When you imagine the workforce 10 years from now, what comes to mind?
A realm where artificial intelligence, automation, and access to a global talent pool without borders have reshaped our work reality? Or perhaps in a world where we’re working across time zones, multiple tech platforms, and only doing the hours that suit us, is the nine-to-five a thing of the past?
Whatever your vision, our workplaces have already shifted dramatically in recent years. Incredible technology advancements, shifting consumer expectations and climate change concerns have all contributed to a chaotic environment for business leaders to navigate, where previous work compasses and roadmaps have become redundant.
We can’t know for sure what the business challenges we’ll face 10 years from now will look like and how we’ll turn those challenges into opportunities. But no matter how good your future strategy is, you won’t succeed without being able to galvanise and support the people who will actually make the execution happen.
And those people will demand more from their workplace. Expectations have changed, and employees want flexibility, autonomy, and work that’s aligned with their values. Navigating these expectations is as challenging and as complex, potentially even as chaotic, as the environment in which businesses now operate.
But navigate the expectations we must, as evidence points to people as the critical success factor for business, and attracting and retaining the best people becomes increasingly difficult.
The importance of trust
With increasing levels of autonomy, trust has already become a critical factor in the business success mix, and I believe it will become even more important in the future when it comes to the employer-employee relationship.
Trust has underpinned modern society – from the handshake to the military salute – demonstrating trust has been critical for human relationships and business dynamics for centuries. It underpins every kind of relationship, across families, communities and nations. But it’s not something you necessarily notice until it’s gone.
Employers and employees are in a relationship where trust is a crucial foundation, one that is now highly regulated, with contracts and awards outlining how it should be constructed and managed. But the essence of the relationship still requires a degree of trust on both sides.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen this trust being undermined. From illegal staff layoffs to workplace bullying and employees turning to quiet quitting, the relationship between employer and employee is not always a positive one. Once trust has been lost, it’s hard to regain.
There are a multitude of complex challenges facing businesses today, and many will continue into the future.
From hybrid work environments and building company culture across remote workforces to the regulation of the gig economy. From the search for meaning and values alignment in work to embedding diversity and inclusion to truly level the playing field and create workplaces where everyone is welcome.
Add to the mix climate change, AI and cyber security threats, and it’s an understatement to say business leaders have a lot to think about.
So, how can we prioritise what’s important and navigate change? No one can answer with certainty, but leaders do need to be prepared to make bold decisions and face big challenges. Keeping people engaged in the journey during these times of change comes down to trust.
But trust is hard-earned and easily lost, and building a genuine culture of trust requires ongoing work.
4 critical trust factors
Building trust can feel like an intangible task, but there are four crucial factors that I’ve seen work time and again.
- Transparency: Keeping all parties open and honest in their intentions, demonstrated by keeping employees well informed. It’s not about oversharing but about preventing uncertainty and giving people context for why decisions are made. True transparency means everyone is clear on what success looks like.
- Mutual respect: You can’t have trust without psychological safety, and workers who don’t feel respected by their peers and leaders will be less creative and generally demoralised.
- Communication: This is a two-way street, and listening is just as important as sharing information. Take on feedback and incorporate it into decision making, and encourage engagement by facilitating better communication between teams and departments.
- Support: Underpinning trust is support. Employees need to know they can rely on their leaders to support them when they’re struggling, both professionally and personally, and inside and outside of the workplace.
With this in mind, our comprehensive support platform is designed to help leaders build workplaces where trust is evident across all levels of the business and support is always available because we know that employees want support on their terms, at the times that suit them, and across all aspects of their physical, social, safety and financial support.
Trust is built on recognising each employee as an individual and a fully rounded person, not just a cog in the wheel or a resource in your business plan.
Employee-employer relationships built on genuine trust will build future-fit teams, where safe, productive and empathetic workplaces encourage people to contribute and where all people can rise to the unpredictable challenges of the future.
Will your workplace stand up to the trust test?
Peter Burnheim is the co-founder of Sonder.
The term "workforce" or "labour force" refers to the group of people who are either employed or unemployed.