In this Perpetual Distributed Workplace, How Do We Trust Each Other?

In this perpetual distributed workplace, how do we trust each other?

It is a question that thousands of companies have been asking and trying to answer for going on 20 months. There is no simple answer. It is complicated on many fronts, but it deserves answers. Companies and their employees deserve a path forward. What does it look like in the context of technology?

I Trust You to Protect Me, and We Trust You to Do the Work

This is a fundamental agreement that’s been in place long before the pandemic, long before the digital age, but both sides have fractured this agreement in recent years and deserve to be questioned. Time and time again, we’ve seen the stories about how, for years, an employee became invisible to the company — getting away with not coming into work or avoiding doing the actual work and funneling it off to others. These stories have made employers question how trusting they could be of their employees.

In recent years, the increased reliance on gig workers and utilization of a broader group of contractors has also made companies think twice about worker trustworthiness. Conversely, numerous companies have let security fall by the wayside, putting their employees’ personal data and work at risk, making employees question — are their employers doing everything they can to protect them consistently? The past 20 months saw an acceleration by companies to go to a hybrid or complete remote work model, distributing their workforce and forcing companies to re-evaluate their security budgets and strategies to address this new dynamic. This has presented an opportunity to mend that fundamental agreement in multiple ways.

We Trust You Not to Take Advantage, and I Trust You Won’t Jeopardize My Privacy

Companies have placed enormous trust in their employees in this distributed work environment, and employees have delivered. There have been countless studies, and internal data companies have pointed to showing dramatically higher levels of employee productivity amid the pandemic. Yet, companies know there will still be those one or two bad apples they need to account for. Because these bad apples know that the methods for committing fraud today are more plentiful than they were just two years ago, so why not try it?

"Companies have placed enormous trust in their employees in this distributed work environment, and employees have delivered"

The challenge for companies is that coming up with a solution to mitigate those bad apples can’t be sacrificed to jeopardize the majority of employees’ privacy. What’s the solution to a challenge without coming across like 'big brother'? This is where both sides need to trust technology, but that’s easier said than done regarding authentication technologies.

If a particular technology is good enough to meet and exceed guidelines set by a company’s legal and technical teams, pass security audits and other ad hoc requests, it’s a technology that employees should feel confident they can trust. Furthermore, both sides must trust that the data leveraged by the technology can, in no way, be compromised or exploited at any point during its travels.

How Can We Trust Behaviors?

Behaviors provide others an indication of how someone acts, not who someone actually is. This is why both parties can find common ground in trusting behavior. Companies have businesses to run, and while they care a lot about their people, they care more about how they act. At the same time, employees care about their companies only knowing what they need to know about them, not most of their personal data. Analyzing behaviors doesn’t mean analyzing personal, identifiable information, known as PII. And if behavioral data is stolen at any point in time, it cannot be reverse-engineered. It’s useless to the captor.

We Trust We Won’t Make Things Cumbersome for Both of Us

Companies can’t expect their employees to use authentication technology that makes them jump through additional hoops and subjects them to a user experience that sacrifices aspects of daily tasks and routines. In addition, employees don’t want to do excessive activity to verify themselves, making it cumbersome for companies to manage and oversee.

Trust is not given; it’s earned. In this distributed workforce dynamic, each side — company and employee — must earn it from the other. It requires compromise without either party compromising their positions and values. It necessitates new thinking. Otherwise, the inability to trust becomes a cyclical challenge that could stifle employee productivity and corporate innovation for years to come. So isn’t it time we try to trust one another again?

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