Every team leader and people manager saw this coming—the rise of remote working. In fact, as we continue to deal with a locked down economy, over half of the national workforce wants to work remotely.
The early days of remote working were a scramble—we were just trying to get the work done together. But now, as more and more of us move into the flexi-office environment, we need to be do better.
It’s time to talk about how to build trust with your team when working remotely.
Building trust is the key to any strong relationship, and it should be a focal point in the relationship you are building with your team. When you’re not physically working side by side to offer value to your team, you need to build trust in other ways.
Here, we’re unpacking all the actions that can help you build trust within a remote team, to drive productivity and value across your workforce.
1. Know Your Tools (And Make Sure Your Team Know Them, Too)
Choosing the right apps and software are crucial to keeping your team functioning. By building a reliable and efficient infrastructure, you can communicate better, share more, and collaborate easier—no matter where in the world you happen to be.
Strong infrastructure is the foundation of remote working, but it’s only as good as the people using it. Drive confidence and productivity by:
- Planning and executing a training or introduction session for each collaboration tool added to your infrastructure
- Emailing each team member a list of contacts in the event they are struggling with getting any of their collaboration tools set up
- Checking in to make sure your team knows how to use their collaboration tools
- What this looks like: “Hey, I hear there have been a few issues for people navigating XYZ. Does anyone else need to have a conversation about how this works?”
- Being responsive when a team member has an issue.
- Give clear actions and deadlines: “I’m going to call XYZ. I’ll call you back in 10 minutes, whatever the feedback.”
By empowering your team to know their tools, you boost their confidence and autonomy, and set them up for success.
2. Be Confident
Remind yourself that your team members have been chosen based on their competencies, experience, and role across the wider group. By demonstrating that you have confidence in them, you also underline your trust in them to do their job.
In human behavior circles, we talk about erosion of confidence. It’s a fancy term for something that is dangerously easy to carry out. You erode confidence by:
- Failing to praise and reward milestones and achievements
- Micromanaging individual’s performance
- Questioning actions that led to positive outcomes
- Criticizing individual’s performance in front of the group
- Poor personal communication skills
These 5 actions can cause irreparable damage to any team, because they destroy the confidence your team members have in themselves, and destroy their trust in you.
3. Do Fun Stuff
Things which are familiar to us—as humans—are accepted by us more readily. The key to having your team embrace remote working is to reduce the feelings of strangeness or otherness that remote working can trigger.
Keeping in “close” proximity can look very different in the digital realm:
- Plan regular Zoom catch-ups or Quiz sessions together
- Start a social group chat for your team members
- Run a Tiny Campfire—send out S’mores kits, and get together for a couple of hours of snacks, stories, and an actual virtual campfire.
- Play a weekly round of Mister Rogers Calls or Lightning Scavenger Hunt.
Whatever your team building activities look like, the key is consistency and fun. Through creating a positive bond within your team, you’ll come to understand, accept, and trust each other more.
4. Tell The Truth
Nothing undermines trust like a blatant lie. Outdated leadership subscribed to the notion we could manipulate others to achieve a solid outcome. Unfortunately, most of the workforce knows when they’re being manipulated—and they don’t like it.
Instead, demonstrate integrity consistently:
- Provide clear feedback. Being a team leader isn’t about being a Yes Man. It’s about providing clear, honest feedback and—sometimes—having difficult conversations about an outcome. Be prepared to provide honest feedback in a way that is helpful, clear, and inspiring.
- Make it clear who does what. Avoid keeping roles and functions a secret. It wastes your team’s time to have to figure out who is responsible for specific tasks. Allow everyone a clear view of who is across certain parts of a project, and make them the owner of advice, guidance, and deliverables for that area.
- Share results. Pass on feedback to your team—both good and bad. Speaking openly about your results allows every part of your group to trust your direction, and to feel more confident in the role they play in your team. This step is especially vital during growth and attrition periods within the wider company.
- Know the limits. Openness and sharing are important, but so is confidentiality. Your team needs to trust that you aren’t oversharing, either. Keep discussions about performance reviews, salaries, and employment matters on a need-to-know basis.
Work with transparency, offer certainty and clarity to your team, and keep the team environment predictable. Most importantly, be accountable, hold others accountable, and tell the truth.
5. Be Supportive
Trust is built when we help and support others. If you are willing to put yourself on the line for a teammate, you demonstrate courage and camaraderie, and inspire others to count on you.
Be supportive of your team members in front of your superiors, and defend your team’s work if you believe in it.
Pro Tip: if you don’t believe in it, you should have spoken up. See step 4 again.
6. Be Predictable
Predictability isn’t about being boring—it’s about providing certainty and routine for your team.
2020 has been an unpredictable year. Then we were pushed into working remotely—essentially fending for ourselves in an unpredictable work environment full of distractions. The outside world was behaving in unpredictable ways. Everything was, effectively, chaos.
By being predictable, you give your team certainty, confidence, and comfort. They know that if they produce XYZ, they will be recognized. If they provide a solution for XYZ, they will be recognized. If they don’t do XYZ, they will also be recognized—but not in a good way.
Humans crave predictability, and recognize it in certain actions:
- A greeting or smile every time you see your team members
- Keeping your word
- Being on time
- Confirmation of action points
Early in my career, I had a supervisor who came in a few minutes early every morning and spent some time checking in with all 15 members of her team. She’d make a cup of coffee and walk from desk to desk to say good morning and ask if we had everything we needed for the day. Most of the time the conversation took a few seconds, but we always knew we could count on that time if we had questions, or just wanted to chat. She’d notice a new hairstyle, or a new photo on a desk. She’d comment on a plant you’d brought to work or a new coffee mug.
This was my earliest experience of predictability in the workplace—and a habit I’ve used in every leadership role I’ve held since.
7. Be Vocal.
In person, it’s easy for others to see what we’re doing when we go quiet. When they speak up and you remain quiet, they can see if you’re writing notes or fidgeting, or—the ultimate no-no—checking your phone.
In remote sessions, even video conferences, they can’t see what your hands are doing or what your eyes are seeing. So be sure to communicate that clearly:
“I’m just writing a quick note so I can follow up on that point for you.”
“I’m quiet because I’m struggling with this idea. Can you explain it another way?”
“I think my connection froze. I didn’t hear the end of that sentence.”
Communicating openly and honestly builds trust because it eliminates your team’s need to analyze your silence or draw damaging conclusions.
8. Be Accountable (And Expect The Same From Your Team)
In any new relationship—both professional and personal—we need to start from a place of trust. Assume that everyone has good intentions, and that everyone is good at their job. As your team progresses in its role, consistently take responsibility for your performance and expect the rest of the team to do the same. Hold them accountable for their actions, and speak plainly and clearly to ensure each team member is aware of the scope of their role.
Learning to build trust with your team when working remotely is a vital skill for a new era. Fortunately, it comes down to a few essential factors:
If you can master these three factors and turn these 8 tips to building trust into personal habits, you can create an ultra-productive, positive team that gets results.