In the Future Workplace, Trust Meets Accountability

Group of employees working at a table looking at something off screen

This article was originally published as The Wall Street Journal Custom Content.

While the rise of remote and hybrid work may be one of the defining employment trends of the COVID-19 era, it’s still anyone’s guess what the future truly holds for the workplace. As countless businesses continue to navigate return-to-office plans, others have made waves with announcements to permanently allow employees to do their jobs wherever they please.

That’s not to say the contours of the post-pandemic workplace are completely shrouded in mystery. As employers approach questions of flexibility, the savvy ones will lean into trust—between leaders and management, teams and individuals, and recruiters and job candidates—as their people strategy’s North Star.

“Businesses are asking if they can look to the last two years to indicate what future performance could look like if they continue to lean hard into a culture of trust,” says Tim Stutz, chief operating officer at Insight Global, an Atlanta-based staffing and talent solutions company. “With flexibility in mind, they are reimagining a greater sense of togetherness and belonging for their organization.”

According to a recent study by PwC, 84% of employees report that trust in their direct manager has stayed the same or increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. That finding should help provide guidance to companies seeking to define their new normal. When there is trust in the workplace, employees are 23% more likely to offer ideas and solutions, a report from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) notes. Employers must consider just how they can continue to grow that trust.

Research from the Association for Talent Development (ATD) shows a variety of approaches to remote and hybrid work are emerging. Almost half (47%) of organizations expect their adoption of hybrid teams to stay the same five years from now. However, 34% project an increase in hybrid use, while 19% anticipate a decrease.

“The potential loss of teamwork and collaboration was a top barrier organizations have cited with the increased use of hybrid teams,” says Tony Bingham, president and CEO of ATD. “That loss can lead to decreased engagement if there is a disconnect between on-site and virtual employees.”

Two employees sitting at a computer talking and working together to solve a problem.

Trust Meets Accountability

Whatever direction employers take toward flexibility, experts like Stutz note the perfect blend of trust and accountability should remain top of mind for businesses determining what’s next for their workplace. After all, those qualities go both ways—for organizations determining whether to return to the physical office as well as employees doing their jobs from wherever they choose.

There’s an understandable fear that employers will want to strip away the freedoms of the last two years when they ask people to return to the office,” Stutz says. “But it’s worth remembering the value of being around others who can help us overcome the hurdles, fears and struggles we all experience in our careers. Companies have to recognize those fears and lean in to ensure that real growth can happen in two places: home and the office.”

Of course, a singular approach may not be appropriate for every business—or, for that matter, every employee. For all the discussion of flexibility’s starring role in the future of work, anyone who’s spent a day in wall-to-wall video conferences can vouch that hybrid and remote models don’t always facilitate culture and collaboration. However, when someone’s job calls for focus and creativity, working remotely without interruptions can be exactly what’s needed.

“You’re going to be more successful and more fulfilled when you understand what kind of environment is best suited to the growth you want to achieve,” Stutz says. “In this context, accountability shouldn’t be seen as incompatible with flexibility. Ultimately, accountability can be the greatest vessel for personal and professional growth.”

Businesses’ approaches to preserving or changing workplace practices also speak to questions of employee experience—one of the keys to winning and retaining talent in the post-pandemic workplace. “What employees want more than anything is to feel trusted and valued, and to know their contribution to the organization matters,” Stutz says. The companies and leaders blazing a path to the crossroads of trust and accountability will find that they have cultures suited for long-term success, where all parties feel satisfaction and fulfillment.

Wall Street Journal Custom Content is a unit of The Wall Street Journal Advertising Department. The Wall Street Journal news organization was not involved in the creation of this content.