The knowledge economy is the trust economy

From the Creative Class blog is part of a WSJ article on telecommuting:

“When companies allow employees to work remotely or from home, they are explicitly communicating to them that ‘I trust you to be dedicated to the accomplishment of the work, even if I’m not able to observe you doing it,’ ” says Jack Wiley, executive director of the institute, which is in Minneapolis. “It boils down to respect,” he says. “I respect you and I have confidence in your commitment to the work — to do this under the conditions and at the time you feel will be most productive for you.”

Lack of trust is a major barrier to using decentralized methods and processes that enhance information sharing and collaboration, two factors for success in a knowledge economy. However, many of our industrial organisations are not exactly jumping on the telecommuting bandwagon. Articles in the main stream press are indicators that the status quo may not last.

As I’ve been working on my own for several years now, I see first hand the advantages of distance work. It’s good for the environment, cheaper, and I’m happier and more productive when I’m in control of my schedule. Meetings are less frequent and usually more focused. I’ve noted before that collaborating at a distance is sometimes more effective than being in the same room.

Trust is the glue that holds knowledge organisations together, not rules and regulations.  It’s something to consider when developing a recruitment and retention strategy.

5 Responses to “The knowledge economy is the trust economy”

  1. Scott Marshall

    I was hired as a technical writer several years back for a Major Corporation That Will Remain Nameless, and initially was permitted to work from home on days when I was not booked for meetings with SMEs. It was a significant commute so I enjoyed the opportunity to stay home and be more productive several days per week.

    Unfortunately, the powers that be discovered that some of their own, non-contract employees were not clocking in reliably at a remote site, so they instituted a policy stating that all employees must work on-site at all times. They seemed to believe that if they could see someone sitting at a desk, work must be getting done. The reality is often quite the opposite.

    Thankfully, I work for myself now too, and my rate is significantly higher for employers who want me to work on-site. 😉

    Reply
  2. Christopher Mackay

    There will always be people who aren’t motivated to work. There are all sorts of reasons for it, but what difference does it make what they are?

    As an employer, all you need are people who provide good value; work that’s done well, the first time, on time. Good workers are good workers no matter where they are. Same goes for bad ones.

    If an employee needs to be micro-managed in an office setting to get things done, you need a different employee.

    Reply
  3. Charles H. Green

    Harold,
    Your title captures an important insight; the knowledge economy allows significant distribution of nodes of knowledge, means of production, etc. To get the value of that, resources have to be distributed. If people can’t figure out how to trust other people, all that value goes unachieved. Or, more likely, it accrues to other organizations or networks who HAVE figured out how to trust each other.

    The temptation is to define output-based metrics so that work can still be monitored. But this isn’t trust; and it’s a poor proxy for it, being mainly a substittue for the old command and control.

    the best trust comes from a shared sense of commitment, and a sense that others have our best interests at heart. The best ways to achieve this long distance are a combination of initial high-bandwidth meeting (aka face to face, wherever possible), followed by low-bandwidth but frequent communications.

    I worked for a consulting firm in the 90s which operated globally, but with only a few offices; hundreds of people worked all over the US, but from their homes and from client sites. The firm had enormous connections, trust and glue; all accomplished not by offices, but by a strong combination of voicemail, email, corporate culture, and the occasional group meeting.

    Reply

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