How to Build Trust in a Remote Work Environment
This is a guest post by Lona Alia from SafetyWing.
Despite the rapid rise in remote work in recent years, there are still some enduring skeptics that believe employees need to be in office to be productive. For managers who have always worked in the office, feeling some concern about not being able to see what your employees are doing is normal and valid. That’s why it is critical to build a trust in remote work.
Let’s start with why trust matters in the workplace. According to a Harvard Business Review study, when employees feel trusted and valued, they are 50% more productive, 76% more engaged, and 39% more satisfied at work. A 2019 Gallup report also revealed that employees who trust their managers are twice as likely to say they will still be with the company one year later.
So you can see the role that trust plays in the workplace is immense. If you care about company performance and retention, then you need to care about building a trusting relationship when managing a distributed team.
The COVID-19 pandemic thrust us all into working remotely overnight, with almost no time for a transition or preparation. Forbes estimates that after the pandemic, a quarter of professional jobs in North America will be remote, and that number will only increase in 2023. If managers do not trust their employees to work remotely, that is a significant portion of the workforce that will not be able to reach its highest potential. And if employers do not trust their employees when they are in the office, then remote work will only amplify that distrust.
SafetyWing has been 100% remote from the start. SafetyWing’s mission is to facilitate other companies & teams to be fully remote, by providing their employees & contractors with global health insurance that works wherever they go, which would allow companies to build an amazing team from anywhere and give people the ultimate freedom to choose where to live and work. Here are our best tips for how you can cultivate trust in a remote work environment.
The Ingredients for Trust
The word trust can feel very abstract, but when you break it down, there are basically two types relevant to the workplace. There is competence trust, which is your confidence that your employee will follow through on their task and deliver. Then there is relationship or interpersonal trust, which is a feeling of safety that you can express your authentic self without being judged. In order to thrive as an organization, you need both.
If your colleague does a good job at their work but is rude in their interactions, then that will affect your willingness to work with them. If you get along socially with a colleague but cannot rely on them to meet their deadlines, then that will also erode your trust.
To build others’ confidence in your skills, you need to make sure you have all the information you need to complete your task. That includes knowing its deadline, urgency, and who needs to be kept informed of your progress. The more clarity you have, the less guesswork you’ll have to do.
When you can’t just pop into your manager’s office with a quick question, you have to be intentional about what communication channel you use. Take a moment to think about the most effective way to work in your distributed team–email, Slack, voice message, or video call–for the information you need.
When it comes to interpersonal trust, soft skills take a spotlight. Being open and authentic can feel vulnerable, but it pays off. When you are transparent and easy to read, people don’t have to wonder about your motives and are less likely to draw incorrect conclusions. Plus, you make it easier for them to open up in turn, and it fosters closer and more genuine connections.
Sometimes mistakes are made and trust can be temporarily lost. SafetyWing believes all problems are solvable, and that it is much more useful to assume goodwill of the person who made the mistake. We are all prone to fundamental attribution error, which is the tendency to attribute others’ mistakes to their character, while attributing our own mistakes to external factors.
The more predictable and consistent you can be in doing these things, the easier it will be to gain trust from your team.
How Can Employers Build Trust?
Trust is not a one-sided street. Reciprocity is the biggest part of establishing trust, and if employers want their employees to trust them, then they must demonstrate they are trusting in return. Employees want to know that they will be working in reasonable conditions and that they will be treated with respect.
How can you show that you trust your workers?
- Giving your people the freedom to work remotely and flexible hours is the ultimate way you show that you believe people can manage their own schedules and get their work done.
- Providing your remote employees with the necessary equipment through services like GroWrk that can procure, set up, and support distributed teams in over 150 countries. You show commitment to your workers by setting them up for success.
- Encouraging remote employees to take PTO and be truly offline during vacation. Studies show that it’s not enough to not think about work or simply mentally distance oneself from work, but that employees should do leisure activities and truly enjoy their relaxation time in order to boost performance.
- Hiring people who align with your mission and values.
- Being cognizant of your own actions. Are you sending emails during the weekend, or are you disconnecting? At SafetyWing, when our founders go on holiday, they will delete the Slack app from their phone. As leaders, you have the power to set the standard and explicitly create a culture of work-life balance.
- Celebrating employees’ wins and being there for them during challenging times makes employees feel that you’re there for them through the highs and lows.
- Listening to your employees’ feedback, and giving them space to express what they might be struggling with, whether it’s burnout or their mental health. By doing this you show care about who your employees are beyond the work they produce.
- Supporting their career development shows you care not only about their present, but also their future.
How Can Employees Build Trust?
- If you’re unsure about something, double check instead of assume.
- Communicate as early as possible when you experience an obstacle or sense you will not be able to complete a task. These conversations can be uncomfortable, but they show you are serious about doing a good job and committed to communicating.
- Be presentable for video calls and make sure you have reliable technology so meetings run smoothly. The only time you make a physical impression is onscreen, so you want to appear professional.
- Words only make up a small part of human communication. Body language and tone convey the majority, so turn your camera on during meetings so your team can easily read you.
- Be honest about where you could use help. If you have too much workload, speak up and ask what can be deprioritized.
- If you’re working async, set the expectations about your availability and what your work hours will be.
- When you make mistakes, be solution-oriented and avoid blaming.
Remote Culture is what you make of it. If you are proactive and intentional, you can have a thriving workplace and culture, even more so than in-office.
Remember that the benefit and point of remote work is the freedom and flexibility that comes with it. So constant monitoring or surveillance would be counterproductive. It’s natural for an employee’s physical presence to put a supervisor more at ease, but remember that hours in a chair do not always equate to quality. Focus on output instead of the hours someone puts in.
Whether you work remotely or in a physical office, trust doesn’t happen overnight. It can also be easily lost, which is why a strong work culture requires maintenance. But it’s worth it. Only with a strong foundation of trust can your employees and company reach their fullest potential.
About the Author:
Lona Alia is the Head of Revenue at SafetyWing, a Y Combinator founder, Advisor at EU for Innovation, and a remote work advocate and digital nomad who’s worked and lived in 80 countries and learned 7 languages.