So just the act of empathizing shows that I care about you as an individual because I'm trying to understand how you see the world and what experience you're having. And so just that is going to help you feel better because you feel more understood. You feel that I care more, you will feel therefore safer in conversations with me and then open up.

 

Sophie Wade:

And when we are sort of mutually empathizing and mutually sort of opening up, I can better manage you because I know more about what you need. I'm not just guessing about what that look on your face is, is she concentrating? Is she struggling? Is it about the project? Is it about her dog? Very cute dog. And that really helps me adjust how I'm going to support you and give you tasks in the future and all those kinds of things. So empathy and trust is so connected and intertwined, because obviously the more that we're empathizing with each other, the more we're enabling those positive, sort of mutually reinforcing experiences that are the building blocks of trust.

 

Alex Campanelli:

And how can you IT leaders help influence or prepare their organization to be more mindful about empathy as we move into this new era of work?

 

Sophie Wade:

Great questions. So empathy, it's interesting. It's a value that can be elevated and demonstrated. And it's also a skill that can be practiced and incorporated into many daily habits. So if it's highlighted as a value within just the IT department or across the whole organization, but let's just say it's the IT department, the leader can be nurturing that empathetic work environment; being inclusive, being transparent, really sort of sharing the objectives, making sure everybody speaks up at a meeting and nurturing and supporting each person on their teams, all the other leaders in the teams, wherever people are working,

 

Sophie Wade:

And in terms of establishing empathetic habits, you're showing, as a leader, you're demonstrating both the fact that you're walking the walk as well as talking the talk and demonstrating the results and then highlighting the results. Say, well this team did an amazing job and was showing these different empathetic habits and look how well they did and look how sort of well the product was, or shorter timeframe or whatever it might be, where are the sort of the indirect... Empathy is hard to measure, but the indirect results are numerous. And being thoughtful about people. So really demonstrating, as a leader, how... Being the model of empathetic behavior, because people will follow the leader.

 

Alex Campanelli:

I think that makes perfect sense. So, Sophie, last question. What are some communication, best practices you can offer both leaders and individual contributors alike? So whether they're flexible workers, permanently remote, in the office, to solidify that trust in their day-to-day working relationships? I know you touched on transparency and a few other things, but can you expand on that a little bit more?

 

Sophie Wade:

Sure, sure. So, for example, going into a meeting, really doing that, connecting at the beginning, how are people doing? Not just, how are you doing and then listening to the answer. But remembering that Alex has a dog. And so how's your dog and really connecting on a personal basis because that also makes sure that you and I remember that we're on the same side of the table in some areas, and we have connection, we have commonalities. So if there was any conflict in our discussion, we can get past that more easily because we sort of understand each other. Encouraging listening, asking open questions in the meeting, building on each other's ideas. I like to get rid of the word but, and replace it with yes and, or good point and. But is so easy to be dismissive of somebody else's ideas or whatever situation they've come up with.

 

Sophie Wade:

So that is very... I find the concept of building on each other's ideas is very, very helpful. And restating what someone said. Like, Alex, what I think I heard you say is. Using a very sort of open format, but I'm not sure I completely got that, can you help me? This is what I think I heard. That shows value. I'm respecting that... It's showing that I care what you said, and I want to get it right and I want to make sure that I understood. Because particularly between generations, but there were so many differences in different dimensions of how individuals are different. But it does mean that you may say something and I may understand something completely different. And that really matters because then if there's a miscommunication or misunderstanding, there's going to be... We can be blaming each other or going in a different direction.

 

Sophie Wade:

And another thing is soliciting opinions from everybody at the meeting and acting upon those without... It's not just like, yes, I want people to speak up because if I then can, "Yeah, yeah, yeah," but I'm not listening to what they actually said, that then becomes very destructive. So you can actually have one person who is designated at the beginning of the meeting to ensure that everybody actually gets a turn and everybody is heard. And when you have a hybrid meeting, some people in the office and some people aren't, that can be incredibly important to make sure that it's easy for everybody, particularly who are working remotely, to be heard, feel heard, feel included. And then just generally supporting of everybody no matter where they are, no matter how they're working in an equitable basis, because that's really about inclusion. And sort of in other ways, communicating that everybody is valued and respected.

 

Alex Campanelli:

That's great. I think that's about all the time we have for today's chat. But, Sophie, thanks for talking with me and thanks everyone for listening.

 

Sophie Wade:

Such a pleasure to be here. Thanks so much, Alex.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Thanks again for listening to FLEX, a podcast by Fuze. Be sure to subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts, and rate and review us. For more information, visit fuze.com and follow us on social media at Fuze. See you next time.