• Westwood International

Top 4 Skills that Build Trust with Remote Teams

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

Predictability is the foundation of trust. Let’s read that again... PREDICTABILITY is the foundation of trust. Now let’s think about how many of us predicted that COVID-19 would play out the way it did and last for as long as it did.

Some of us may have seen it coming; some thought it might only last a few months, and others may have never even expected it to make it to our shores. Either way, here we are, a year later and still flexing and bending with the repercussions of the virus, as best we can.

When some of us heard we would be working from home, it seemed like a fun idea. Fast forward to February 2021, and we might be either loving it or singing a different song. No matter what we may be feeling, research gathered from Apollo Technical uncovered that, on average, remote employees are working for 10 minutes more per day than they were at the office, and are 47% more productive. Another study discovered that 86% of employees prefer to work by themselves when they need to be efficient and productive.

Global Workplace Analytics found that $600 billion a year is lost due to distractions in the office. Even though in-office employees can be seen working so are often trusted more easily, remote workers are 35% to 40% more productive than those in the office, and trusted less.

So why are managers still feeling nervous that their virtual teams are not working? Some have even installed spyware and screen tracking systems to monitor what their remote workers are doing. High-stress situations can make some leaders feel lost, overwhelmed, and reactive, making it hard for them to manage effectively, so they may feel the need to monitor remote work more closely. But does this seem like something that would build trust and motivate your team?

Did you ever have a boss that did not trust you? How did it feel? Do you find yourself doing some of the same things to your team that your boss did to you? Let’s look at how you can lead better. How empowering, delegating, and supporting your employees can lead to a more dedicated workforce and more passionate, well-balanced teams.

Reset the first brick for building trust:

When your employees first applied for their job, they applied for an in-office position. They have now taken on a remote role, so start by revamping expectations, job description, and goals. One helpful tool for outlining this information is the Best-Self Kickoff worksheet initially intended for new employee onboarding. It serves as a handy tool to reestablish the direction and process of work in the unique remote work setting. Roles need to be clarified, and expectations need to be consistent to build a highly effective remote team with a meaningful sense of psychological safety in the workplace.

Take the time to check in with each person on your team. Discuss their most memorable successes, their most rewarding work, and understand where they run into challenges. Once you know where their strengths are, delegate them to be responsible for what you both agree they would be great at, and then back up to let them do their work. Making space for creative thinking and autonomy will result in much better results than micromanaging and spyware babysitting.

Be Honest:

Admit when you might be feeling overwhelmed or confused. It's ok for your team to see that you do not know everything but that you are motivated to find solutions. It's more than ok… it's inspiring! When your employees see that even their leader struggles, it makes you more relatable and real in their eyes. You can also better suggest resources available to help when needed, giving people a greater sense of psychological safety. Let's be ok with supporting one another.

Next, be open with them about the time you take for yourself, whether you head out for a walk after a long Zoom call or when you feel like you need to take a few minutes to meditate and refocus your energy. Leading by example and showing others that it is ok to make their mental and physical wellbeing a priority will help them connect and trust on a more personal level while being encouraged to do the same for themselves.

Communicate effectively:

Scheduling regular one-on-one follow-ups after this initial meeting allows you and the employee to revisit the goals you set and see where each of you are on your timelines. Prepare for these meetings with the information previously discussed so they know you were listening and genuinely want to help them stay on track.

Don’t forget to also ask things like:

-Are there areas of the at-home model and expectations that are not clear?

-When do you accomplish your best work? Alone or while collaborating with a group?

-Do you have any personal goals you would like to reach that you want to make time for?

-How do you recharge each day?

*This will help you determine if the current structure is really working for your team members.

Before you end any calls, run through what you believe the deliverables are and ask them to do the same. This will ensure that there is no confusion as to what will be expected by the next time you meet or before that next project is due.

Be consistent but flexible:

Once you have worked toward a new routine with regular check-ins, have a consistent way to measure performance and what you want to see from your team member. If they know what you are expecting, they can be fully prepared. If you are changing what you need without proper notice or calling them out on something you want to see but did not set the expectation for, they may feel caught off guard and unprepared. This will cause a breakdown in trust. Set them up for success by being consistent in your process.

If they cannot meet the expectations and goals initially outlined, ask them now that they have been working from home for a year whether their priorities have changed. If the current work schedule/setup is working for them or there needs to be some brainstorming to develop a new model. Understand that each person’s work from home life is different and what might work for one employee might not work for another.

“It’s critical that company leaders work to rebuild and maintain trusting relationships — with and among their employees. Those that don’t risk far more than lower morale. The chances of increased attrition, lower productivity, and stalled innovation also loom large when trust plummets.” Harvard Business Review

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