A 4-step guide to fostering trust with remote employees

27th May 2020

For the past several weeks it’s been business as unusual for pretty much everyone. With millions working remotely, some for the first time, employees and managers alike are adjusting to our collective new normal.

Technology like video conferencing software, instant messaging and real-time document editing have certainly made this transition easier, but there’s one important WFH integration that can’t be instantly downloaded: trust.

For some managers, it’s just hard to believe employees could ever be fully productive while operating out of their sightlines – much less from the comfort of their couches, feet propped up on a box of dried goods.

Still, if “seeing is believing” supervisors are going to successfully lead their remote teams, they’re going to have to figure out how to trust them.

 

The link between trust, morale and productivity

It’s clear by looking at any employee satisfaction survey just how much employees value supportive managers. And part of being a good manager means trusting your team to do what they were hired to do.

Keep in mind that employees will naturally take pride in a job well done. Most are intrinsically motivated to achieve and become the best professional versions of themselves. Add a vote of confidence from the boss and you’re likely to see their productivity, loyalty and work quality soar.

But micromanaging can undermine all of it.

Truth is, you can outfit your employees’ company laptops with any number of applications, but if you don’t trust them to get their work done you’re stifling their development – and their morale.

Here’s how to keep your employees accountable by fostering trust instead.

1. Let your employees know what you expect from them – and what they can expect from you

Working, and managing, from home come with a learning curve. But like most relationships, good communication can help smooth out the inevitable bumps in the road.

Start by making this a mistake-friendly time. Working like this is new for most teams. Early on, set the tone of learning from mistakes and getting on with things quickly.

Next, understand that building trust begins with creating shared goals for both employee and employer. It’s one of the fastest ways to build trust. Make sure everyone is clear on:

  • How often to check in: daily, weekly, hourly?
  • How to communicate progress: EOD email, internal messaging channel, video call?
  • How/when to schedule 1:1 meetings?
  • How to find and prioritise tasks and deadlines: project management system, spread sheets, apps for remote work?
  • How to access internal resources?
  • How/where to quickly get an answer when stuck?

 

2. Lead by example

Part of this WFH experiment is bringing your team closer together despite the distance. That starts with letting your employees connect with each other’s humanity – yes, even the boss’!

Focus on things like:

  • Transparency: Start by sharing what you’re working on individually, with the team and in the near future. You may also invite transparency for your entire team by encouraging the use of public channels in your preferred workplace messaging platform. Reply all emails also work to ensure no one gets left out of any important conversation. How does this help maintain trust? By creating a no-closed-door culture and making sure the entire team always knows where projects stand in real-time.
  • Vulnerability: Don’t shy away from sharing what you’re having a hard time with. Be it technical difficulties, WFH distractions or even a generalised restlessness, talking about things publicly and explaining how you’re dealing with them will help break down any unnecessary divides. And yes, build trust.
  • Commonality: For most of us, our WFH lives are a lot alike. We have children to care for, distractions to face, routines that work well and others that don’t. Share these with your team and encourage them to do the same. You could also try spending some portion of your 1:1 meeting asking your direct reports about their WFH experience or life outside the pandemic. It will help you get to know your employees better. And the more you feel like you know them, the more trust you’ll have in them.

Whether giving a tutorial on how to be self-assured on camera, or sharing non-work related news like birthdays, personal wins and milestones, remember that your team is always taking direction from you.

 

3. Think hard before implementing tracking software

Employee tracking software isn’t new, but with more employees working from home the interest in them is higher than it’s ever been. And while it may seem like a natural choice for managers looking to monitor their employees’ productivity, it can come at a cost.

Most of your direct reports won’t be thrilled to learn their time is being tracked. Not only can it be perceived as a signal you don’t trust them, it could actually make them not trust you.

Be especially careful if your employees are working from home because of something beyond their control (like a global pandemic). Tracking software could be a demoralising blow that significantly impacts their productivity, and ultimately, your company culture.

If you decide to track, do so thoughtfully. Be fully transparent with your employees about exactly what it will be used for and why it’s necessary.

Really need your team to detail their day? Try letting them self report it via a time tracking plugin or informal report.

 

4. Consider re-evaluating how KPIs are reported

Sure, it can be hard to keep up with your employees when you aren’t seeing them in person. But maybe the problem isn’t your employees; maybe it’s how you’re measuring their KPIs.

Putting your trust in a remote employee isn’t trusting that a sink full of dishes or super cuddly animal won’t ever distract them. It’s about trusting that they’re going to do what they’ve said they will – that they will turn in tasks on time to the best of their ability, or tell you when and why that’s not possible.

Perhaps a better KPI is their overall output, not time they spend at their desks (or in this case, the couch). By empowering their time management skills, you’ll have to do a lot less micromanaging.

Trusting your staff while working remotely is more about holding them accountable for the work they do, not the hours it takes for them to do it.

In the end, working from home is not the same as working from the office. Period. But who says it has to be? Successfully leading a remote team isn’t about recreating in-office oversights, it’s about rethinking the way we work. When you build trust with your remote team, you build a solid foundation from which your business can thrive, no matter where in the world they log on – or for how long.