The pandemic forced many office workers to hastily pack up their office cubicles and head to homemade workstations. They were involuntarily thrust into an ad hoc remote-work arrangement and had to learn to juggle the demands of family and work from home.
Initially, there was a sense of goodwill among employees as they tried to make the best of a difficult situation. However, as the months turned into a year and now two years, that goodwill has eroded, giving way to a feeling of mistrust and isolation. The cracks in many company cultures are showing, with remote managers and employees struggling to trust one another.
Obviously, you don’t have to stand by and allow things to worsen. According to research from Owl Labs, remote and hybrid employees are 22% happier than workers in an onsite office environment and stayed in their jobs longer. In other words, your virtual employees have the potential to be the most productive and engaged members of your workforce if you let them be. Your company simply needs to help them feel completely trusted and supported.
In this article, we’ll explore what trust means in the remote workplace and some ways you can build trust with your employees.
What is Trust in Virtual Teams?
According to the dictionary, trust is a strong belief in another person or thing’s strength, character, or truth. It means you rely on someone to fulfill a promise without worrying that they will fail to accomplish it.
As a result, the critical components of trust in virtual teams are:
- Reliability: Trust is built on reliability
- Honesty: Being honest makes you trustworthy
- Competency: You build trust by doing your job well
- Goodwill: Integrity creates trust.
- Openness: The ability to be vulnerable builds trust.
In a leadership context, trust means that employees believe their leaders will treat them well and are comfortable sharing information with their leaders.
Remote leaders and managers must understand that building trust in virtual teams starts with them. When team members believe you will treat them with respect, they trust you and value you as a leader.
When you treat your team respectfully, you trust them to do the job you hired them to do. To put it simply, trust in virtual teams begins at the top.
Why is trust so difficult to establish in remote workplaces?
The trend of remote working has gained a great deal of traction over the past few years. However, many employers still don’t trust their employees to work effectively when they’re not in the office. There are a few reasons why this lack of trust exists:
- For one, managers are used to being able to see their staff in person. After all, if you can’t see what your employees are doing, how can you be sure they’re actually working? In the long run, this can lead to problems on both sides, with employees feeling like they’re being micromanaged and managers worrying that their staff isn’t being productive.
- The way we interact with our colleagues has a major impact on our professional relationships. But with more and more people working remotely, there is less opportunity for positive, in-person interactions. This can lead to negative assumptions being made about colleagues’ behaviors.
- Managers who are untrained in managing a remote team often try to overcompensate by monitoring employees too closely, which can make matters worse.
This trust deficit can have far-reaching consequences, including decreased productivity, employee disengagement, and even staff turnover. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to start rebuilding trust.
Strategies to build trust in remote work environments
Trust is essential for any workplace, but it’s especially important in a remote environment. With employees working from home, there are more opportunities for misunderstanding and miscommunication. That’s why it’s important to take extra care to build trust with your remote employees. Here are a few key strategies you can use to build trust in a remote workplace.
Strategy #1 Establish clear expectations
The most important thing you can do to build trust in a remote work environment is to establish clear rules, guidelines, and priorities. From the very beginning, your team should know what is required of them in terms of communication, work hours, and overall productivity.
If everyone is on the same page, it will be much easier to maintain a cohesive and productive remote team. And trust will come naturally when everyone knows what is expected of them and they feel comfortable meeting those expectations.
Of course, there will always be bumps in the road despite your best efforts. But if you have a solid foundation of trust to start with, your team will be much better equipped to handle whatever comes their way.
Strategy #2 Select the right medium to convey your message
Whenever communication breaks down, trust is often the first casualty — especially in remote work environments.
With emails, it’s easy to misinterpret meaning. Phone calls lack the subtlety of body language. Even video calls can be hindered by time delays and frozen screens.
To avoid these problems, choose the right medium for your message. For example, text-based communication is excellent for conveying simple messages quickly, but it can be open to misinterpretation. And, if you need to have a complex conversation or one that could be potentially emotionally charged, it’s best to pick up the phone or jump on a video call. That way, you can hear each other’s tone of voice or see each other’s expressions, making it much easier to resolve any misunderstandings.
And if you’re in doubt, err on the side of over-communicating, rather than under-communicating. Because it’s always better off erring on the side of too much communication, as opposed to too little.
Strategy #3 Act on employee feedback
Employee feedback is crucial for gauging employee morale and establishing two-way communication within a company. This is why employing the right employee engagement strategies like employee feedback and surveys are pivotal to any company’s success.
The importance of feedback is even greater for remote workers, as they can often feel isolated and disconnected from the company’s culture.
Yet, the surveys and forms used to collect this feedback are only useful if they lead to actionable items. If a company is aware of problems but does not take steps to improve them, it will damage trust and engagement among its workforce.
Studies have shown that companies that effectively use employee feedback have 14.9% lower turnover rates and twice the engagement levels of companies that don’t take action on feedback. This is because employees feel valued and appreciated when their feedback is used to make positive changes within the company. It goes to show that if you want to establish trust with remote employees, be willing to listen to their feedback and use it to improve the workplace.
Strategy #4 Invest in project management tools
Remote workers don’t have the luxury of just walking over to another team member’s desk and checking in on their progress. This is why a task management tool like Wrike or Monday that is both transparent and easy to use would be an excellent addition to your remote workplace.
These tools allow everyone on the team to see where the project is at, who is working on what, and efficiently manage your resource constraints. This transparency builds trust, reduces resource allocation inefficiencies, and helps everyone feel like they are part of a team working towards a common goal.
Strategy #5 Don’t go overboard with monitoring
According to a recent study, 32% of companies use some form of surveillance software to monitor remote employee activity. While this may help you keep tabs on what your employees are doing, it could also create an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion.
As a manager, it’s only natural to want to keep a close eye on your team and make sure that everyone is working hard. But when your employees feel like you’re constantly peering over their shoulders, distrust can develop.
Instead, try showing your employees that you trust them by giving them some autonomy and not micromanaging their every move. Of course, you should still stay on top of their progress to make sure things are getting done. But as long as you see that work is being completed and employees are responsive, it’s worthwhile investing time and resources into improving other aspects of the business.
There is no single formula for what makes a great leader, but one quality that all effective leaders share is the ability to build trust. Too often, this important trait is overlooked or ignored in favor of other, more superficial qualities.
If you want to build a strong, cohesive, and productive team, trust is essential. It is the glue that holds teams together, whether they’re in the same room or across the world from one another. By following the strategies above, you can start to build trust within your remote team and create a workplace where everyone feels valued, respected, and motivated.