There are many different approaches to effective ways to build trust in the remote workplace. Over the past several years, it’s been noted that trust and reliability are often some of the more difficult factors to establish within a remote work environment. If you’re an employer who is working remotely with a team, you’ve come to the right place.
Communication is the foundation of trust building. Whether you’re using an online platform, phone, or video call, it’s essential to be clear in your communication and instruction. If people are unaware of your expectations, there’s more of a chance they’ll feel you’re going back on your word or that you’re inconsistent in communications.
“Communicating well is a big part of building trust in the remote workplace,” says Ryan Delk, CEO of Primer Microschools. “There is a lot of communication that happens nonverbally, whether you’re using a messaging service, video chat, or phone call. Tone, facial expression, and even emojis can communicate things in conversation. Establishing a way to communicate clearly and precisely with your staff is essential to build trust so that people don’t feel forgotten about or feel that you’ve gone back on your word because of a misunderstanding.”
Promote Emotional Wellbeing
Emotional wellbeing is a critical part of working remotely. Because your remote workers are working from home most of the time, it can be a very isolating experience. Promoting emotional wellbeing through benefits, conversations, and mental wellness tools can be a great way to build trust by showing your investment in your staff’s emotional health.
“Mental health has been given a lot of attention over the past few years as remote work has become more of a norm,” says Alex Novak, CEO of SexLikeReal. “Try incorporating counseling support, mental health tools, and mental health time into your employee’s resources and benefits. Showing that you care about them as a person and not just an employee can help build that essential remote workplace trust.”
Nix the Micromanagement
While strong communication is an important part of building trust in the remote workplace, there is such a thing as being too involved. If you’re micromanaging your staff, you’re going to communicate to your staff that you don’t trust them to do their jobs. Not only that, but you’re going to compromise your own work efficiency while you’re at it.
“Micromanagement can be a difficult habit to break if you’ve already fallen into this pattern,” says Annie Ricci, Senior Manager of Digital Marketing at Prima. “However, allowing people space to breathe and do their job without hovering the entire time is really important for showing that you trust them. Remote employees won’t trust their leaders if they haven’t extended some trust in their work and overall decisions.”
Facilitate Casual Conversation Time
Getting to know your staff and having an interest in your employees can help you build trust in the remote workplace; there’s nothing wrong with a bit of casual conversation.
“It’s hard to support people and let them know you can be trusted as an employer if you don’t know them and their stories,” says Brittany Dolin, Co-Founder of Pocketbook Agency. “It’s a lot easier to build trust in people if you know their personalities and life events that are going on. Carve out some time for casual conversation at the beginning of individual meetings or schedule icebreaker type activities into the group meeting itself to get people talking.”
Set Realistic Goals
Setting goals that your team can reach is a great way to build trust in the remote workplace. Realistic goals help your staff feel they can reasonably achieve them while also feeling a sense of accomplishment when they’re completed. Setting goals that motivate your staff but aren’t unrealistic is a key factor.
“Setting goals that are too far-fetched can have an adverse effect on building trust within a team,” says Baris Zeren, CEO of BookYourData. “Even if you’re not harsh about missing a deadline or goal, your staff will feel less confident about their work, ensuing in doubts about their abilities or qualifications to do the job they were hired for. Feeling insecure about their ability to perform can make your staff question if their job is at risk, decreasing the level of trust they have in you.”
Empathy builds on the idea shared earlier about getting to know your staff. Being empathetic toward life situations your staff may be going through by providing support for them in whatever way you can will help foster trust.
“Empathy is not only a great way to build trust, but it’s also an excellent leadership practice,” says Kim Walls, CEO and Co-Founder of Furtuna Skin. “An empathetic leader sets the expectation and example for the rest of the workplace by showing an interest in every person and being intentional with their actions and words. The more empathy you show to others, the more likely it is that they’ll be empathetic toward one another and you as well.”
Vulnerability and transparency go hand in hand here. If there’s a mistake made or you fall short of expectations, explaining how that happened and how you’ll solve the problem sets the precedent for your staff of the expectation that they’ll be open with each other and you. It also helps them trust you more because they see that it’s okay to make a mistake and be honest about it.
“Setting an example by being vulnerable can help your staff see you as human,” says Nabiha Akhtar, CEO and Founder of Lil Deenies. “Too often, leaders and employers try to come off as people who don’t make mistakes. However, this is impossible, and your staff knows that. Hiding mistakes or avoiding transparency can make them distrust your word because they know you’re not being up front with them. Showing that it’s okay to make mistakes sometimes can also boost the level of creativity and brainstorming your staff feels they’re allowed to do.”
Be Flexible Yet Consistent
Being flexible but consistent might sound like an oxymoron, but it’s actually an excellent way to build trust. Being flexible due to certain situations, both work and personal, can help you establish trust through the empathy that we discussed earlier. However, it’s crucial that you’re consistent with the type of flexibility you offer. You can’t change the rules from one day to the next or be more lenient toward some staff than others.
“Creating a bit of an unofficial policy for flexibility can help you navigate this concept of consistent flexibility,” says Chris Thompson, CEO of Sober Sidekick. “Your staff will know they can come to you with problems and trust you’ll work with them to come up with the best solution, even if that means changing goals or timelines, depending on the situation. Being consistent with this flexibility across the board can help your team see that you’re willing to work with them to maintain a healthy work-life balance and mental wellbeing.”
Create a Team Environment
Creating a team environment means being willing to step in and do the dirty work on occasion. This type of leadership is often referred to as servant leadership, and it’s a practice where leaders work alongside their team and support them in every way they can. Rather than micromanaging or delegating, you can actively look for ways to help your staff and build trust by doing tasks for them whenever possible.
“Jumping in to support your staff as they work on a project that’s nearing a deadline and facilitating good conversations about team effort can help build a fantastic team environment,” says Justin Olson, Chief Marketing Officer of Fast Pace Health. “Remote workers who feel they’re part of a team are more likely to trust you as an employer because they have that more personal connection rather than feeling like an isolated individual employee who checks in with a team lead on occasion.”
Provide Regular Feedback
Consistent feedback is a great practice in general, but it’s also an effective way to build trust in the remote work environment. Regular feedback is a good way to show your staff what you’re expecting of them and how they’re currently meeting those expectations. While you may assume your staff thinks that no news is good news regarding feedback, not knowing where you stand as an employee can be very stressful.
“Providing regular feedback on a weekly basis can be a great starting point for building trust,” says Serdar Ozenalp, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Ocoza. “As the employer, regular feedback benefits you by facilitating conversations about things happening within the workplace and can help make you aware of issues that may be arising. For the staff member, it’s a great way to know exactly where they stand and alleviate any concerns they may have about their performance.”
These are just a few of the ways you can establish trust in a remote work environment. Some consistent themes throughout the tips that were shared involved a lot of intentional communication, transparency, feedback, and establishing yourself as a confident but servant-hearted leader. Showing empathy and getting to know your staff is at the heart of these concepts. Through these shifts in mindset and practice, you, too. could be on your way to building trust in your remote workplace.
Canavesi, A., & Minelli, E. (2021, September 28). Servant leadership: A systematic literature review and network analysis – employee responsibilities and Rights Journal. SpringerLink. Retrieved October 13, 2022, from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10672-021-09381-3
Stapleton, P., & Blanchard, J. (2021, March 1). Remote Proctoring: Proceedings of the 52nd ACM technical symposium on computer science education. ACM Conferences. Retrieved October 13, 2022, from https://dl.acm.org/doi/abs/10.1145/3408877.3439671?casa_token=zoz8ojFuc5cAAAAA%3AOhbN0SEaCwVhoeEhqD9M-nZU_DxGiMtvVB29GLxqBAOJjN38p0UUhXLKrSKTuSJKJwWbT11955c