Employee Comms

Building trust in a world of COVID-19 remote working


 — April 1st, 2019

Building trust in a world of COVID-19 remote working

Trust. A BIG word. And one we all know is a vital ingredient for teams to work effectively together.

When trust is high within a team it feels great – collaboration and knowledge sharing is high, communication flows easily, it feels supportive and safe to speak up, and there’s a real sense of shared purpose and commitment.

Conversely, when trust is low the team culture breeds cynicism, micromanagement, conflict, low morale and a whole host of other negativities.

So when a team or colleagues work remotely and have little to no chance of working together in-person, how do you build and maintain trust between everyone? You can’t see what each other are doing all day if you’re all working from home, so how can you trust each other to get work done?

Well, there are lots of things you can do. Here are five ways to ensure your remote team has a solid foundation built on trust.

Three key communication lessons for managing a crisis

Create a remote team charter

It’s good practice for a team to define their own team charter. It’s a document that clarifies the team’s shared purpose, their boundaries and how they’ve agreed to work and behave together.

While a charter is often done when a team forms, it’s also helpful to define if the dynamics of your team have changed recently with new members, different working patterns … or everyone being asked to work from home (thank you coronavirus!).

Developing it together and regularly upholding the agreements you’ve made helps ensure the charter works well for everyone and is adhered to. It helps reduce conflict because you have a common understanding of how things get done in your team… your own team culture defined.

Set clear goals and boundaries

Whether you lead the team, are delegating a task or are working with colleagues on a shared goal, having clarity on the deliverables, why they’re important, the timelines, budget and other specifications to meet is important for everyone involved to understand from the get-go.

Misunderstandings are often the root of conflict and tension amongst people, whether they work side by side or 100 miles apart, so it’s critical this groundwork is clearly discussed, defined and documented from the outset before embarking on any work together.

Focus on outcomes

Having clearly agreed goals and boundaries paves the way for trust to be built because the focus turns to the future and the outcomes to be realized, rather than an in-the-moment perspective.

They give others the freedom, permission, and autonomy to work out how best to deliver the work while allowing you (as Manager or supporting colleague) to check in to see if they need any help or have any questions. This approach helps engender trust as well as develop responsibility, capability, and innovation within your team.

Have regular video check-ins

Video calls really help us connect on a more human level than email and phone calls because we gain the benefit of body language cues, facial expressions, and interesting glimpses into the more private personality of others through seeing their homes.

Consider these points to help build trust

  • Don’t make meetings all business and no play. Maybe start and open the online meeting early or allocate the first 10 minutes to informal chat time before you get down to business. Gauging people’s moods can help you steer the conversation and focus in the best direction.
  • Check in to ask how others are feeling in both team and one-to-one sessions. Share how you are feeling, be open and honest to invite the same humanness back.
  • Have a defined purpose and agenda for each meeting, so participants can see the value in sharing their time and know what to expect or prepare for.
  • Don’t cancel meetings at the last minute. Honor your commitment to the team and show you value time with them. You can always agree on new schedules going forward if the frequency or timing isn’t working for you.

Foster inclusivity

Feeling part of the team and being ‘in the know’ of what’s going on is an incredibly important way of making all the team members feel valued and included. It can be all too easy for sub-groups to form and information to be withheld when work is done remotely.

  • Ensure there’s a common source of knowledge - consistent use of meeting notes, project management tools (like Slack, Trello or Asana) and shared drives help keep the communication and knowledge lines transparent and inclusive.
  • A weekly video or voice note round-up sent from the leader to the team is a nice way to share quick updates from meetings that the wider team doesn't attend. Much more engaging and easier to create than an arduous and long email! Think of them as a summary chat you’d normally have with someone sitting at a desk beside you.
Any of the good behaviors and best practices you would normally demonstrate in a team that is co-located can be tweaked to build trust in a remote team.

Remote working takes getting used to, but, fundamentally, if you practice and facilitate great communication and embrace being honestly human, trust will undoubtedly follow.

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