How do you build trust in remote teams? 10 key elements for a better remote work culture
Job flexibility has become a standard expectation, rather than merely a sought-after benefit. And nowhere is this more apparent than with remote work. But managing and supporting remote staff isn't like supporting them in the office. So, let's look at what it takes to build up trust in remote teams.
Updated 15th April 2023
Even pre-Pandemic, remote work practices for knowledge-based workers were on the rise and had been for over 10 years. With as many as 95% of workers desiring the ability to work away from base to at least some extent, offering flexibility in where and when staff work was a vital "carrot" for attracting and retaining top talent in today's workplace.
One of the key reasons employers gave for not offering remote work opportunities? Not believing they could trust in remote teams working as effectively and remaining productive if not doing so within the traditional workplace environment.
Despite research and real-world experiences (such as those of Automattic and Basecamp) pointing out the sizeable benefits of remote working when done right (including improving performance, strengthening engagement and boosting productivity) conventional wisdom suggested to many business leaders that staff just simply wouldn't work if not in work.
Now sure, there are bad apples in most organisations. And yes, in a remote work scenario these are the people who may kick back on the sofa and do the bare minimum day after day. But there is so much data now showing that just one benefit of remote working is a significant boost to productivity. This 2-year Stanford University study, for example, found an increase of nearly a whole day's extra productivity each week.
COVID-19 made remote work the norm
Then, in March 2020, the world was forced into a large-scale remote work exercise with the global spread of COVID-19. Where possible, businesses moved to remote work practices with no time to stop and worry about their fears (misplaced or not) around "trust."
So, if you're sat reading this as a manager of staff who are now working remotely and wondering, 'What can I do to build trust in remote teams?' just read on for a few key points.
10 key elements for building and improving trust in remote teams
The following are 10 of the most vital aspects of workplace culture to bear in mind. These things are all essential for building trust in remote teams.
One of the first things we notice about our peers, particularly in a working scenario is how reliable they are when it comes to the work they complete.
Meeting deadlines and delivering great allows team leaders to anticipate how people will perform, building trust. Equally, a reliable manager who carries out an action when they say they will and gets issues sorted will promote trust across their team.
A bedfellow of reliability, consistency in work is a great element for building trust. It's particularly vital for remote staff, and virtual collaboration in general. Remote teams rely on their managers to keep them in the loop. And, in turn, managers expect their remote team members to deliver results without direct oversight.
If staff are able to produce high-quality work on a consistent basis, then it shows a manager that performance on any given task is easily predicted and therefore builds faith in that individual's abilities.
For a team, a good manager is one who applies the same approach to all staff. A good manager treats all with equal respect and applies workflows consistently. This promotes and encourages a culture of fairness and respect. Both essential qualities if you want to develop trust in remote teams.
Effective inter-team communication is the lifeblood of great remote working success. Being able to share project updates, concerns and news from the organisations we work in allows for trust to build through open and honest exchanges.
Sure, it sounds simple and you've heard it many times by now. But the reason you keep hearing it is that many companies are very poor at communicating effectively with their employees, even when they are all in the same space.
For starters, focus on short daily "stand-ups" and a frequent cycle of feedback within your team. This ensures communication is happening at a good cadence, without taking up too much of everyone's time.
Schedule calls wherever possible as you don't know what other distractions colleagues will be dealing with if you call unannounced over Zoom.
Speaking of everyone's new favourite video call software, the ability to be able to see your team, colleagues, managers when speaking to them is a huge boost for improving trust.
When we communicate, we glean a huge amount of information from what we see, on top of everything we hear. Body language, someone's demeanour, the clothes they wear all supply us data that helps us build a better understanding of a situation and build bonds with that individual.
However, communication restricted to voice calls, email or instant messaging (all of which there is room for in remote work communication) means we lose out on non-verbal/textual details. These details are vital in helping build trust in remote teams for managers.
Sharing the great work members of your remote team are doing or shining a light on and coaching those employees who are underperforming are essential for helping keep motivation and performance high.
No colleagues want to feel like they are taking on more strain due to somebody else not contributing to team objectives. Equally, employees who aren't at the required level may not realise they are slowing things down and perhaps need their manager to help optimise their approach.
It's one thing for remote workers to trust their boss. But what if they don't trust each other?
Remote teams require a working structure that streamlines their performance and allows them to focus on achieving their goals. And collaboration is an essential part of this. Trust in remote teams isn't just about getting them to trust you. They need to be able to support and rely on each other in a pinch.
Ensure the right tools and processes are in place. And not just collaboration tools like digital whiteboards and online workspaces. We also mean communication tools. Like an employee check-in, where they can provide each other with positive recognition.
Performance is a huge focus for leaders of remote teams and businesses. Key to getting on top of performance is a clear and concise goal-setting framework (here at Weekly10 we champion both OKRs and SMART).
Ensuring all members of a team know what their individual and team goals are, and importantly why they are being asked to reach those goals is vital in keeping trust and performance
Share information across the team openly and in a timely manner. Focus on encouraging your employees to share open and honest feedback and where possible avoid anonymisation which hinders action and can sow distrust.
Make goals and project statuses open to all so nothing comes as a surprise or shock to the team.
Build up confidence, leading to increased trust through staff recognition and reward. Recognise great work openly to motivate across a whole team. Have confidence in yourself and your team to get the job done. Do that, and you'll have built up trust in remote teams in no time.
Your team has been hand-crafted (potentially by you) because of their skills and experience. So you should be able to show confidence in them at all times. But, if that confidence wanes, act quickly to resolve any issues.
Managers who give responsibility and ownership provide their teams with a key psychological motivator; autonomy.
Autonomy is vital in allowing individuals to add a sense of purpose and increased value to the work they do. With increased value, comes an increased desire to succeed, meaning you can put more trust in your team members.
Remote working in 2023 and beyond...
Back in the wake of COVID, there were a lot of arguments over whether remote work was here to stay. Well, here in 2023, it seems obvious working from home isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Working from home is a key pull for the top talent around the globe. More of that talent than ever before has now experienced the benefits of remote working. And you can bet those companies who embrace the change will be better off in the long run.
Key to embracing the change is letting go of any misconceptions around trust. Build a team and culture that promotes and grows trust within your teams. And your organisation could be one of those to reap the benefits. Hybrid business structures are the future. But it's down to you and your employees as to what that looks like.