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It’s no secret that remote arrangements are a growing workplace phenomenon. With nearly four million Americans working from home at least half of the time, this trend has had a massive impact on businesses across the world.
While working remotely allows you to build teams with the very best talent regardless of location, it also presents unique challenges. Establishing trust and building relationships with remote employees are two of the biggest for managers and team leaders.
How to build trust remotely with your team
To run a successful remote team, it’s crucial to build an environment of collaboration, transparency, communication, and trust for every single team member. But how can you be sure you’re taking the right steps to build trust remotely and build constructive relationships with remote employees?
Start by incorporating these seven strategies into your management style.
1. Hire the right people
Before you can strategize about managing a remote team, it’s crucial to hire the right people. Unfortunately, not everyone is cut out to work remotely. Full-time remote employees must be self-directed and independent, as well as skilled at communicating across virtual channels.
When interviewing candidates, treat telecommuting as a skill, similar to other core competencies of the job. Ask candidates about their work style and any previous experience working on a remote team.
Learn about their work style, home office situation, time management skills, and approach to collaboration and conflict resolution. Make sure anyone you hire understands the challenges of working remotely and is equipped to meet them.
By hiring candidates who work well remotely, you can start to put together a team that will function well together, no matter where its members are located around the world.
2. Get to know each other virtually
Working remotely can get lonely. Everyone needs the opportunity to make personal connections with the people they work with. Develop a sense of camaraderie early on by immediately introducing new team members and providing opportunities for everyone to get to know each other.
Employees are more likely to trust each other when they feel a sense of connection. Develop a robust on-boarding process for new hires, encourage team members to share tidbits about their lives, and create opportunities for frequent socializing.
Social media, video calls, chat tools like Slack, or virtual “coffee dates” are great ways to get to know one another. During meetings, consider setting aside 10 minutes at the beginning where people can share weekend plans or highs and lows from the past week.
If possible, think about hosting in-person retreats once or twice per year where employees can meet face to face.
3. Set clear goals and objectives
Save yourself a headache down the road and set clear expectations from the get-go. Give your team a common goal with actionable tasks. Not only will this increase productivity, but it will also keep your team motivated.
Managers need to provide clear guidance, as well as the required tools and information to get work done. Set up shared process documents for your team, perhaps storing them in Google Drive where everyone can refer back whenever needed. You might also elicit feedback from team members so everyone has a voice in the goal-setting process.
By making everyone a stakeholder in the company’s goals, as well as putting everyone on track toward a shared mission, you’ll achieve your goal of building trust in your virtual team.
4. Embrace transparency
Managers must lead by example and being transparent should be top of your priority list. Keep everyone in the loop by providing easy access to team information. Project progress, work schedules, and task statuses should be publicly available to all members of the team.
Some forward-thinking teams are also transparent about salary. Total transparency can be one of the best ways to build trust in virtual teams and make sure everyone has clarity on company policies and goals.
5. Keep the lines of communication open
Regular communication drives motivation, accountability, and demonstrates everyone’s commitment to the team. Whether it’s a Monday morning call, daily status emails, or collaboration in a project management tool, find a way to bring the team together and keep employees engaged regularly.
Ensure that team members can get in contact with each other and set realistic expectations for response times, especially when working across multiple time zones. Even though your conversations may be asynchronous and span time zones, it’s still important to keep the lines of communication open.
At the same time, honor your employees’ schedules as much as possible. If you allow employees to work a 9 to 5 schedule in their own time zone, avoid setting up calls outside of their individual work hours.
Although scheduling meetings that work for everyone could be tricky, trying your best to do so will send a message that you respect everyone’s time and work-life balance. In return, your employees will have greater trust in and commitment to you.
6. Offer thoughtful feedback
Don’t wait until there’s a problem to talk to your employees. Get into the habit of regularly providing feedback on team members’ strengths, accomplishments, and performance.
Don’t be afraid to remark on areas for improvement either, as long as you do so in a constructive and supportive way. By demonstrating knowledge of your employees’ talents and contributions and your willingness to help them grow, you will build trust.
A thoughtful performance feedback process might also boost employee retainment. You’ll help employees grow and hopefully, allow for upward mobility within the team. Instead of applying elsewhere for a promotion, they’ll feel confident they can build their careers within your company.
7. Give trust from the get-go
Don’t expect employees to earn your trust over time. Instead, give them trust right away. You can communicate this trust through eliciting feedback on big projects, encouraging them to take initiative, or providing opportunities for professional development, to name a few examples.
This “positive psychology” approach will help your employees flourish in their role and rise to meet its challenges. By creating positive experiences for your employees right off the bat, you’ll build a team that’s motivated, trusting, and happy.
Building trust in virtual teams takes thoughtfulness and planning
While employees crave flexibility, that doesn’t mean they want to be isolated. Managing a remote team and learning how to build trust remotely can certainly be challenging for managers. But with the right practices in place, you can build a team that is even happier and more productive than one that meets every single day.