Trust in the workplace is arguably the most important factor of any high-performing team. This statement is further amplified when teams are remote.
Because, when you’re leading a remote team, trust can be harder to build than if you were in the office because of little things like:
- Losing the ability to “see” your team working
- Less face-to-face time, making rapport building harder
As a result, leaders might feel the need to check on their team more, or in some cases, to micromanage them. That’s the last thing anyone wants.
The reality is, 66% of workers believe that they’re more productive when working from home. So, how can leaders and their teams build trust in a remote environment? How can they become more productive?
In this article, we’ll walk through:
- The importance of trust in the workplace
- How remote teams can build trust at work
- Communication best practices for remote teams
The importance of trust in the workplace
A recent study from HBR found that, compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies reported:
- 74% less stress
- 50% higher productivity
- 106% more energy at work
- 13% fewer sick days
- 76% more engagement
- 29% more satisfaction in their lives
- 40% less burnout
It’s evident that trust plays a major role in high-performing teams. Without trust, your team will not only perform at a lower caliber, but the relationships they build at work will also suffer.
How remote teams can build trust at work
Now that we’ve got the importance of trust out of the way, let’s walk through some actionable ways in which you and your remote team can build trust.
Create a psychologically safe space
Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor defines psychological safety as:
“A shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. [Psychological safety is] a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.”
In other words, when there is a high level of psychological safety on the team, people feel more comfortable opening up, sharing ideas or feedback, and being themselves.
Beyond that, Google launched an internal study to determine what dynamics made up an effective team. Number one on their list? Psychological safety.
Google found that, when it comes to teams, the most important factor is less about who was on the team, but rather how the team worked together.
Psychological safety in action
Let’s walk through 3 ways to foster psychological safety on your team.
1. Frame work as a learning problem, not an execution problem
A lot of this can be done with your use of language. Don’t make people feel like their skills are inadequate or not valued by leaving them out of important conversations (like quarterly strategy planning).
Instead, open up the floor for everyone to help them feel like they’re not only part of the conversation, but their input is valued.
“Hi team, I think that we did a great job last quarter, but I think there’s always room for improvement. I’d love to open up the floor and hear your thoughts on what we can learn from last quarter and how we can do better in the next. Who wants to start?”
2. Acknowledge that you’re not perfect
While you’re the leader of the team, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to know everything. One of the best ways to set the tone for open and honest communication within the team is to be vulnerable first. After all, as the person in a position of power, you need to understand that you’re the one setting the tone for the rest of the team.
During your next team meeting, try opening up and letting your team know where they can count on you and where they can’t. This will also open up the floor for others to take accountability and ownership within the team.
Here’s an example of something I’ve said in the past with my team:
“Hey everyone, I know that I’ve been messaging more at night but that’s just because it’s when I do my best work. I don’t want any of you to feel the need to respond to my messages when you’re not working. However, if this is causing you any trouble or stress, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I’d love to find a way to make communication easy and effective for everyone.”
3. Model curiosity
Don’t just make it an expectation that people ask questions, make it part of your team culture. Creating an environment of curiosity will encourage your team to engage in more open dialogue. It’s also a great way to ensure you’re giving everyone on the team a voice.
One thing to be careful about though is to make sure that questions are being asked in a curious manner, not an accusatory one.
For example, instead of saying “Your time should have been prioritized better. Can we get this eBook done this week?”, you can say “Are there any blockers that are delaying this eBook from being completed on time? How can I help remove them?”
Foster a culture of accountability and ownership on the team
Accountability in the workplace means that employees are responsible for their:
When teams have a strong culture of accountability, it does wonders for the overall trust within that team. That’s because certain behaviors arise, including:
- Getting things done on time
- Showing up to meetings on time
- Keeping the team informed on progress (especially those who can’t start a task until another one is complete)
On the other hand, teams that lack accountability experience:
- Low team morale
- Lack of clarity on priorities across the team
- A lower level of employee engagement
- Increased chance of not hitting team or individual goals
- High turnover
- Low levels of trust
How to foster accountability and ownership
If you feel like your team’s culture of accountability and ownership can improve (hint: it always can!), here are some tips:
1. Lead by example
If you want your team to adhere to deadlines, communicate effectively, and show up to meetings on time, you’ll need to do it yourself. As the leader, you’re the one setting the pace for your team, be it output, how you treat one another, and overall culture.
2. Share feedback frequently
Whether you add a recurring item to your team meeting agenda or set the expectation that feedback should come from all directions, it’s important that you encourage your team to share feedback frequently. It’s equally as important that you share feedback frequently as well. This can come in the form of constructive feedback or recognition.
3. Set goals collaboratively
One of the best ways to foster a culture of ownership is to involve your direct reports when you’re setting goals for the year, quarter, or sprint. This will send a message to your direct reports that their ideas and feedback is valued. Being a part of the goal-setting process will also encourage them to feel like owners of the team’s overall success (and their own).
Communication best practices for remote teams
According to Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work, tied with loneliness, remote employees struggle the most with collaboration and communication.
When working in a virtual environment, you’ll need to define and standardize communication best practices so that you minimize these challenges for yourself and your team.
Let’s walk through some of the ways in which you can do this.
Run effective recurring meetings
Nothing is worse than leaving a meeting feeling like it was a waste of time. Using your team’s time effectively during meetings is also even more important when you’re remote because that’s ultimately the only face-to-face time you’ll have together. Make it count.
Try limiting your meetings to the following touch points and adjust as you see fit.
1. Recurring one-on-one meetings: This can be a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly meeting that’s dedicated between your direct reports and you. These One-on-one meetings will typically run anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. The length and frequency will vary with each direct report.
2. Recurring team meeting: It doesn’t matter if you’re an engineer or a marketer, you should schedule a recurring team sync to ensure that you’re able to share feedback, roadblocks, plan out tasks, and brainstorm on a frequent cadence. If you’re operating on Agile, consider having one team meeting every sprint.
3. Daily scrum meeting: This is a daily 5-10 minute check-in. Treat daily scrum meetings as a status update meeting where the team will come prepared to answer four questions around what was done, what they’re planning on accomplishing that day, roadblocks, and comfort level. This meeting can be done asynchronously.
You’ll likely also have one-off meetings here and there, like brainstorming sessions or project kickoffs.
Effective meeting tips
When it comes to running effective meetings, here are some helpful tips:
1. Only invite people who need to be there. If their presence is optional, they don’t need to be there.
2. Use a collaborative agenda that everyone can contribute to. This will ensure you can hold people accountable for coming prepared to every meeting.
3. Document and summarize your decisions every meeting and make sure they’re accessible for all participants.
4. Assign action items with due dates and individuals. Ensure that every action item is only assigned to one person. That person will be the directly responsible individual (DRI).
5. Ask for feedback after every meeting. This can be as simple as sending out a quick survey asking the team how they felt about the meeting (Very helpful, somewhat helpful, not helpful).
A lot can get lost in translation. So, when you communicate with your team, be intentional about what you say. It’s also important that you and your team are able to document everything so that it’s accessible. This is especially important for distributed and asynchronous teams who won’t typically overlap the full 8 hours every day.
Ways that you can effectively communicate with your team include:
1. Creating dedicated communication channels
This should be done in a company-wide and team-wide capacity. For example, you should create dedicated channels for more fun, relationship building conversations (#dogs, #babies, #wineandcheese, etc).
But, you should also create specific channels for projects, teams, subteams, etc. This way, you don’t clutter your work-focused channels, making it easy for people to access information, while giving your team the opportunity to connect with one another better.
InVision does a great job of this. They have “channels for every interest imaginable”, says Jennifer Aldrich, UX and Content Strategist at InVision.
2. Creating Manager READMEs
Also known as a “How I like to work”, the aim of Manager READMEs is to help you set expectations with your team. This type of document would include things like:
- Hours you typically work
- What channels your team can reach you at (I.e. urgent things through phone calls, normal back and forth via Slack, etc)
- How you like to receive feedback
Really, you can make it what you want, so long as it helps your team understand how to best communicate with you (and you them). This document shouldn’t only be created by you, the manager. If your employees feel comfortable with it, encourage them to create their own so that team-wide communication becomes easier as well.
3. Use a knowledge base
Proper documentation is key for any remote team (and proper organization of that information). That’s because you want information to be as accessible as possible, especially if your team is mostly asynchronous. You don’t want to delay a full work day because employee A had one small question that they needed answered by employee B who’s currently sleeping.
Trust in the workplace is something that’s gradually built over time. But, if you continue to be transparent, share feedback frequently, and over-communicate, you’ll be able to build a strong and productive remote team in no time.
About the Author
Hiba Amin leads marketing at Soapbox, a solution that empowers over 100,000 managers and their teams to be high-performing by combining quarterly priorities, weekly meetings, and engagement measures, all in one place.