On teams with members working remotely either some or all of the time, building trust can require a little extra effort. Since they can’t chat by the water cooler or go out to lunch together, remote workers must find ways to create bonds virtually.
High trust levels between team members and between the manager and direct reports is essential to building an engaged, high-performing team. When employees trust their coworkers and leaders, they’re 12 times more likely to feel engaged and motivated to perform at work, according to ADP Research Institute.
Unfortunately, there’s no algorithm or instruction manual for building trust. It’s a feeling that must be earned between people, whether they work in the cubicle next to you or the other side of the world. But while there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, there are plenty of things managers, individual contributors, and HR leaders can do to strengthen team trust in a virtual environment.
1. Don’t skip one-on-ones
For people managing remote teams, prioritizing one-on-one time with direct reports is critical. Scheduling (and not canceling) regular employee and manager 1-on-1s and check-ins allow time for connecting and building remote work trust.
One-on-one time can be great for teammates too. Schedule some time with each of your colleagues to catch up and get to know each other. You don’t need a work-related agenda; save the tasks and to-do lists for later. Just spend some time learning a little bit about your peer as a person. It’s a great start toward building trust in remote teams and can even help create a sense of belonging in the workplace.
2. Set clear team expectations & goals
It’s hard to maintain trust when people don’t understand what others on their team are doing or are responsible for, especially when work is dispersed among virtual team members. Trust develops a lot more easily when everyone on the team understands their role and how each colleague contributes.
Along with role clarity, working toward shared goals can help strengthen trust on a team. To align on team goals and ensure everyone is on the same page, it helps to follow a goal-setting framework. (We use the OKR methodology at 15Five.)
3. Be authentic and transparent
Transparency is a major pillar of trust. For team leaders to earn the trust of their employees, it’s important to be open and clear about why decisions are made and how they impact the team. Even when a leader has to be the bearer of bad news, employees find them more trustworthy when they give it to them straight and don’t try to sugarcoat things.
In peer relationships, being transparent with each other and providing honest feedback is foundational to building trust on a remote team. When coworkers feel they’re seeing the real you, they’re more likely to be comfortable bringing their own authentic self to work.
4. Make mental health a team priority
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we have to prioritize mental health in the workplace and set boundaries between work and life. For remote employees, work can be isolating and the ability to make meaningful personal connections may be more difficult.
Setting clear expectations for yourself and your team members and supporting each other emotionally is critical to managing mental health and building trust. If you see a coworker struggling, offer to help by taking some tasks off their plate, or simply lend an ear if they need to talk.
5. Have career conversations
A golden opportunity to build trust that many managers miss is to talk with their direct reports about career planning. According to 15Five’s 2023 manager effectiveness study, only 52% of employees said their manager has had a career conversation with them.
Managers who show they care about their direct report’s career and want to help them do their best work—even if that means they may eventually outgrow their current position—can earn some major trust points. In fact, we found that 67% of employees report working harder for a manager who cares about their professional growth.
6. Show gratitude
Recognizing your peers and showing gratitude at work is a great way to build trust. And when people feel recognized by their managers and coworkers, they perform better and are more engaged. They’re more likely to stick around too.
According to SHRM, a 2022 study by the Achievers Workforce Institute found that almost two thirds of employees said feeling “meaningfully recognized” would reduce their desire to job hunt.
There’s no reason virtual team members can’t recognize and celebrate each other just as often as in-person teams. While you may not be able to chest bump your remote coworkers, you can give them a (virtual) high five for a job well done.
As Eric Richard, VP of Engineering of Hubspot said, “peer recognition is an important element on any team. High Fives generate a feeling of accomplishment, and people feel that their work was noticed and appreciated.”
Supercharge workplace trust with our latest guide
Trust is crucial to organizational success, and HR plays a vital role in cultivating and sustaining it. In our latest guide, The Trust Advantage: How Fostering Workplace Trust Can Supercharge Employee Performance, you’ll get the insights and practical strategies to foster trust within your organization. See the research behind the benefits of workplace trust, HR’s role in building it, and the potential obstacles to avoid.