Virtual Trust

Virtual work can significantly reduce useless meetings, eliminate commuting time and free up time for knowledge workers to focus on what is important: being creative and dealing with complex problems.

Virtual work also changes the organizational dynamic. Because you can’t watch each person and micro-manage the work, the organization must come up with real performance measurements (instead of obsolete measures such as pay for time), and that in itself might increase productivity.

Virtual learning has similar effects. As much as I enjoy face-to-face group learning sessions, they can be limiting. For instance, there is often no back-channel of text-based IM conversation going on simultaneously, nor can I quickly pop a link or file to everyone while the conversation continues. Face-to-face can also be a bit too  linear (highly dependent on time allotted for the session) and not as productive as some virtual sessions.

A key to learning and working collaboratively is trust. Trust is the glue that holds knowledge organizations together, not rules and regulations.  It’s something to consider when developing a recruitment and retention strategy for knowledge-intensive workplaces.

A few years ago, Charles Green responded to my post about the knowledge economy being a trust economy:

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.

I’ve referred several times to articles at the Trusted Advisor because trust is such an important factor in knowledge work as knowledge and innovation cannot be effectively coerced from workers.

Here’s Charles on Measuring and Managing:

If you can measure it, you can manage it; if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it; if you can’t manage it, it’s because you can’t measure it; and if you managed it, it’s because you measured it.

Every one of those statements is wrong. But business eats it up. And it’s easy to see why …

The ubiquity of measurement inexorably leads people to mistake the measures themselves for the things they were intended to measure.

In the learning & development business there is much focus on compliance training, especially since regulatory compliance accounts for a significant amount of learning content development and learning management technology sales. However, there are few sales pitches that say, go ahead, let your employees decide what’s best for them.

Trust, it seems, doesn’t sell stuff:

  • If you trust workers to manage their learning, you don’t need an LMS.
  • If you trust workers to get things done, you don’t need a tracking system.
  • If you trust workers to learn, you don’t have as much pre-programmed training because they will find what’s best.
  • If you trust workers to be self-directed learners they would have a say in the training budget and I doubt they would vote to buy an LMS.

The large amount of compliance training in the workplace is just one more indicator of the amount of trust that organizations and regulatory agencies have in workers. The default position is don’t trust; regulate. However, this won’t work in virtual, distributed organizations, which are fast becoming the norm.

With increasing virtualization of work, there is little doubt that organizational structures will need to change and that management models will  need to adapt to increasing complexity. The virtual workplace requires a foundation of shared information, knowledge, power and trust.


2 Responses to “Virtual Trust”

  1. Wendy Tagg

    Sometimes we need to make sure that the compliance training happens. For example a client may want to be sure that their suppliers’ employees have had certain training.

    I had personal experience of this myself recently. I knew the training was genuinely important, but it wasn’t urgent compared to my other tasks. So it quietly slipped down the priority list until that LMS started nagging me. Although trust and automomy are great, sometimes it needs a little help.


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