Generating Trust in Remote Teams
Do you work with people in different offices, cities, or even countries on projects? If so, you are part of the 84% of people now working in remote teams for at least part of the time1. Armed with mobile devices and wi-fi, the possibilities of where we are able to work are endless. Although technology has unlocked this capability of remote working, it can also create unintended consequences that need addressing. One of the most frequent consequences of using remote teams is a subsequent decrease in the level of trust.
High levels of trust are vital within a team. When you trust others in your team you will spend less time covering your back and you are more likely to share information. In teams with high levels of trust, you may be more proactive, more focused on task output, more optimistic, and you may provide more productive feedback2, all of which contribute to a greater performance of the team.
So, what are the foundations of trust?
How much you trust someone is based on these 4 components3:
Credibility is hard to earn and easy to lose. You judge people based on whether their words match their actions. For example, do they meet their deadlines and hit their goals. This assessment is a lot easier face-to-face as information is lost through emails and phone conversations.
When you’re working in the same office as someone it can be easier to determine their reliability – are they working when they say they’re working? This can be much harder to determine in a remote team.
Relationships are much easier to build face-to-face than in phone calls and emails so it can take much longer to develop strong relationships in a remote team.
Even if you have confidence that someone is credible and reliable and that you have an intimate relationship with them, this can be undermined by self-orientation. When you think someone is putting their own interest before that of the team then trust can rapidly diminish.
Trust isn’t just about our words, it’s about our behaviours too. How confidently we trust someone stems from our observation of their behaviour4. In a remote team, that observation is pretty much impossible, making it much harder to build trust.
So how can you build trust in a remote team?
Here are 3 tips for you to develop your trust in your remote team:
- Connect on a personal level
You are more likely to trust people who are similar to yourself as it allows you to feel increased empathy for them and helps you predict their behaviour more accurately5. Through coffee-machine conversations in the office people tend to connect on a personal level and establish their similarities with others leading to an increase in their trust. This doesn’t happen for remote teams, so a good way for you to tackle this issue and develop trust is to dedicate time at the start of your remote meetings for people to share recent highlights (both professional and personal) in order to connect on this deeper level and enhance trust.
- Be transparent
Unlike an office, remote teams don’t have the same opportunities to openly interact. In remote teams, private conversations can go unnoticed and may result in anger and reductions in trust when they finally surface. You can prevent this by being transparent and ensuring that your team frequently catch up on what they are doing and who they are working with.
- Acknowledge differences
People in remote teams often differ to each other significantly more than those within the office. One difference that remote teams often face is cultural differences. Because it is common for remote teams to be spread worldwide it means that people are often from a range of cultures with different beliefs which could interfere with trust. Whilst office environments are increasingly multi-cultural, these differences are often displaced by sharing the same environment. In some cultures, in the US and UK for example, trust is task-based and built through business related activities. Whereas in other cultures such as in Brazil and China, trust is very relationship based and needs to be built outside of formal business activities6. You must be aware of these differences and adapt your behaviour for each person in your team. The more noticeable the difference is, the more efficiently you will be able to tackle it and develop trust in your relationships. Time difference is another significant challenge for remote team members. This may be an issue when arranging meetings, working together on projects, and communicating in general. This may lead to a lack of trust as communication may be infrequent. But, these differences shouldn’t act as a barrier but rather as an accelerator as it allows projects to be worked on 24/7.
Now take time to reflect on the teams you work in. Are you more trusting of people you see daily over those who you virtually interact with? Most people now work in remote teams and this will continue to grow over the coming years. Because of this, developing trust in remote teams is a task which requires imminent attention. Trust shouldn’t be a bonus to your working relationships but it should be a core element. So, start building trust in your remote team with these 3 tips.
2 Clark, W. R., Clark, L. A., & Crossley, K. (2010). Developing Multidimensional trust without touch in virtual teams. Marketing Management Journal, 20(1), 177-193.
4 Aubert, B. A., & Kelsey, B. L. (2003). Further understanding of trust and performance in virtual teams. Small Group Research, 1(34), 575-618.
5 Kipnis, D. (1996). Trust and technology. Trust in organizations: Frontiers of theory and research, 39, 50.