How to Build Trust in the Remote Workplace

How to Build Trust in the Remote Workplace

With record numbers of UK businesses shifting to remote working over the past couple of months, it's crucial to instil a culture of trust among your employees. Here's how

By Darren Hockley

The UK has entered one of the biggest remote working experiments ever seen. But alongside cyber-security concerns and worries about the wellbeing of their staff, many business owners are also concerned about the productivity of employees working without visibility whilst surrounded by the distractions of home and family life.

Indeed, a snap poll indicated that 76% of HR leaders reported concerns from managers about the productivity of teams instructed to work from home during the outbreak. This is the same concern that, before the outbreak, led only 56% of managers to agree to flexible and remote working for employees that requested it – even where the organisation’s official policies endorsed home working.

But Government-mandated social distancing has left organisations with no choice; they have been forced to revisit and reassess remote working policies – redesigning them to include everyone possible, not just senior members of staff (high ranking employees are more likely to be permitted to work from home over mid-level and junior members of staff according to the Office of National Statistics).

Why trust is crucial in the workplace

It seems likely that the coronavirus pandemic will change the face of business forever, proving that flexible and remote working can be just as productive, if not more so, than purely office-based work. Staff that proved their trustworthiness by continuing to be productive at home may question previous decisions not to be given the chance – and rightly so.

The business case for building a trust-based company culture is clear. When compared with industry competitors, companies with high-trust cultures experience lower employee turnover, increased productivity, better communication, and – as a result – have more satisfied clients. Trust is an essential building block of any successful team and, if there is a way to find positivity in the midst of the pandemic, perhaps building trust between employer and employees is one of them.

For managers looking to use this time to encourage transparency and cultivate strong workplace relationships with their team, here are some effective and simple strategies to try out:

1. Set the right tone

Why employ someone to work for you that you don't trust? Micromanaging and being overly controlling encourages cultures of fear and distrust. It's demoralising and demotivating for staff and will erode your team's sense of unity and purpose.

As a manager, it's your job to set the right tone from the top. Lay down your expectations for productivity during onboarding, and let every member of staff know the part they play in reaching your common goals.

Clarifying how employees' contributions complement each other and play a part in the success of the business as a whole is a surefire way to keep everyone motivated and on track – wherever they happen to be working from.

2. Open communication

Maintaining continuous communication is the most effective way to keep your team collaborating effectively. For remote workers, this will often mean using communication software rather than face-to-face chat to stay in touch. Without the distraction of unnecessary meetings and unexpected interruptions and office noise, it's easier to keep communications purposeful.

Whether it's daily or weekly check-ins, shared status updates, or collaborating using task management platforms, regular communication with your team drives motivation and feelings of accountability. It also demonstrates your investment in the team.

4. Keep the personal touch

When we spend 8 hours a day working side-by-side with people, we tend to get to know them quite well. For remote workers, however, this isn't necessarily the case, and managers will need to think about how to foster healthy working relationships.

Incorporating time for personal connection into team interactions will help build empathy, trust, and commitment. Try scheduling a virtual meeting just for personal updates, or creating a separate chat space that's 'just for fun'.

5. Be flexible

Having a flexible approach can build trust during periods of remote working (not to mention it's proven to help retain experienced and skilled employees). Small things, such as allowing variable start and finish times will mean employees can leverage the time of day they feel most productive, helping to balance work with home and family responsibilities.

Overall, demonstrating a flexible approach to home working will increase commitment and loyalty from staff members. This means it's far more likely they will be willing to go the extra mile when the business needs it. 

6. Remain transparent

Transparency is always important when it comes to retaining credibility, but it’s even more vital in a remote working environment. When working alone for long periods of time, it can be easy to accidentally withhold information or miss out contextual details that your team-mates might find useful. It may not be on purpose but, over time, this can lead to misunderstandings, resentments, and distrust.

To counter this, a good tip is to use public forms of communication wherever possible (say, a team message board rather than private one-on-ones). Think of the board like ‘speaking out loud’ in the office – it's a way of sharing important or interesting information in an egalitarian way: no one is left out of the conversation and nothing appears to be happening ‘behind closed doors’. 

About the Author 

Darren Hockley is the managing director of eLearning provider DeltaNet International. The company specializes in the development of engaging compliance and health and safety eLearning courses designed to mitigate risks and improve employee performance. Their in-house developers use a mixture of interactive video and 2D/3D animation to bring important legislation and best working practices to life.