How to Build Trust within Your Remote Team (2021)

By Anya on May 20th, 2021

Personal or professional, trust is at the heart of all relationships. Within the workplace, it is the basis of a strong, successful team. 

To trust is to have confidence in the dependability, honesty, and expertise of others. In organizations with high levels of trust, employees can rely on each other to meet deadlines, fulfill responsibilities, share information freely, and take ownership of mistakes.

Alongside task-based cohesion, trust is determined by interpersonal behaviour. Respectful, supportive communication fosters an encouraging and productive working environment.

Trust is all about risk:

Will my ideas be dismissed in this meeting? Will I feel embarrassed if I share them?

For fast-paced innovation to take place, employees need to feel safe enough to discuss their ideas openly. They also need to feel comfortable giving and receiving feedback, asking for help, offering advice and exchanging project information. 

Businesses that promote a culture of trust benefit from a happier and more productive workforce. Here are 3 ways to cultivate trust within your remote team:

1)  Allot time for relationship-building

In the conventional workplace, relationships are built in-person over coffee, during lunch, before meetings, or after work. Without a physical space to mingle in, remote teams are rarely presented with opportunities to get to know each other on a personal level and build trust naturally.

With planning, however, these moments can be replicated digitally. Here are some ways to open the door to relaxed, spontaneous dialogue between colleagues:

  • Allocate 15 minutes at the start of each day for an informal chat and well-being check-in.
  • Create a dedicated virtual ‘canteen’ for employees to use during breaks or after work.
  • Host online events like a digital happy hour, coffee morning, or games night. 
  • Organize icebreaker events where employees are invited to talk one-to-one with colleagues outside of the circles (for example, using breakout rooms).

In a previous post, we explored a few of the reasons why some remote workers feel excluded at work. Keeping employees engaged with one another will not only help to create stronger working relationships, but it can also help to tackle loneliness in the workplace.

2) Hire with trust in mind

High-trust teams can’t be formed without reliable, honest people. These qualities are particularly important in remote employees; without the presence of supervisors or coworkers, they are responsible for holding themselves accountable for their workload.

For that reason, it’s important to select candidates who won’t disappoint their colleagues – missing deadlines, failing to communicate effectively, or instigating conflict. This means screening applicants not only for their experience and skills but for the characteristics that would make them great teammates.

Consider asking the following questions during the interview process to hand-pick good collaborators:

Interpersonal trust: 

  1. How would you react if a teammate tried to take credit for an idea you came up with?
  2. If I asked you to lie for me, would you? (The answer should be no!)
  3. Tell me about the last time you had to ask a coworker for help. 
  4. What type of role do you naturally gravitate towards when working within a team?

Task-based trust: 

  1. When was the last time your resilience was challenged by a project? 
  2. Tell me about an occasion where you had to work to a tight deadline. 
  3. How do you hope to be challenged by this role? 
  4. Describe a time from a previous role where your team depended on you and your skills.

3) Create trust through clarity 

Clear communication is key to a unified, efficient team. Vague instructions and ill-defined roles, tasks and processes can lead to trickle-down problems within a business.

Designate roles

People prioritise the work they will be held liable for. If there is ambiguity as to who is responsible for a particular role or task, it’s likely to be set aside in favour of something more urgent.

This can lead to disagreements over accountability. For example:

  • If a staff member takes on a task that hasn’t been clearly designated, they may feel that they’re picking up an unfair proportion of work.
  • If the task isn’t completed, people may start to point fingers over who should be held responsible for its neglect. 

In both circumstances, a breakdown of trust has occurred. The lack of transparency has created a culture of blame, and the teammates feel that they can’t rely on each other to keep things moving forward.

It’s important to ensure that every individual understands their role and how they contribute to the overall operation of the business. For smaller projects, this may even mean encouraging staff members to discuss and assign roles amongst themselves from the outset.

Create role clarity within the workplace in the following ways:

  • Use communication apps with built-in task delegation tools, performance monitoring software and multiple channels of communication for different projects (e.g. Slack). 
  • Make sure your employees have ease of access to a point of contact with their manager. This enables them to disclose any concerns they may have about meeting deadlines, in-team disagreements, or excessive workloads. 
  • Check-in with your team regularly to ensure that responsibilities have been designated fairly and evenly. 

Need more guidance?

My course, ‘Leading Virtual Teams’ is designed to help businesses overcome the barriers of remote work and cultivate successful, coordinated teams.

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