Trust is a foundational part of any working relationship. The elements that make up trust — credibility, reliability, and connection — form the basis of practical, flexible, and creative teamwork that ensures productivity.
However, in the remote environment that the modern working world demands, it can be tough to build up the elements of trust that teams need to succeed. The virtual world, after all, is significantly different than the in-person one.
With that in mind, we’ve gathered some thoughts from Aperian Global’s experts on the ten best ways to build trust remotely.
1. Try virtual “coffee breaks,” virtual celebrations, and one-on-one check-ins.
Virtual work can impart a sense of having to “always be online.” Make sure your employees don’t get overwhelmed. Build up some good feelings and let the team get to know each other on a personal level. Schedule some informal “coffee breaks” where the team can sit around and chat (maybe sharing some helpful daily life strategies) and try to have some quick team celebrations of birthdays, work anniversaries, or other major life events. Trust grows when a warm personal relationship develops alongside a productive working one. Something else to keep in mind: this is a stressful time for employees. Concerns about work, family, and the world situation can feel overwhelming. Putting a quick, half-hour check-in in the calendar and asking a simple question — “How are you doing?” — has the potential to work wonders as a virtual therapy session and grow those needed relationships.
2. Use a variety of formal and informal communication channels.
Don’t limit yourself to just the prescribed and normal working channels. Take this time to experiment and see what works best for your teams. Explore web communication software, online collaboration tools, and other remote solutions to create the channels — both formal and informal — that get work done and build up connections.
3. Use webcams regularly to establish social presence.
Nothing beats real, face-to-face human interaction. However, using webcams to put faces to names is an acceptable alternative in the modern world. Encouraging the use of webcams so teams can see each other during virtual meetings and teleconferences helps grow familiarity, connection, and trust among remote workers.
4. Get to know your team’s workstyles.
Take the time to pause and “re-familiarize” yourself with the individual work styles of your team. In a virtual environment, this type of insight can help overcome challenges and build trust throughout. Aperian Global’s GlobeSmart Profile, for example, helps organizations, individuals, and managers define and understand work-style differences based on five dimensions of culture.
5. Agree on — and adhere to — response times.
It’s vital to balance flexibility and responsibility during this time of remote work. Be sure to give your employees the flexible time they need to deal with family matters and other pressing obligations – but encourage open communication and standards when it comes to response times and schedules. Make sure your employees communicate frequently and clearly about the times when they’ll be online and offline, and the best options for how to reach them. This flexible but responsible model enhances the element of reliability and accountability key to increasing trust throughout.
6. Provide background info about the team.
In remote work situations, it may be challenging for team members to establish or maintain credibility with colleagues — especially if the teammate or team configuration is relatively new. Help to bridge that gap by posting background information or resumes of the team members in a centralized place accessible by people, both internal and external. Learning a little more about the people you’ll be working with helps establish competency, credibility, and trust throughout.
7. Have regular team presentations.
Give your entire team a chance to shine throughout remote work. Establish a “rotation” in which each team member shares information about an upcoming project, just-finished project, new skill, or anything else that might prove beneficial. This will help boost credibility for each team member, and will also provide a productive showcase for people that might not always be the most outspoken within virtual meetings.
8. Be clear about guidelines.
One of the ways trust can get broken in a virtual environment is through inadequate project guidelines and direction. It’s easy for these aspects to get muddled in a virtual environment. Reinforce communication and reliability by focusing on crystal-clear, direct guidelines when it comes to projects. Provide plenty of instruction and check in with your teams every step of the way to ensure that your workers know their precise project tasks. Ensure that trust does not get broken thanks to poor communication when it comes to guidelines.
9. Focus on defining problems and offering solutions.
Too much self-focus — focusing on ourselves and what we need to get done versus focusing equally on others’ needs — is another problem that can harm trust in remote teams. One way to decrease self-focus? Look to the basics: defining problems and offering solutions to them. Be proactive with the team-first, solutions-first mindset is a fundamental way to build trust remotely.
10. Keep team members in the loop.
Few things become more damaging to trust among virtual teams than the feeling that employees are kept “out of the loop” when it comes to important decisions. Don’t let those feelings grow. Be sure your virtual teams are “looped in” on strategic choices, personnel moves, logistical changes, and other important events (when appropriate, of course). Open communication, again, is critical to trust in remote teams.