Book: No Office » Part 2 - What if there was no office? » Chapter 18 - Trust each other |

Chapter 18 - Trust each other

Having control over work is good, but having trust in others to do the work is so much better!

What’s more important? Trust or Control?

In the business world there’s this saying that trust is good, but control is better. Basically, it’s ok to have confidence in people to do their work, but you would do better to control them and their work.

I get it control is important. But not in the traditional way of checking up on work and searching for errors. It’s important in order to help your teammates achieve their goals. More on that in a bit…

Meanwhile I’d like to state my case why I believe it’s all about creating an environment of trust in a “No Office” company.

It’s time for a new saying:

Control is good, but trust is so much better!

How can you control whether or not people are really doing their work?

Whenever someone asks me about leading an all-remote team, one of the first doubts they have is about the fact that I don’t see my teammates work. After all, they’re alone in their home offices and I can’t tell if they’re just slacking off, watching movies or really working.

I immediately turn the question around and ask:

  • How do you control people in a traditional office?
  • I can see them! – they respond.
  • Yes, you see that they’re there, but how do you know they’re really truly working? – I ask again.

It’s easy to pretend to be busy in an office

The fact of the matter is that people can fake work much easier in a traditional office:

  • They can spend minutes if not hours casually chatting with their colleagues in the corridors or next to the vending machine.
  • They can go and get coffee with colleagues anytime they want, again chatting away lots of time.
  • Same applies to cigarettes. I even heard that people who don’t smoke join their colleagues because the usual office gossip is exchanged at such breaks.
  • When they sit in front of their computer, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are working. They might be checking their social media or even playing a video game, for that matter.

People who want to pretend to be busy and fake work know how to do it well. They type loudly. They attend all the meetings and always find something important to say. They show up in the vicinity of their supervisor often enough to be noticed. They don’t leave work before their boss.

Companies who treat their employees as thieves should be ashamed of themselves!

The other day people asked on social media about some of the methods companies are using to control remote workers, like:

  • Web cams installed in people’s home offices or keeping a video conferencing software open to spy on people in real time.
  • Software preloaded on computers that tracks mouse movement, takes regular screenshots of people’s monitors, or sends web browsing history to the company’s servers.
  • Regular hourly reports on work progress.
  • Unexpected calls to people at random times to check up on them.

Frankly, just compiling this list from several articles and social media messages made me sick to my stomach.

Seriously? Companies hire professionals (and adults!) to work, and instead of treating them as such they assume their employees are just a bunch of thieves and liars?

To be visible remotely, people need to show their work!

In the office, there are many ways to feign productivity, but in a remote workplace the only way to show yourself is through your work.

That’s why I do everything in my power to protect my employees’ focus time (Chapter 4), to instill a habit of writing things down (Chapter 5) and to simply communicate through tasks (Chapter 6). When tasks are done, we see progress. When projects are completed, we know people are working.

In a “No Office” company, people are visible and loud through their work. There is no other way to be noticed.

Trust creates a great work environment!

Even though in my team we are hundreds of kilometers apart, we manage to get our work done together because we trust each other.

First - thanks to trust people do great work!

As I mentioned in Chapter 2, I hired Tom, my first programmer because he was much better than me. It required lots of trust on my part to give him all of the Nozbe code base. These days we have a group of programmers in my team and all of them are much better than me – they wouldn’t dare let me code anymore! The same applies to our product, marketing and customer support teams.

In many other companies it seems to be the other way around – people are afraid to hire better experts then themselves. These micro managers need to control people because they don’t believe in them and their ability and willingness to do great work.

Trust your experts. Hire professionals and let them do the work!

The key is to trust in people and their ability to deliver the outcomes the team needs. True professionals will appreciate that they’re being valued for their competence and are given the space to figure out what’s needed to get done. And most likely, they’ll do it much better than you as the manager or business owner ever would.

Second – thanks to trust people give great feedback

When people trust in each other’s work, they’ll be more inclined to give one another very valuable feedback. There is a reason why feedback-giving is the second most important level in our Pyramid of Communication, described in Chapter 10 of this book.

A trusting organization makes giving feedback a thing we do.

To inspire trust and promote feedback, we use online tools that enable commenting on work. Also most of our projects in Nozbe Teams are accessible to everyone on the team by default. Threfore, we very often get very valuable feedback from various people on the team, which makes our work that much better.

Third – thanks to trust people want to help each other

When we have a culture of trust in the team, the manager’s job is no longer to be controlling if people are working.

The manager’s job is to serve and help.

That’s right – the job is basically to remove all the obstacles from the team members’ way so that they can execute and get their job done as effortlessly as possible. This will result in achieving company goals. Isn’t this the whole point?

Recently I watched this TV series about doctors called New Amsterdam1 where the main character is a director of a hospital. When anyone approaches him – and it doesn’t matter if this is another doctor – a nurse or a janitor, he asks the same question: “How can I help?”

Fourth – thanks to trust people are working more!

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many people were forced to work from their homes for the first time ever. The situation was extreme as most of them didn’t have properly set up home offices and adequate equipment. On top of that, they had to deal with their kids and spouses at home, too.

While preparing to write this book I asked many business owners about their experience. I wanted to know what worked, what didn’t and what was their biggest surprise.

And you know what? They were positively surprised that people were working at all! Better yet, that they were not working less than in their offices!

What a monumental discovery. People are actually working. Against all odds. Of course they are. That’s why putting all these systems in place to control remote workers is so preposterous.

Remote workers are working too much, not too little.

That’s why in the previous chapters of this book I raised the issues of letting people have flexible working hours and giving them perks that help them have a life outside of work.

Fifth – thanks to trust there’s the benefit of the doubt!

Trust takes time to build so to speed it up it must come from the top. When a new person is hired, it must be assumed that they’re trustworthy. They should feel they’ve been given lots of trust. Only then will they be able to fully focus on their work and reciprocate with trust.

As time goes on and the trust bond gets stronger, what people earn is the benefit of the doubt. If someone was a good team member and a great performer in the past and suddenly they stop delivering their best, their peers or supervisors will first try to see what happened. There will be a concern in the team and not an accusation. Nobody’s perfect and everyone has weak moments. When there’s trust, there’s care first.

Yes, sometimes someone will break the trust and fail.

When work is based on trust and delivering great work, there’s no need to put any control systems in place, because when someone is really slacking off, it’s going to be pretty obvious – not only to the supervisor, but to everyone on the team. Everyone will notice.

This has happened several times to me and other leaders of remote teams and it’s always a very sad moment. However, it happens very rarely. There are very few people stupid enough to betray the immense credit of trust given to them by the team.

And because of these few incidents one shouldn’t make work worse for everyone else.

Trust means working together!

In German, the word for “employee” is “Mitarbeiter,” which literally means “with-worker”. I love it as it depicts how people should work in a team. Together and with trust. Doesn’t matter if you’re the boss, the manager or the line worker.

You’re all Mitarbeiter, you’re all co-workers.

You work together for the greater good of the team.

The one thing: create a culture of trust!

People want to work in a trusting environment. They want to work on a team where they are trusted to do the work they were hired to do. A place where they can experiment and sometimes fail. Where they can be themselves. Where their motivation isn’t a result of corporate tricks and techniques, but is intrinsic – it comes from within because of their desire to do great work.

Let’s paraphrase our “No Office” motto:

Work is not something you control; it’s a thing you trust people to do.

For further reading on this subject, I recommend No Rules Rules book by the founder of Netflix.2

  1. The main character in the New Amsterdam TV-series is Dr. Max Goodwin played by Ryan Eggold

  2. I’d say Netflix as a company works very similarly to Nozbe, but at a much much larger scale: No Rules Rules. Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer. 

Next: Chapter 19 - Go mobile and ditch paper

Back to the Table of Contents

Read this chapter in:

Copy & share: