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HR leaders need to fight the myth undermining trust in remote workers

By Jack Campbell | |7 minute read
HR leaders need to fight the myth undermining trust in remote workers

“I would bet 10 per cent or more of our remote staff, especially programmers, have another full-time job! We need to stop this before it escalates and get everyone back to the office.”

Thus spoke the chair of the board of a Fortune 1,000 tech company when I met with the board to help them figure out the company’s plans for permanent post-pandemic lockdowns work arrangements. That’s despite the CHRO of the company speaking up to say they had no evidence of such widespread misbehaviour by their team members.

Having helped 19 organisations determine their hybrid and remote work plans, I heard such sentiments all too often. And it’s no wonder, given what the newspapers have written.


“More Australians than ever are working at least two jobs to pay their bills,” proclaimed the Daily Mail. “These People Who Work From Home Have a Secret: They Have Two Jobs,” screams a headline from The Wall Street Journal.

These types of articles play on our narrative fallacy, a dangerous mental blind spot that causes us to understand the world through stories, rather than facts. It’s no surprise that the more traditionalist executives and board members who read these narratives integrate these stories into their vision of reality. After all, one of our most fundamental cognitive biases is the confirmation bias: our mind’s predisposition to look for information that confirms our beliefs regardless of whether the information matches the facts.

Let’s look at the facts. The best source of data on employment and similar economic data, widely trusted by business leaders and experts, is the US’s Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED). FRED’s goal is to provide the most accurate information possible, so that everyone from the Federal Reserve to business leaders can make the best business decisions, thus maximising government tax revenue. FRED has no interest or stake in promoting in-office, hybrid, or remote work.

FRED’s data on multiple jobholders as a percentage of all employed members of the workforce from 2000 onward shows that we’re at a historically low point of employees holding multiple jobs. The high point was around 2000, when 5.8 per cent of all workers held multiple jobs. Currently, about 4.9 per cent do. In January 2020, 5.2 per cent had more than one job.

What about two full-time jobs? In July 2022, 0.27 per cent of the total working population had two full-time jobs, which compares to 0.3 per cent in July 2000. So, while we’re not at a particularly historically low point of workers holding down two full-time jobs, we’re just about average.

What about all these anecdotes reflected in the headlines? Well, the reality is that it’s true that many more remote workers are holding down two full-time jobs than in the past.

Yet it’s not because the proportion increased: it’s still under 0.3 per cent. No, it’s because many more people are working remotely.

Thus, before the pandemic, Stanford University research shows that five per cent of all workdays were worked remotely. By now, the comparable number is over 40 per cent of all workdays.

That’s over eight times more! Thus, of the tiny fraction of all employees who hold down two full-time jobs, a much larger proportion will be remote. So, we’ll certainly hear more stories about it.

But the fact that more such incidents will occur will not change the fact that it’s under 0.3 per cent of all workers. All those breathless headlines about two-timing remote workers, and the traditionalist executives who buy into them, ignore the underlying probabilistic base rate, meaning the actual likelihood of this scenario. That’s a cognitive bias known as the base rate neglect, where we focus on individual anecdotes and fail to assess the statistical likelihood of events.

If you can’t trust a worker to work well remotely, you can’t trust them to work well in the office. And recent research by Citrix on knowledge workers shows that knowledge workers forced to come to the office full time show the least amount of trust to their employers, compared to hybrid or full-time remote workers. No wonder: their bosses are showing deep-rooted mistrust of their employees by forcing them to come to the office full time when their job can be done mostly or even fully remotely.

Internal surveys from my clients align with these external surveys.

For example, a university with over 400 staff originally decided in the summer of 2021 on a policy of three days in the office. Once their leadership learned about my work and hired me as a consultant, they shifted in the fall of 2021 to a trust-based, flexible, team-led model, with individual team leaders deciding together with their team members what worked best for each team.

A survey we conducted in August 2022 showed that, compared to the three days in the office policy, 73 per cent of the employees at the university believed that the team-led model is ‘much better’, and 15 per cent felt it’s ‘better’. These responses show a much higher degree of employee satisfaction and engagement through flexibility and trust.

In the end, the CHRO and I got the chair of the board of the Fortune 1000 tech company to agree that the best practice for the future of work is a collaborative, trust-based approach. Show trust to your employees, and they will trust you in turn. And make decisions using data, not stories, if you want to succeed in the future of work.

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is the CEO of the hybrid work consultancy, Disaster Avoidance Experts, and authored ‘Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams’.



Hybrid working

In a hybrid work environment, individuals are allowed to work from a different location occasionally but are still required to come into the office at least once a week. With the phrase "hybrid workplace," which denotes an office that may accommodate interactions between in-person and remote workers, "hybrid work" can also refer to a physical location.

Remote working

Professionals can use remote work as a working method to do business away from a regular office setting. It is predicated on the idea that work need not be carried out in a certain location to be successful.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.