Learn how to build trust among your remote workforce, including employees, managers, and leaders.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, people might have worked from home when their employers trusted them and empowered them to do so. Now, remote work is the norm. In February 2022, Pew Research Center reported that 60% of United States workers with remote friendly positions say they’d like to work from home all or most of the time. With the majority of professionals who can work remotely doing so, questions of trust and accountability abound — both for employers/managers and for workers/teammates.
A culture of trust matters for employers, wherever workers happen to be working. The rise of remote workers brings up new issues regarding how to build trust among hybrid and remote teams.
Why is it important to build trust with employees?
A lack of trust can lead to employee disengagement. When someone in power doesn’t trust you or watches your every move, you might put in the minimum effort or feel dissatisfied with your work.
When workplace trust is lacking, that can lead to:
- Lower morale
- Increased attrition
- Decreased productivity
- Stalled innovation
Conversely, as the Houston Chronicle reports, professionals who trust their companies are more productive and happier at work. They collaborate more effectively, stay at their employer longer, and have more energy at work. Developing trust can clearly boost your business results.
What is the role of trust in remote working?
micromanagement can lead to transactional work, impersonal collaboration, demoralization, and resentment.
Remote work has exacerbated trust issues in the workplace in many ways. First, not all employees who are working remotely are capable of managing their time as well as other high performing employees. Shifting from an office environment to a remote environment also has the potential to decrease productivity, depending on the worker.
Since some employees are new to remote work, factors that are out of their control may also impact their productivity. These could include:
- Technology failures
- Conflicts between work and home obligations
- At-home distractions
- Misunderstandings and miscommunications that result from using technology to communicate
Many employers have responded by implementing measures to micromanage their employees. For example, in February 2021, Harvard Business Review reported that Hubstaff, a provider of time-tracking tools for remote work, experienced a 4x increase in UK customers year-over-year. Sneek, a technology that captures webcam photos of remote workers on a regular interval and shares them with coworkers, reported a 5x increase in use.
Micromanagement can negatively impact your top performers, potentially driving away your best employees. In July 2020, Harvard Business Review noted that 49% of workers with high levels of monitoring reported feeling anxious at work often or always. Research from the University of Georgia shows micromanagement can lead to transactional work, impersonal collaboration, demoralization, and resentment.
Steps to build trust with remote work professionals
There are many ways to build trust with your remote workforce without resorting to high levels of employee monitoring. The following are some ideas to implement.
1. Create clear expectations
Employees, especially those who are new to remote work, require clear standards and guidelines for what’s expected of them. These clearly defined expectations should include:
- How quickly communication needs to happen, including responses to emails, chat messages, phone calls, and texts
- Deadlines and communication protocols for projects
- Time periods employees need to be available for videoconferencing meetings
- Whether employees have the ability to block off “focus time” during their workday, which likely impacts their availability for meetings
Clear expectations make it easier to judge results. For example, if a manager emails an employee with the expectation they’ll get a response by the end of the day, there’s no need for alarm if they don’t respond until then.
2. Track results, not time
Many remote work teams enable asynchronous work hours. These help employees work whenever’s most convenient for them to be most productive. This might be early in the morning, late at night, or even on weekends, depending on the role and responsibility.
Since traditional 9-to-5 hours don’t fit many of today’s remote work environments, you may want to have managers prioritize project completion over hours worked. That may mean letting go of the expectation that employees sit at their computers for the duration of traditional work hours.
Your employees may have various work styles, so if you force them to be at their computers for a certain amount of time, that could disengage some of your best talent. Rethink what you want out of your workers: great results or a body in a seat for a set period.
Rethink what you want out of your workers: great results or a body in a seat for a set period.
3. Open the door to communication
Employees should feel comfortable communicating with each other and their managers when they want to collaborate, ask questions, or provide information. Again, managers should set up clear expectations for how communication can happen. They should provide employees with the tools and training they need to effectively interact virtually. Some examples might include:
- An employee should leave a note or status update when they’re going to be unavailable for a team chat.
- When someone uses paid time off, they should set an out-of-office message and email backup contact information to the rest of the team.
- Managers will have weekly one-on-one meetings with those they manage to discuss work projects and any other issues, like work-life balance.
Another important part of communication in a remote world is respect and empathy. Because words are often perceived differently when they’re typed out rather than spoken, encourage employees to ask for clarification whenever they need it.
If there are misunderstandings, employees should feel confident to follow up or jump on a phone or video call for a quick meeting. Managers should lead by example by using clear, respectful communication.
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4. Show frequent recognition
Results matter. They provide proof your employees are working on what they should be and that they’re making a positive impact on your business.
When good results happen, celebrate them with your team. Employee recognition is a powerful tool for retention and employee engagement. According to Gallup research, employees who don’t feel adequately recognized are 2x as likely to say they’ll leave their employer in the next year. When employees are regularly recognized for their contributions, they feel more valued. Their employer loyalty and productivity also increase.
Workers who see the great work their coworkers are doing are more likely to trust their team. Workers who receive recognition are more likely to feel trusted by their managers. Give kudos for a job well done as often as you can.
Show trust to gain it
A culture of trust supports both workers and your business. Your employees will feel empowered to do their jobs to the best of their ability, which will likely provide the most successful results for your company. Your managers can gain peace of mind that their team members know what’s expected of them.
When employees feel trusted, they’re more likely to continue working for you. Create clear expectations and prioritize results over hours worked. Facilitate open communication and celebrate achievements to boost trust levels at your business.