How To Build Trust With Your Remote Teams in 2023
Leading a remote workforce is increasingly becoming the norm for many managers and business owners. While working in a remote setting can be just as effective and rewarding as working with your team face-to-face, it may require that you use some different management strategies.
When you work together in an office, trust and camaraderie between teammates is often built or reinforced through organic “watercooler” style interactions. Because those are less likely to happen spontaneously when working remotely, you may need to make an intentional effort to build these relationships with your team.
Whether you’re a team-building pro looking for new ways to engage your remote workers or are hiring a remote workforce for the first time, these tips may help.
Table of contents: building trust with remote teams
What’s the role of trust in remote work?
When everyone on a team works remotely and autonomously, being able to trust each other is very important.
If you’re in a leadership position, this might mean trusting your employees to meet deadlines and execute tasks, even though you can’t physically see them working. For others, having trust may mean you feel confident that your coworkers are striving diligently toward shared goals, just as you are.
Without this trust, friction can develop. Distrust may lead to some team members feeling overworked, while others feel left out of the loop. Over time, output and productivity may decline. Luckily, this friction is avoidable and fixable. By paying attention to each of the 12 tips below, you can create a strong and trusting team.
12 tips to help build trust with your remote team
Each of the tips below will help you build a high-trust remote work environment. By actively trying to cultivate trust among your remote team members, you can improve productivity and efficiency while reducing burnout and turnover.
1. Be transparent, responsive, and dependable
As the leader of a remote team, you’ll need to exemplify the values you’d like your colleagues to share. Being open and honest is one of the most important things you can do to build trust. Your demonstration of these traits encourages team members to do the same.
These positive behaviors create a firm foundation for working relationships. Let your team members know that while there may be times you disagree, you value their input and ideas. Hold team members accountable for their work while reinforcing that you appreciate their open and direct communication.
Additionally, be responsive and dependable. Working remotely may sometimes feel isolating. Let your team members know when you’re available to help them with workplace questions or concerns and regularly check in to see how they’re doing.
2. Schedule regular team meetings
Creating a standing team meeting is also helpful for building transparency. Without regular meetings, team members may become misaligned on project goals or be unsure of whom to turn to when they have questions.
Find the meeting cadence that works best for your team. Some teams with rapidly changing project needs might find that they work best with quick daily meetings of no more than 15 minutes. Teams working on a longer project cycle may find that weekly or even monthly meetings suit their needs.
It’s a good idea to record virtual meetings if some members of your team work asynchronously. All enterprise-grade video conference software, such as Microsoft Teams and Google Meet, has this capability.
3. Set expectations
Setting clear expectations for your team is another important part of maintaining transparency. When a new person joins your team, let them know what you expect in terms of work hours, skills, development, communication, and more.
The trick here is to be clear, without being too rigid. For example, rather than requiring team members to work exactly 9 am to 5 pm in your time zone, you could say that they need to:
- Work 8 hours per day
- Schedule 3 hours of overlap with a specified time zone every day
- Attend a regularly scheduled weekly meeting
By doing this, you clarify that you require a certain level of contact, but you also empower your team members to have control over their professional schedules. If you’re too exacting in your expectations, team members might feel micromanaged, which is detrimental to building trust.
4. Establish clear goals and objectives
Besides communicating overall job expectations, setting clear goals and objectives for specific projects is also important. Goal setting—and progress tracking—sets your team up for success. Everyone will understand the role they and their colleagues play, which is vital for building trust.
You may find a variety of ways to set goals for your team. The SMART goals system is often a good place to start.
A SMART goal is:
- Specific: What should your team accomplish? Who is responsible?
- Measurable: How will you track progress toward the goal?
- Achievable: Can your team actually accomplish this goal with their available resources?
- Relevant: How does this goal relate to your work? Why are you working toward it?
- Time-Bound: What is the time frame in which the goal is to be accomplished?
Without clear goals and objectives, some team members may experience confusion about their roles or wonder what their colleagues are doing. Over time, this miscommunication might create trust issues. By tracking goals and showing how everyone’s progress contributes toward a bigger picture, you can reinforce everyone’s purpose and provide more clarity for your team.
Remember to work with your team when setting goals. By getting each team member’s contributions and buy-in on the process, you can continue to build strong and trusting relationships.
5. Identify team roles and foster accountability
Once you’ve identified and communicated your team’s goals, you’ll want to be clear about everyone’s individual responsibilities. The DACI and RACI frameworks make it easy to outline everyone’s role.
When using DACI and RACI, each person involved in a project or efforts toward meeting a goal is assigned a specific role, as illustrated in the table below:
If you don’t clearly define roles and responsibilities, you may find that some team members feel they’re carrying too large a workload. They might think that their colleagues are doing less work, even when that’s not the case. This misperception can lead to an unfortunate lack of trust.
The DACI and RACI frameworks help everyone understand their and their colleagues’ roles. This clarity fosters accountability and trust, and teams know who to turn to for different action items.
6. Encourage consistency
You can further enforce the bonds of trust among virtual teams by encouraging consistency. Do this by:
- Tracking time worked and workload distribution
- Working with team members to set personal goals and track progress
- Ensuring that all team members have the tools to perform their responsibilities
- Encouraging peer-to-peer feedback
- Recognizing a job well done
By establishing a consistent workflow and processes, you can help team members further settle into their roles and responsibilities. Without consistency, remote team members may not always align on objectives. They might also struggle with accountability.
7. Introduce team collaboration tools
Collaboration tools are essential for consistent, successful remote work. These tools make it easy to have ongoing touch points between team members and often reduce the number of meetings that are needed.
While the specific suite of collaboration tools that each team needs will vary, it’s a good idea to start with:
- Chat apps like Slack or Discord
- Video conferencing software like Skype or Zoom
- File sharing and cloud services like Google Drive
- Project management applications like Hive or Monday.com
Without a dedicated set of collaboration tools, team members often default to a variety of different channels that they’re personally familiar with from other jobs. Besides making communication difficult and cluttered, this sometimes leads to unintentionally leaving teammates out of the loop. By aligning your team’s workflow and communication, you can continue to strengthen trust and remote collaboration.
8. Help team members create connections
You can also leverage collaboration tools to help boost camaraderie between team members. As colleagues get to know each other better, their trust in each other’s abilities will grow. Try some of the following to break the ice:
- Schedule a monthly coffee hour or happy hour for social conversations via video call. (The Upwork content team does this, and it’s always a fun time!)
- Assign each new team member a “buddy” to show them the ropes and answer questions
- Use apps like Donut, which works with Slack, to pair up team members for one-on-one chats
Without making an active effort to create connections between remote team members, everyone can easily remain in their own little bubble. Building trust is hard without having the foundation of a personal connection.
9. Promote peer-to-peer feedback
As your remote team members get to know each other better, you can create a culture that values peer-to-peer (P2P) feedback. There are different ways you can do this.
Some team leaders use a standardized P2P feedback form. They give this form to their team members several times a year to guide everyone through the feedback process.
Other team leaders prefer to train their team members on best practices for giving and receiving constructive criticism. For example, having project drivers giving P2P feedback to contributors might be helpful.
P2P feedback is not the same thing as an annual review with a manager. Instead, it’s a way for team members to continually realign and improve how they work together. Getting feedback from a close colleague shortly after a project ends is often more targeted and actionable than receiving a performance summary only at the end of the year.
10. Focus on team output and celebrate successes
You may also be able to help your team build trust by highlighting how well they work together. By tracking key performance indicators (KPIs), and project progress, results, you can celebrate your team when there are:
- Increases in work output due to direct collaboration
- Improved returns on project investment
- Notable milestones achieved because of teamwork
- Instances of positive recognition or feedback from other departments, executives, or clients
If teams never see how working together improves the company’s output and success, they might be less inclined to seek out their coworkers for collaboration opportunities. As your team members begin to see how they are able to work better together, their trust in and reliance on each other should grow.
11. Avoid micromanaging your team
Try to avoid micromanaging your team. Staying out of day-to-day activities can be difficult to master at first, especially if you’re used to working within arm’s reach of your team at the office. When working remotely, though, micromanaging behaviors may give the impression that you don’t trust your team members’ skills and work ethic.
If you notice that you do any of the following, you may be unintentionally micromanaging your team:
- Hesitate to assign important tasks to members of your team
- Prefer that your team copies you on every email they send
- Feel like your schedule is clogged with one-on-one meetings
- Wonder if your team is working all day, even though their productivity and output is strong
- Receive comments from colleagues about how your team seems very dependent on you
- Find it hard to focus on the big picture with your team
- Feel burned out and stressed, even though you have people you could or should rely on for help
Over time, micromanagement can create friction between team members and team leaders, making stronger bonds of trust difficult to achieve.
12. Support a healthy work-life balance
Finally, one of the best ways to build trust with your team is to show that you support their maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Your actions might include:
- Supporting your team when they need to adjust their hours because of an appointment or change in their personal lives
- Encouraging your team to use their time off throughout the year
- Not requiring after-hours phone calls or email communication (except in special, occasional circumstances)
- Working with your company to provide resources for team members’ health and well-being
- Developing a backup system so that when one person is out of office, the team knows whom to call on for specific needs
- Requesting that team members working after hours schedule emails and messages in group communication tools for delivery during standard work hours
If your team finds it hard to maintain a work-life balance or feels they don’t have the trust and support to do so, you could see higher levels of burnout and turnover. If they feel supported and trusted, though, they’re likely to remain more energized and engaged in their work.
As you use these 12 tips to develop a workflow for onboarding and collaborating with new remote team members, expanding your virtual workforce will become easier than ever.
When you’re ready to take this next step and hire new talent for your remote team, turn to Upwork for direct access to thousands of professionals with the exact skills you need. Whether you’re looking for software developers, administrative support, or marketing pros, start working remotely and strategically by posting a job on Upwork today.
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