Remote Work Newbie: How to build trust with your employees

Young person working remotely. Sitting at home on their latop. Waving at their screen.

Guest article by Tuba Vogel, CPO at Expertlead

The business trends continue to point towards flexible work models that allow employees to work from home or in the office. How new work models are implemented is unique from company to company, but best practices that result in maintaining remote contact and a sense of community are applicable across all organisations. A Forbes study shows that mental health, emotional well-being and empathy will play an even bigger role in the job market in 2022 than before. Therefore leaders must take and nurture steps to optimise communication and work processes remotely. To make that happen, there are a few guiding principles to keep in mind. The most important measure to take and start with is trust from both sides.

Trust as the basis for collaboration

As we have all learned by now, working remotely means changing the way we work - it is simply not possible to drop by the employee's desk for a quick chat. Constant calls or messages from the manager are not an alternative solution for spontaneous exchanges in the office. They only create unnecessary interruptions and potential pressure for employees, whereas trust creates a relationship at eye level. A trusting corporate culture is the key to a high functioning organisation and strengthening the bond with employees - both in the office and remotely.
The reason for this is obvious: without trust and transparency, impressions of being under valued, of quality of work being inadequate or, in extreme cases, having to fear for one's job quickly arise. A successful way to create healthy trust and security is through transparent communication of the company's mission and vision. Furthermore, it is important to give employees room to make mistakes and learn from them, as well as to point out development opportunities. A study by Harvard Business Review, which examined more than 80,000 360-degree assessments for managers, identified three elements that form the basis for trust in the workplace: positive relationships, good judgment and expertise, and consistency. Of course, there is no magic formula for this, but there are valuable tips that can help build trust within a team and enable successful remote collaboration:

Transfer the corporate culture to the remote environment

People feel the need to belong socially and to be able to identify with what they are doing. Especially in a remote environment, it is equally important to maintain the corporate culture and create a sense of community. With an open, approachable management style, supervisors can create a work environment in which their team feels well taken care of. This helps employees perform better and gives them the feeling that they can talk about expectations and challenges. Weekly fixed 1:1 conversations and team meetings can help align any challenges or goals. They are effective means to structure the daily work routine and an optimal way to ask for support for challenging tasks in advance. It is particularly important to respond to the individual needs of each employee and to be flexible when coordinating work methods.

Building a feedback culture

Reed Hastings describes giving feedback as an art in his book "No Rules Rules". A good, honest feedback culture is one key to success and must be learned and, in particular, practiced by managers. When feedback is provided it should always contain a positive intention. It is important to clearly explain what the feedback is about and how a certain change can lead to positive development. It is important to focus on the elements that lead to success. Of course, it is up to the recipient to accept or reject it - but respectfully thanking and reflecting can be taken for granted. With an open and honest feedback culture, managers provide room to grow and security to develop further.

Show appreciation openly

Successes or happy messages, whether in the office or remotely, strengthen the basis of trust and team spirit. Exactly what that may look like can vary. Again, be specific and state what led to success and celebrate that progress. Special or major successes could be celebrated with a virtual drink. Managers can recognize the outstanding achievements of individual employees with small awards, e.g. "Employee of the Month". In a direct exchange with individual employees, the manager can express and verbalize trust or send small messages of thanks. In this way, employees feel valued and the mood in the team can be lifted. These approaches can be a first step in the right direction. The topic of appreciation is complex and depends on the person, which is why the manager should adjust their approach for each team member.

Communication is the be-all and end-all

Constant and consistent communication can go a long way toward building trust. This can be achieved, for example, by scheduling fixed times for exchanges or short status updates at the beginning of meetings. Because just as there is too little communication, there is also too much. The key here is to find a healthy balance. In addition to the professional exchange about current projects and tasks, personal conversations remotely are more important than ever. Joint "walk and talks" over the phone away from the computer can help people get to know each other in a relaxed and informal way. Remote coffees and lunches, free of work topics could also generate a relaxed atmosphere. Not only do employees feel less lonely, but they also build more trust among themselves or with their managers. Of course, it is important to find the right balance here, because even more meetings can also lead to so-called "meeting fatigue". Alternatively, it can already help to send a "Good morning, how are you?" or "How was your weekend?" before the work-related topics, depending on the daily exchange via chat.

Make a caring appeal to employees

The physical distance of working behind a screen doesn't make it easy for managers to assess whether each of their employees is doing well. Add to that external influences such as loud background noise at home or not having their own workspace. As a manager, it is not possible, nor is it the goal, to ensure everyone's well-being at all times. Therefore, it is even more important to create a positive team atmosphere in which the employees are motivated to care for each other. Implementing an open culture of error can lead to employees recognizing more quickly when someone is having challenges with a task, or not being afraid to show and verbalize their own insecurities themselves. If it is talked about openly, support can be offered more easily and a solution can be found together as a team.

Final thoughts

For virtual collaboration to be a success, a trusting relationship between manager and employee is essential. Regular and transparent communication as well as a flat hierarchy which leaves room for feedback create a sense of community - a great asset in the virtual office.

May 2022 - 4 min read

Tuba Vogel

Tuba Vogel

Tuba is the VP People & Culture at Expertlead. Before joining Expertlead, Tuba successfully completed her Masters at Middlesex Business School London and her Bachelors at the University of Applied Sciences Aachen. She then started her career in human resources. For the past six years, Tuba has been pursuing her passion for scaling international tech startups, setting up processes, especially shaping their corporate culture and values among others.

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