NB: This blog post was originally published on Oyster's great blog
As more companies have shifted to remote or partially remote operations since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the "T word" has become a hot topic: trust.
Harvard Business Review reports that managers are struggling to trust their employees when they lack face-to-face interactions. In turn, efforts by managers to address trust issues with stricter monitoring—for example, by implementing software to assess employee productivity—have resulted in workers distrusting management.
It's a stubborn cycle that leaves everyone involved dissatisfied. The good news is that it doesn't have to be this way. As a company leader, it's on you to set the tone and foster trust in the workplace, especially when dealing with remote teams.
This guide provides actionable tips for nurturing trust on remote teams and gives you some insights into how trust benefits employers and employees alike.
Establishing trust in remote work settings
It's said that trust has to be earned—an adage that definitely holds true in the corporate world. If you're going to build trust in a remote work environment, you have to take action and make sure your practices reflect your goals and priorities. Here are some ways you can build trust on your remote team.
1. Set clear expectations
Remote work looks different for different companies, and even for different teams within the same company. Be clear about what remote work practices mean on your team. Can people work when and where they want? Do they need to be available within certain timeframes? How will work be distributed and evaluated? For example, you might request that workers be free for meetings from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon Eastern Standard Time, because the type of work you do requires a certain amount of synchronous meeting time.. It’s also critical to set clear expectations in terms of how work is assessed, so workers can trust that an objective evaluation system is in place. Knowing your work will be measured fairly and predictably creates a foundation of trust in your manager.
2. Maintain communication
Having some overlap in remote workers' diverse schedules, as described above, can help simplify communication. However, this type of overlap isn’t always possible, and you can't expect remote workers to be available 24/7. Look for other ways to promote collaboration that support asynchronous communication, like project management tools and digital whiteboards. Also, build trust through regular communication, like weekly team video conferences, regular one-on-one chats, and recorded meetings so that those who are not available don’t get left out of the conversation. Open, transparent communication ensures people don't feel they’re missing critical information, which can hinder trust.
3. Avoid micromanaging
If you're constantly checking in on employees, they'll feel like you don't trust them. This can, in turn, leave them distrustful of you. If you take the steps above, like setting clear expectations and communicating openly, you shouldn't feel the need to monitor employees' every move. As long as you have clear expectations for when employees should update you on progress, and open channels for support or questions, you should not need to actively check on their work. As an added bonus, you can focus on other tasks when you aren't chasing employees to see what they're up to. Meanwhile, your employees will likely be more productive when they aren't being interrupted by check-ins. Everybody wins!
4. Be supportive
Employees who feel that they're being treated like cogs in a corporate machine aren't going to have a lot of trust in their employer. Make an effort to show that you value employees as people, not as sources of productivity for the company. Nurturing a workplace culture that prioritizes well-being is a great start. Make a point of accommodating workers' mental and physical health needs. For example, some companies offer wellness options as part of a competitive, comprehensive benefits plan. You might include "mental health days" in your sick leave package, for example, or give each employee a budget for creating a healthy and ergonomically friendly home office. Even starting your one on one meetings by asking how they’re doing, and making space for personal connection, can have a big impact on an employee feeling they are valued and that they can trust their manager.
5. Get to know each other
Remote teams don't have the possibility to get to know each other through small talk at the coffee machine or lunch. The resulting lack of familiarity can make it hard to build trust, which experts say is born of spending quality time together and doing things that aren't necessarily work-related. Make time for remote workers to just be together, building a sense of community—and with it, trust. For example, you can organize virtual coffee chats between randomly paired team members to help establish social relationships across departments, or make space for self-organized affinity groups for people with shared interests or hobbies.
The impact of trusting your remote team
Remote work has become more normalized—a phenomenon known as the pandemic effect—and employees are increasingly demanding the opportunity to telecommute. While remote work has plenty of benefits, it also presents new challenges like fostering trust when people don't have the familiarity of face-to-face interaction.
The above list provides a few ideas for how to build that trust. Taking these actions can help strengthen teams, creating bonds that allow people to work more easily together. This can boost morale and, in the big picture, even enhance productivity.
This isn't just conjecture - there's plenty of research to back it up!. For example, people who trust a company's leadership report having 106% more energy at work and being 50% more productive. They're also more satisfied with their lives, less likely to take sick days, and at a lower risk of burnout.
Another critical step in building trust? Making sure your employees feel taken care of when it comes to the basics—like benefits and pay. Oyster helps you build a comprehensive employee management system to ensure your employees get the best treatment, wherever they're located.
Spanning 180-plus countries, Oyster provides one platform to onboard and manage all your team members, making global employment a breeze.
Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, engage, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. Oyster lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.
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