Lead Artfully

Building trust with remote teams

June 9, 2021
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Building trust with remote teams

Remote working is far more commonplace today than ever before.  But there are new challenges for us as social beings when it comes to physical separation.   In this article we provide advice on how building trust with remote teams is critical, but does not need to be difficult.


The relationship chasm

Things we took for granted by being in a shared workspace, and being able to see and hear our colleagues throughout our day, can create a chasm between us when we are all physically distant.    Casual greetings, water cooler conversations, posture, and body language, all become lost opportunities for us to communicate in unplanned and unstructured ways.   But the technology is available to support remote working like never before.  It enables us to continue on with a level of structure to our day.  But without some form of unstructured interplay, it is a lot harder for each of us to understand how our remote teammates are faring.

In addition to communication gaps, lack of trust with remote teams or workers is the other reason remote teams fail.  When a team has trust they operate understanding they are all in “it” together.  A communication issue or gap is more quickly overcome as people look for ways to help each other.  When trust is low, communication gaps increase as people stop talking.  They withhold information.   Likewise, jealousy and dislike between teammates creep in.  In extreme cases behaviours like schadenfreude, or individuals taking pleasure at another’s misfortune, appears.


Building trust with remote teams

For a team to succeed and thrive when remotely situated, their manager must have the right mix of attitude and aptitude, combined with applications.   Attitude refers to the leader’s mindset and belief that the remote team can succeed and can trust each another.  Aptitude refers to management and leadership skills required to observe objectively, and support and influence others.  Application refers to the ability to apply the right tools and methods to support teamwork, reducing the impact of any relationship chasm caused by distance.

Having a trusting attitude

  1. Be likeable.  A warm and consistent approach is important, even when under pressure.
  2. Care for your people.  And let them know you have their back, and they will begin to trust you.
  3. Be positive and celebrate successes.  Remember to say thank you, even for the small stuff.


Having an aptitude for trust

  1. Be reliable.  Stay on top of things and do what say you when you say you will do it.   There is a thin line between an unreliable leader, and an untrusted one.
  2. A leader’s role is to help their team succeed.   So do not try to control everything.  Empower your team to make decisions and be creative.  Share power to grow trust.
  3. Create feedback loops – create ways for individual team members to work together on issues or opportunities and give you updates.  Check-ins are okay, but not to simply check up!   Checking-in builds trust and remind teams you are there to help, but simply checking-up diminishes trust.

Applications to build and maintain relationships

  1. Over communicate! Well almost.  Use instant messaging often, provide regular email updates, or do daily stand-ups to keep your team engaged and informed.  When you are all no longer in the same building, find ways to compensate.
  2. Work online together but not always in a structured meeting format. Use webcams and microphones just to feel connected.  Encourage others to do this for a time every day.
  3. Have informal one-on-ones with your team over video-conferencing.  Try and spend at least the first 5-10 minutes not discussing work so you can both learn more about each other as people.


Want to learn more about teamwork and collaboration?  See our related article here.