A sense of connection and community develops naturally when employees work side-by-side for days, months, and years at a time. But establishing mutual trust is much more difficult when you’re collaborating with and relying on team members who you’ve never met in person and only connect with digitally. While there’s no replicating the unique camaraderie that comes with in-office work, remote teams can build trusting relationships that are just as strong, thanks to modern technology and HR know-how.
What does trust at work mean?
Trust at work simply means that employees know they can rely on leaders, other team members, and the organization itself to support them and act honestly at all times. It leads to an environment of psychological safety where employees feel comfortable being themselves and expressing their true thoughts without being judged or facing reprisal.
Transparency in matters large and small along with frequent, clear communication are two major pillars of a culture of trust. Empowering employees by providing them with everything needed to reach their full potential — including the opportunity to make their voices heard — is also a key aspect of fostering trust at work. Of course, putting these ideals into practice in a remote environment comes with its own unique challenges, together with some major benefits.
The challenges and benefits of building trust remotely
There are more than a few roadblocks virtual teams must overcome to start building trust. The first is the simple fact of distance between team members. Not only can this make it difficult, if not impossible, to meet at a central location on any sort of regular basis, but employees who live across the country from one another — or across the globe — are bound to struggle finding convenient times to meet and collaborate remotely. Without visibility into what employees are doing and how they’re contributing to the team, leaders are more likely to give into the urge to micromanage, and team members may not realize how other employees are making their jobs easier.
Despite these difficulties, building trust among remote team members is well worth it. Trust is the foundation on which a diverse, inclusive culture is built — one where everyone feels like they belong. A sense of inclusion is a rare thing that employees value, and they’ll be that much less likely to look for opportunities elsewhere once they’ve found it. It’s one of the best ways to develop remote employee engagement as well.
The security that comes with an environment of trust also makes team members more comfortable sharing innovative ideas and taking risks, keeping the creative juices flowing at your organization. And with the confidence to speak up when they need support or their work-life balance is out of whack, employees have additional tools to combat burnout.
4 ways to build trust remotely
New ways to foster trust remotely are developing all the time, thanks to advancements in technology and more experience with the new normal of virtual work. Here are 4 great strategies to build trust among remote employees at your company.
1. Use the right technology
The first and most basic requirement for building trust is providing the tools remote employees need to connect with each other. These include everything from modern video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, to messaging apps like Slack and Google Chat, to project management software like Jira and Wrike.
While the number and quality of communication tools have increased in recent years, many organizations’ onboarding and support resources for using these platforms remain insufficient. Offer regular internal training opportunities or third party online courses and adopt platforms that offer exceptional support to ensure that your employees can get the most out of the tools your company provides.
And of course, solutions for building trust in remote teams aren’t limited to communication tools, project management software, and other platforms for collaboration. Organizations need to find ways to let remote employees show how much they appreciate each other and establish always-on channels for feedback team members can use wherever and whenever they have something to say.
2. Enable frequent shows of appreciation
Recognition is more than just a nice-to-have that leaders can get away with providing every now and then. Frequent, organization-wide recognition is one of the most effective ways for employees to show they value one another and develop the connections real trust relies on. But remote employees can’t stop by a co-workers office to say thanks, and communication platforms aren’t designed with recognition in mind.
Make showing appreciation easy by adopting a dedicated recognition and reward platform that is built for the remote workforce with a mobile-friendly design philosophy and seamless app. Your recognition solution should support the two pillars of a culture of appreciation — social and monetary recognition — with engaging, fun ways to say thanks using gifs, images, and emojis together with reward points. These points are given on a regular basis to employees across your company, who can then award them to their remote colleagues to show that they’ve noticed their contributions big and small. The recipient can then redeem their points for whatever rewards catch their eye from a massive catalog, sparing your company the difficult task of finding personalized gifts for every employee.
3. Build channels for anonymous feedback
Even the best recognition platform won’t improve trust at your company if you don’t listen to and act on employees’ suggestions for how to make it and other aspects of your organization better. That’s why developing easily-accessible, confidential channels where employees can give voice to their real thoughts is so important. When team members know your company values each and every piece of input they have, they’ll have the trust and confidence necessary to take risks and call out issues that would otherwise undermine organizational performance and culture.
Don’t waste time attempting to create and administer employee surveys on your own, though. Instead, rely on the expertise and science-backed tools that come with the best employee engagement platforms. These include pulse surveys — focused, anonymous questionnaires that let your organization stay on top of employee engagement trends — and always-on feedback channels like AI-powered HR chatbots. Your remote workforce can access these channels from anywhere, so the opportunity to share their thoughts is always just a click away. Your enterprise’s solution should also feature easy-to-use reporting and analytics tools that enable people leaders to quickly identify and act on critical issues before they cause a breach of trust.
4. Practice clear, consistent communication
Effective communication should be a priority at any company, but it takes on a special importance with remote and hybrid teams. How often should managers connect with their direct reports, and using what channels? What’s the best way for someone to let the team know that they’re away from their virtual desk? And how can team members communicate about things not related to work to build a real sense of camaraderie?
Managers should set the tone by avoiding ad-hoc communication practices, which tend to veer into either micromanagement or too-intermittent contact. They should instead discuss when and how to touch base with each remote employee directly, collaboratively setting a cadence for meetings and other means of contact — both synchronous and asynchronous — establishing a sense of predictability and availability for team members. Establish clear expectations for when remote team members should be available and by what means of communication. Finally, help build connections among your team that would otherwise be lacking by organizing fun events and activities geared for remote employees, like virtual coffee dates, book clubs, or even movie nights.
Develop a culture of trust with Achievers
To get started with these strategies for building trust with your remote employees, look no further than the Achievers Employee Experience Platform. It’s an all-in-one employee experience platform dedicated to developing engagement, recognition, and connection. It includes Achievers Recognize, an employee recognition and reward solution that delivers high-impact and high-frequency recognition, includes convenient and competitive redemption options, and offers the flexibility to meet the needs of recognition programs at any price point. And it also comes with Achievers Listen, an always-on employee engagement platform that’s built on a foundation of people science and facilitates frequent and purposeful feedback from anywhere, anytime.