Post-Pandemic Planning Puts Value of Trust Front and Center

By Colin NankaVice President, Global Sales Leader Coaching at

The successful vaccine rollout in the United States has led some businesses to step up their post-pandemic planning. Will workers be expected to return to the office? Will they be given flexibility to keep working from home?

These questions ultimately center on a central issue facing organizations today: the value of trust. Do businesses trust their employees to be productive from home? Do employees trust their businesses to mean it if they say that working from home is still allowed, with no negative repercussions?

Relationships built on trust have powerful effects for business. “Studies show that organizations with a high level of trust have increased employee morale, more productive workers and lower staff turnover,” Michigan State University reports. A recent McKinsey survey found that “sustaining trust and acknowledging employee efforts are critical to employee engagement, well-being, and effectiveness.”

Unfortunately, some organizations have a long way to go in building trust. A survey in late 2019 found that 64% of people trust a robot more than their manager. Over the past year, the lack of trust has been more clear than ever. The pandemic has shown that “most companies fail in building trusting work relationships,” a column for Knowledge@Wharton argued. Similarly, the Harvard Business Review reported that “remote managers are having trust issues.”

As an executive myself, I’ve worked to build trusting relationships with my reports. I’ve seen the value first-hand. The more I trust them and earn their trust, the better they are as team members -- more productive, creative, collaborative, innovative, and everything else great companies look for.

This moment marks an opportunity to build stronger levels of trust in both directions. Business leaders can recognize that workers have proven to be even more productive overall while working remotely over the past year -- and their productivity will surely increase even more when kids are back at school in the fall and fewer loved ones are sick with Covid. When businesses show enough faith in their workers to support continued flexibility in when and where they get their work done, it will be a strong sign to workers that they can trust their leadership.

But there’s also more that leaders need to do in this new era to help trust flourish. In the past, trust could be earned across a series of in-person get togethers and conversations. Now, new tricks of the trade are just as powerful.

Brief one-on-ones

People’s schedules have seen great upheaval during the pandemic. Hour-long meetings are understandably more difficult to make happen during such hectic times. And in group meetings there isn’t the time or space for each person to share what they’re going through.

I’ve found that having multiple touch points each week with my reports, one-on-one, is essential, even if it’s just 15 minutes. Rather than focusing on immediate tasks, I try to take this time to ask each employee more about the big picture. How are they doing? What obstacles are they facing in getting their work done? How can I help?

When they share their challenges, try to find ways you can help. Lead with empathy, and be an advocate.

Invest in development

Part of what motivates people to do their best is their own set of career aspirations. Workers put faith in leaders who show genuine interest in, and concern for, their careers. As a group of business school professors noted in the Harvard Business Review, “Letting employees know you are willing to invest in their potential and advocate for them conveys confidence and trust.”

For example, an employee who joined my team last year works from the other side of the world. I recognized that I need to make sure she gets a chance to build her personal network by introducing her to tenured leaders here in the Americas, Europe and the Middle East, which will help her long-term growth.

Embrace mental wellness

From early on in the pandemic, groups such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have warned that people’s mental health could take a hit. And work is often the leading cause of stress in people’s lives.

Workers need to know that their businesses understand this, and that leaders are genuinely committed to helping relieve that stress. When we make that clear, we develop greater trust in both directions. Again, there’s strong business incentive to do so, since extreme stress reduces productivity.

I talk about stress, anxiety, and mental wellness with my employees. I also use myself as an example. Recently I told my team that I was going to take some time to rest, relax and rejuvenate, and would be unavailable. My telling them this helped them feel empowered to do the same when they need to.

When you’re open, honest, and vulnerable, your team trusts you more. And when they feel they can be the same with you, it’s clear that trust is flowing in both directions. That makes for a stronger business. And with greater trust in place, your business heads toward a stronger future.

Colin Nanka is Vice President, Global Sales Leader Coaching at His mini-documentary about another Racing the Planet adventure is available on OutsideTV.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.