Establishing trust in hybrid work – the role of people and technology

13th December 2022

Authors: Kathrin Kirchner & Christine Ipsen, Editors in Chief of the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Technical University of Denmark (DTU). Anne Pedersen, Mejse Hasle Nielsen and Kasper Edwards, Technical University of Denmark (DTU)

When it comes to hybrid work, it is widely acknowledged that it is here to stay. Across the world, people gained experiences with the positive effects of working from home and reshaping work, which has resulted in a call for more flexibility post-pandemic (Karanika-Murray & Ipsen, 2022). Moreover, the energy crisis and a need to reduce office costs require more flexible use of the office and working from home.

When working in different places, people like team members, or employees and their managers, need to connect and work together. Technology like video conference systems, groupware, telerobots, and virtual reality helps overcome distance, so people can collaborate and participate in meetings virtually. Sensors can be used to register whether someone is sitting at a table to turn on or off the light and heating to save energy.

Where technology facilitates distance- and remote work, a core prerequisite is trust among colleagues and between managers and employees, i.e., trust that the work can be and is being done.

Building trust

Consequently, trust must be established between participants in a remote session when working together and developing new ideas remotely. This is less of a problem if people have already met and know each other, e.g., from previous collaborations, and trust has been built. Trust is a positive expectation towards others, e.g., team members (Rousseau et al., 1998, p. 395).

Meeting new people virtually without prior experience/acquaintance is a different task. Informal talks are usually missed in work-related online communication that would help to know each other better and build a trustful relationship. Research identifies possibilities of "swift trust" when teams work virtually, meaning that trust is task-focused through action, and trust is developed through role clarification and fulfilling responsibilities (Horwitz & Santillan, 2012, p. 345; Jarvenpaa et al., 1997, pp. 56–57).

But trust is not only necessary between people but also between people and technologies. Data is created and collected while communicating virtually. Sensors can collect data about entrances and exits into offices, and activities on different online platforms, such as Teams, can now be tracked.

When integrating these new technologies, it is essential to know the potential effects of employee monitoring and the concerns your employees may have: Does my employer not trust me? Am I being spied on? And how are these data being used? Many ethical dilemmas must be considered to maintain that organizational members can develop trust in the technology and thereby have a positive expectation of the digital systems.

Security and Privacy

Using technologies to support hybrid work helps stay in contact when working together over a distance. However, data is transmitted all the time – how do workplaces secure that shared information is not misused and stolen? What about cybersecurity?

Furthermore, sensors in offices can help to save energy. However, they also offer the possibility of analyzing how much an office is being used and at which times. Besides having a good overview of office use, this data could also be used to monitor employees, for example, how employees perform and which software they use over the day and with whom they communicate. Organizations' use of data has the risk of negatively influencing the relationship between managers and employees, leading to presenteeism and affecting the work-life balance (Jeske, 2022).

A sustainable environment for hybrid work

One of the current key questions is how workplaces can bridge technology, workspace, performance, and health. An ongoing project investigates how Danish public servants experience trust, collaboration, and fairness in hybrid work. Moreover, data is used to develop interventions and experiments in hybrid workplaces that want to strengthen trust, collaboration, and fairness. An example is discussing preferences for being in the office and working remotely and why: e.g., time to concentrate and focus, less time commuting when working from home, or collaboration and knowledge sharing when coming to the office.

Technology allows us to work from home and save energy, but it has to be used carefully. In our recent special issue on Reshaping work, health and workplaces: management learnings from the pandemic, Jeske (2022) gives different examples of what organizations can do to update policies, guide managers about how to use monitoring tools (and data), and set healthy boundaries for remote workers.

No doubt, technology is an enabler of change and improvement of work. To ensure successful and sustainable workplace changes, they should set the right conditions that foster performance and employee well-being.



Christine Ipsen, along with Maria Karanika-Murray, guest edited a special issue of International Journal of Workplace Health Management, “Reshaping work, health and workplaces: management learnings from the pandemic”. You can explore the table of contents here.

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