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Why Trust is Key to Flexible Working

Trust is a barrier that businesses find it hard to get past when it comes to flexible working – why is that? Old command and control style? Fear of people taking advantage?
If you can’t see the employee, how do you know that they are getting the work done, or working at all?

By implementing common sense practices says Isabel Lydall of the blog Parent Work Thrive. The onus is on both the employer and the employee to make flexibility work – and ultimately, the business results can prove the concept.


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 through 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. Agree clear and  measurable deliverables.

The same goes for  colleagues.  If everyone is on different schedules / in different locations, 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.


If this is an employees preferred way of working they will want to prove to you that it works.


For Managers & Employers

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 the way you expect them to (Pygmalion effect) so the good ones will reward your trust in spades.  If this is an 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 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 you can withdraw flex working on an individual basis if the person needs 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 to different employees without clear reason.

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


About the Author

Isabel Lydall runs the blog Parent Work Thrive which is aimed at working parents who are trying to combine a thriving home and family life with a fulfilling career. The idea behind the blog is to create new ways of thinking about the issues facing working parents, and to give some hope that it is possible to thrive at both! Parent Work Thrive looks at how we can make life easier, and enable parents – especially mothers – to cut through some of the barriers that hold them back.

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