How to Build and Cultivate Trust in Remote Teams

If your team, like many teams across the globe have recently had to shift to a remote working model, you’re probably struggling to build and cultivate trust in remote teams. Whether it’s trust between team members, trust upwards towards managers or more often than not trust from managers towards their team, cultivating it is essential to running a solid team.

So, how can we build trust in remote teams? It starts with stopping micromanagement when remote working, giving your teams more freedom and really shifting your attitude to support remote work rather than see it as a huge struggle. Let’s look at the best ways we can do that, to make remote working enjoyable and productive for everyone.

Why Is Trust Harder To Build Remotely?

In short, all human relationships are easier in person. Why? Because in-person interaction can provide a lot more information in a shorter period of time. With social cues like body language, tone of voice and more connecting exercises available like having a giggle over the water cooler or popping out for coffee together, in-person interaction often lends itself to relationship building.

Why, specifically, is trust harder to build? Well, we all know that trust issues often stem from insecurity. With 40% of 215 supervisors and managers interviewed in a Harvard study expressing low self-confidence in their ability to manage workers remotely, it’s no wonder that they find it hard to trust. When managers don’t feel that they can keep on top of their team’s management remotely, they come down hard creating a micromanagement culture trying to gain control. Add on top of this that 36% of male managers don’t have confidence in their team’s work when working remotely and you have the perfect recipe for an environment of distrust.

What Happens When Trust Issues Arise In Remote Teams?

One word – anxiety. Anxiety from team members who feel that they aren’t trusted to do their job and are therefore inadequate, and also anxiety from managers who actually feel less connected to their team.

When managers start to monitor their team’s work more closely because they distrust their team, it can have a catastrophic effect on mental health and overall productivity. Ironically, micromanaging has the exact opposite effect that the manager wants to create.

That same Harvard study found that:

“Anxiety at work is greater for those workers experiencing high levels of close monitoring and a strong belief that their supervisor does not trust them…For those reporting high levels of monitoring, 49% were often or always anxious when carrying out their job”. 

5 Steps To Cultivate Trust In Remote Teams

Knowing that remote teams struggle with developing trust is one thing. However actually implementing changes to ensure that your organization creates a trusting environment is another. For those who only came to remote working last year during COVID-19, it can feel like a shock to the system. It helps to have a few tactics up your sleeve to ensure that you can boost trust and keep people working well together. Try these 5 steps to cultivate trust within your teams:

1. Work With The Best Talent Available So That Everyone Feels Trusted And Trustworthy

Step one is to hire people that you trust to do the job, and do the job well. Often, this requires a vetting process whereby you ensure that remote workers fit the bill in terms of their skillset, attitude and culture fit. Hiring a remote team can be harder than hiring one face to face, as it can take a little longer to get to know someone. However, this is where working with experts comes in handy, so that you feel fully supported in finding the right people for the job.

Once you’ve found top talent, it’s important to let them do their job. Trust them to carry out the job you hired them for and believed that they could do. As Steve Jobs said:

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

2. Upskill Your Team With Hard And Soft Skills

What if you have a team that isn’t well trusted by management, and is falling behind in terms of their output? This is not a message to sack them all and start again – far from it! Instead, think about how you can upskill your team so that they become more trustworthy and more able to manage their own workload.

Upskilling teams is one of the quickest and easiest ways to cultivate a culture of trust and empower people to take charge of their responsibilities. Consider the hard and soft skills that are required to boost your organization and then offer courses in those areas with seamless training. With an increasingly skilled team, managers will feel more able to trust their people and will be able to take the heat off when it comes to micromanaging.

3. Empower Managers So They Feel Confident

Training, training, training! It really is so important when you consider that many managers have never been trained in managing remote teams. At the start of the pandemic it was a case of trying to make it work and running with it, however now all businesses should really be thinking about implementing remote management training as remote work becomes a more long term change.

When managers feel empowered to manage remote teams, it takes away that insecurity that we spoke about at the start of the article. With the right training, managers feel confident in remote work as a system, and also in their ability to manage remotely. 

4. Judge Work Based On Output Not By Time

Whatever you do, don’t start meticulously monitoring your team’s output in terms of time passed. When working remotely, this method simply doesn’t work. We’ve heard horror stories of remote managers installing tracking programs, enforcing schedules in 10 minute chunks and tracking time spent on tasks via online spyware. 

All of these methods will simply create an ‘us vs them’ mentality and mean that work output declines. Not only will you likely get worse quality work, but hours will likely decrease as employees get sick of being tracked and find ways to make it look like they’re meeting their hour requirement without putting effort into the actual work.

Judging performance by productivity and effectiveness is much better for everyone than judging it on hours worked.

5. Support Flexible Working And Allow Employees To Manage Their Schedule 

Similarly to managing time output, when working remotely setting a tight schedule simply doesn’t work. Sure, people need to have scheduled times for meetings, calls, scheduled online events etc. however day to day management of time should be flexible.

Why? Because when working remotely life gets in the way more. It just does. That doesn’t actually mean that people are less productive though, it simply means that they need more flexibility within their schedule to give it their all when they’re actually working. Stopping to make lunch, do the school run, workout etc. should all be encouraged. You’ll find that people work much more productively when they have flexibility in their schedules.

Cultivate Trust In Your Remote Team 

Planning to try out these steps? Please do let us know how you get on! We love to hear about how people are evolving to the remote work lifestyle and get insight on the future of work from our clients and network. You can find us on LinkedIn, or schedule a call to discuss your remote working plans.


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