Ten Ways Employers Can Build Trust in Remote Work Environments

by Brett Farmiloe

What is one way companies can help build trust in remote work environments?

To help organizations build a trusting work environment, we asked HR influencers and thought leaders this question for their best tips. From setting clear expectations to addressing manager biases involving remote work, there are several steps that employers can take to improve their workplace cultures. 

Here are ten ways to build trust in remote work environments: 

  • Set clear expectations from the beginning
  • Place Value in Employee Wellbeing
  • Effective Communication
  • Be Open to Vulnerability
  • Avoid Micromanagement
  • Address manager biases involving remote work
  • Help people connect
  • Measure based on deliverables
  • Carve out time for non-work-related connections
  • Create Opportunities to Just Be Together

Set clear expectations from the beginning
Trust can be lost where there is grey. Leaders should give clear guidelines as to what remote work should look like. These would cover everything from frequency of check-in to examples of when to reach out virtually versus a voicemail. Having this guide will also serve as a great recruiting tool as it will give candidates an idea of what the culture of remote work is like at your organization. Implementation is as easy as amending your company handbook.

Steven Brown, Recruiting and Talent Development Manager, DP Electric Inc.

Place Value in Employee Wellbeing
Working remotely is a new concept for some people (especially with the blended workforces that are present today), so patience and compassion will be critical elements to fostering a trusting workplace culture. It is understandable that business will still need to thrive to fill a need, but it's equally important to understand that employees might have legitimate reasons to have challenges or struggles while at work. Explore available benefit offerings to help employees find ways to cope. Have awareness of varying leave types or offering a workplace accommodation that might also prove helpful when balancing the needs of the business with the well-being of the employee. Navigating through this new normal of the virtual workspace will require adjustments and adaptable leadership coupled with empathy for employees and their wellbeing. Employees must believe you care about them as people- who they are, not just what they do; that’s how you build trust.

LaShawn Davis, Founder, The HR Plug

Effective Communication
Trust is imperative for remote teams to work well together, and without proper communication, that trust breaks down. In order to build trust in a remote work environment, employers should train employees on how to effectively communicate. These communication tips can include setting a regular time to check in or dropping a note in the team chat letting people know when you’re taking a break and when you’ll be back online. In addition, define how you measure work getting done. Build trust with clear work expectations, standardized performance metrics and consistency in providing performance recognition and feedback. Frequent and open communication can make a big difference in a remote work environment, even beyond building trust between employees. In fact, a recent BambooHR survey found that 42% of remote workers reported that they were meeting with their direct supervisor less frequently than prior to COVID-19, but those who met frequently had greater rates of career progression.

Cassie Whitlock, Director of HR, BambooHR

Be Open to Vulnerability
Humans are social creatures, and research shows that trust begins with human warmth, even before competence. Since remote work environments make it more difficult to read emotions and connect, making the extra effort to build human connection will go a long way towards building trust. A simple way is to have personal check-ins at the beginning of your 1:1s and meetings, and to be mentally present while someone is speaking. As you connect, be courageous in sharing your own challenges and see how this opens the door for more authentic communication. In the last 18 months, people have had to become more vulnerable with one another - dropping their office personas and managing the challenges of the pandemic, such as home-schooling or perhaps caring for a loved one who fell ill or succumbed to the virus. While it’s essential to maintain high work quality, trust will flourish if we can also sustain that openness to each other’s vulnerabilities and acknowledge the humanity we all share.

Marissa Afton, Partner & Head of Global Accounts, Potential Project

Avoid Micromanagement
When working remotely, everyone needs to communicate regularly to stay updated on projects and upcoming events. However, closely monitoring what employees are doing, when they are working, and where they are at all times can breed feelings of mistrust. To build trust in remote work environments, companies need to give employees autonomy, hold them accountable for their deliverables, and focus their performance.

Osasu Arigbe, HR Professional & HR Tech Content Writer

Address manager biases involving remote work
Many remote employees worry that they may be unfairly overlooked for advancement opportunities because they won't have "face time" with leaders, or that their achievements may go unnoticed by managers. Unfortunately, these worries may be warranted: a recent survey found that the majority of managers viewed remote workers' performance less favorably than that of their in-person colleagues, even though data analysis showed that the remote workers were more likely to be higher performers. To build an equitable system--and employee trust in the same--train managers to be aware of these unconscious biases. Also, check performance evaluation and promotion criteria to ensure they are objective and don’t inadvertently disadvantage remote employees. Finally, create opportunities for remote workers to meaningfully engage with leaders both inside and outside of their chain of command, in 1 on 1 or small group conversations, to build those connections that can often lead to future opportunities.

Elizabeth Bille, SVP, Workplace Culture, EVERFI

Help People Connect
Trust is built when team members feel connected. That can't happen if everything is just email and Zoom meetings. Sharing wins or highlights across the organization helps create transparency - it keeps people in the know. Providing a way that people can connect on non-work items is just as important and the companies that enable a sense of community will have cultures that attract and retain talent!

Logan Mallory, VP of Marketing, Motivosity

Measure based on deliverables
Rather than measuring employee performance based on virtual presence, such as employees being active on the company chat, or the ability to respond to emails immediately, measure based on deliverables. This measurement system judges employee work on the product of work, rather than the appearance of working. All employees have different work styles and focusing on the work that gets done will build trust between your remote employees and their managers.

Kate Conroy, Consultant, Red Clover

Carve out time for non-work-related connections
The acceleration of the remote and distributed workplace has created a host of new challenges for team leaders. In particular, fostering meaningful relationships, built on a foundation of vulnerability-based trust, amongst team members has become far more challenging. The personal connections that used to happen organically and informally in the hallways and conference rooms must be re-created virtually. Leaders must be far more intentional about creating time and space, while also teeing up campfire-style conversation topics, for their teams. At anthym, we help leaders accomplish this by leveraging a unique combination of life moments and memories and inspirational media, like music, to help teammates connect on a human level. Discovering uncommon commonalities as well as gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation for who your teammates are, not just what they do, is incredibly powerful. After all, the shortest distance between two people is a personal story.

Brian Mohr, Co-Founder, anthym 

Create Opportunities to Just Be Together
Each week at HRAnswers we host a 45-minute virtual coworking session. As the principal consultant, I host this weekly session. It is a time that any team member can "pop" into a shared Zoom meeting room to say hello and then keep plugging away with their work (from their own home office). Although we have the opportunity to ask a question or two to the other attendees, it isn't designated as collaborative work time. Generally, as we kick off the session, we mention (or write in the chat) what we're working on, but it's not a time to be gabby. It's just a time to work side-by-side. Sometimes, doing simple things, like building in time to just be together, is a way to foster feelings of connectedness, which are necessary if you want to build trust.

Niki Ramirez, Founder & Principal Consultant, HRAnswers.org

 

 

Originally published September 15, 2021 on SHRM.com by Brett Farmiloe. Brett Farmiloe is the Founder and CEO – and currently CHRO - of a digital marketing company that ranks really well on Google. Search “digital marketing company,” and you’ll see Markitors. Brett has also been a keynote speaker at several state SHRM conferences around the topic of employee engagement.

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