A new study kicks off – how hybrid-remote work challenges trust, collaboration, and fairness

12th January 2022

Authors: Dr. Christine Ipsen and Dr. Kathrin Kirchner, Department of Management at the Technical University of Denmark. Co-editors in Chief of the International Journal of Workplace Health Management. Dr. Kasper Edwards, Department of Management at the Technical University of Denmark.

Many public and private servants have worked from home more or less for 1½ years. Several studies show that the national COVID-19 lockdowns in the last year have provided various benefits to employees working from home (WFH) (Ipsen et al., 2021; Bolisani et al.,2020). As a result, managers and employees worldwide have expressed a desire for increased flexibility and ability to work from home (WFH)/anywhere (WFA), generating a hybrid-remote workplace. Some workplaces, private and public, have already taken the first steps and introduced full or partial use hybrid-remote work.

In Denmark, most managers and employees positively view the increased use of hybrid work post-Covid-19.  In the public sector in Denmark, different approaches to flexibility and WFH/A are currently (fall 2021) being tested in public counties and district councils where some of the key drivers are reduced office costs and improved employee wellbeing.

The role of trust – are you working hardly or hardly working?

No doubt that change creates opportunities, but new challenges also arise. In the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, doubts arose about the effect of homework. One of the questions asked was about trust. As a colleague, could you trust a colleague to work when they worked from home? Or did they take time off and work less? Could you be sure that you could get hold of your colleague when needed? In the wake of that doubt, the question of fairness arose. Why do some have opportunities to work from home when others cannot? Therefore, under the guise of enthusiasm for homework, growing uncertainty left its mark on social capital.

Trust and fairness are some of the key drivers of wellbeing and performance (Lundström et al, 2014). However, trust and fairness are formed through close collaboration, and (perhaps) physical proximity is a necessary precondition to contribute to social capital. Furthermore, we know that perceived fairness is of great importance for the health and motivation of employees. Thus, hybrid-remote work may change the dynamics of how trust and fairness are formed and may even result in deterioration with negative consequences for wellbeing and performance.

Social capital – trust, fairness and collaboration – in a new hybrid-remote work-setting

To explore the dynamics of social capital, we have just launched a new study together with the Danish union for public servants. The aim is to explore how public servants experience(d) the social capital during and post the COVID-19 pandemic and what to bring forward in the hybrid workplace to ensure the social capital among colleagues. The key focus is on how social capital, trust, collaboration, and fairness, can be supported and secured when some work from home and others are in the office.  

Not surprisingly, the first results public servants’ union representatives from all 98 Danish Councils show that quietness, immersion, flexibility, efficiency, trust, and mastery were good experiences when working from home. The negative experiences were boundary management between work and home, loneliness, sensing colleagues’ wellbeing, ergonomics, and difficult conversations. The results from the coming years will be shared as guidelines and tools and expand our understanding of social capital in a hybrid-remote workplace setting.

Share your experiences

  • Still in the COVID-19 pandemic and with early/limited experiences of hybrid-remote work, please feel free to share your experiences in the comments to make this resource list longer and better.
  • Do you agree that trust, fairness, and collaboration is challenged in hybrid-remote work? Share why (or why not!)
  • What do you do in your workplace to support the sense of trust, fairness, and collaboration among colleagues?

References

Bolisani, E., Scarso, E., Ipsen, C., Kirchner, K., & Hansen, J.P. "Working from home during COVID-19 pandemic: lessons learned and issues", Management & Marketing. Challenges for the Knowledge Society, 15(1), 2020, pp.458-476. doi:10.2478/mmcks-2020-0027.

Ipsen, C., van Veldhoven, M., Kirchner, K., & Hansen, J.P. “Six Key Advantages and Disadvantages of Working from Home during COVID-19",  Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 2021, 18(4), doi: 10.3390/ijerph18041826.

Lundstrøm, S. L., Edwards, K., Knudsen, T. B., Larsen, P. V., Reventlow, S., & Søndergaard, J. “Relational coordination and organisational social capital association with characteristics of general practice”. Int J Family Med., Article ID 618435, doi: 10.1155/2014/618435.