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What's trust got to do with it?

Wilkinson, Jennifer



This paper draws on interview and questionnaire data gathered from remote workers in order to explore the social constructs through which these remote workers attribute meaning to trust and so demonstrate their trustworthiness (Flores and Solomon, 1998, p.206). Notions that a remote working environment necessitates trust (Daniels, Lamond, and Standen, 2001) and that trust is built between actors (cf. Helms and Raiszadeh, 2002) seem to be challenged by the remote workers’ construct that trust (trustworthiness) is demonstrated through a matrix of signification. Thus, the story is more complex than Handy’s (1995, p.46) argument that “trust needs touch” and the implication that trust is predicated on relationships with others and face-to-face contact. As Panteli and Duncan (2004, p.424) suggest “trust in the virtual world does not translate directly from traditional practices”, and the question of how it is developed and demonstrated for remote workers remains unanswered. In relation to this I explore how, in the light of the loss of traditional opportunities for social comparison (Felstead, and Jewson, 2000; Tietze, 2002). and evaluation (Fineman, Sims, and Gabriel, 2007) remote workers seek to create alternative social cues through which they can understand, perform, and express, varying degrees of organisational trust, so demonstrating trustworthiness.
Building on a pilot study this research adopts an interpretative approach which considers remote working as a lived experience for participants who consider themselves remote workers and to varying degrees, work remotely and are simultaneously ‘at home’ and ‘at work’. A survey was undertaken in the form of eighty electronic questionnaires in order to gain a breadth of responses and to develop and inform approach to interview and analysis. The research then focuses on in-depth individual interviews with fifteen participants. Mind maps were used to gather data and undertake initial in-situ analysis within individual interviews. Diaries presented to participants as log accounts were also used, although due to low response rates (33%) the diary data may not be representative of the other participants. Using template analysis (King, 1998), a thematic approach to data analysis was adopted and data interpreted within a social constructionist paradigm.
The insights from this exploratory research suggest that remote workers attribute meaning to trust (demonstrate trustworthiness) through the (re)creation of three dominant social cues, presented as the signifiers of ‘targets’, ‘justification’ and ‘relationships’. This suggests that targets operate within a matrix of signification which is related to the remote worker’s perceptions of trust and control. As such, it appears that irrespective of the ‘privacy’ of the home, the transition of paid work into to the ‘private’ locale of home, sees targets being used by the organisation to elicit visibility on the part of remote workers and to exercise control and power over them. The social construct formed by these remote workers expressed ways in which they attribute meaning to trust and so demonstrate their trustworthiness supports some of the existing literature on the subject but also challenges the fundamental view that trust is predicated on relationships with others and face-to-face contact (cf. Handy, 1996). This discussion further considers the implications that this will have for the development of flexible working practices if they are viewed by employees as the agents of control for management.

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Felstead, A. and Jewson, N. (2000). In Work at Home: Towards an Understanding of Teleworking. Routledge: London
Fineman, S., Sims, D., and Gabriel, Y. (2007) Organizing and Organizations (3rd ed). London:Sage
Flores, F. and Solomon, R. (1998). Creating Trust. Business Ethics Quarterly. Vol.8: 2 pp205-232
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Panteli, N. and Duncan, E. (2004). Trust and Temporary Virtual Teams: Alternative Explanations and Dramaturgical Relationships. Information Technology and People. Vol.17, No.4. pp 423-441
Tietze, S. (2002). When ‘Work’ Comes ‘Home’: Coping Strategies of Teleworkers and their Families. Journal of Business Ethics, Vol 41, Part 3 (Dec), Issue 4, pp.385 – 396.


Wilkinson, J. (2012, July). What's trust got to do with it?. Presented at SCOS

Presentation Conference Type Other
Conference Name SCOS
Start Date Jul 11, 2012
End Date Jul 14, 2012
Acceptance Date Jan 1, 2012
Publication Date Jan 1, 2012
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords trust, remote working, flexible working
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : SCOS