The Real Challenge of WFH: Trust (Part 2 of 2)

My last post took a swing at some of the oft-cited downsides of the new WFx experiment that corporate America is running in real-time. In contrast to what has quickly become popular wisdom, I think most businesses (including us at Rare Beauty Brands) have found that at least in the short term, productivity is up and that includes finding creative solutions to problems and onboarding new people. 

But there is something deeper, more long-term and more nuanced that business leaders need to address proactively: trust.

A brilliant article in The Atlantic called The End of Trust: Suspicion is undermining the American economy cites several studies outlining the recent decline in workplace trust:

  • The longer employees were apart during the pandemic, the more trust fell;
  • 60% of bosses didn’t trust that remote workers were as productive as those in the office;
  • Demand for workplace surveillance software has boomed by 50%.


What is going on here?

We humans are a social species, we tend to organize in tribes, and we tend to distrust those from outside the group. When we see each other in person we can pick up the social cues that tribe members use to determine if someone is trustworthy; remote work makes this harder. And the impact is larger the less you interact with someone – Sally in marketing sees her boss and fellow marketers everyday, even if only on her screen, so there is ample opportunity for rich, trust-building interaction. But what about Greg in Finance who she only sees in a small Zoom box at the infrequent Company Meeting?


What can business leaders do about it?

First of all, don’t buy surveillance software. Ever. If you think you have to monitor your people, you’ve already lost.

Second, go and buy Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. The whole book is incredible, but for these purposes, focus on pages 27-37. For a take on it that is specific to remote work, check out Bob Glazer’s How the Thrive in the Virtual Workplace. Start with pages 75-104. 

These books will give you best practices on personal leadership (be vulnerable, be transparent, be consistent), culture development (develop & live your organization’s purpose and values), and in the case of Glazer, specific tactics to reinforce the above in a virtual setting.

At Rare Beauty Brands we’re doing the following (and we’re continually trying to improve):

  • Developed and published our Vision, Mission & Values to all employees;
  • Monthly all-hands Company Meetings for 30 minutes (feels light, maybe we could/should do more);
  • Weekly “Rare Form” email to all employees highlighting wins, losses, musings and other goings-on;
  • “Getting to Know You” presentations. Lunch & learns where one person presents their life story to the whole company. These can be stressful for the presenters but really help us break down barriers and understand each other;
  • Annual in-person RBB Summit. OK we haven’t done this yet but it is planned for April (COVID notwithstanding…). It’s an idea we borrowed from Bob Glazer’s Acceleration Partners.


What are we missing?