Tips for Cultivating a Culture of Trust Across Hybrid Remote Teams

“Why do we have to commute to the office three days a week when we’re doing the same work we were doing from home? I get the feeling our manager doesn’t trust us.”

“My employees seem much more productive in the office. I can drop in any time and see how they’re doing and give them some coaching when it looks like they need it. I feel better when I can see how they’re working. It’s not that I don’t trust them…but I can see how they might say that.”

A hybrid team where leaders and team members can’t trust each other won’t survive for long.

When it comes to cultivating trust, teams that have worked remotely before COVID may have an advantage over those worked in the same office. That’s because many long-running remote teams had developed a certain cadence for working together, guided by norms about when, how and where they will communicate, report on progress, signal availability, escalate issues, make decisions, and more — all of which tend to build a strong foundation for trust.

Teams that are relatively new to virtual work, however, whether partially remote or fully virtual, were thrust into the world of all-virtual work literally overnight without any rules to go by. While some newly-remote teams created shared norms, many didn’t see much of a need, given their optimism about returning to the office “any day now.” Today, as they’re moving to a hybrid work model, many struggle to build trust in a world of competing, and often conflicting, interests.

For this edition, I turned to someone who knows a lot about building trust, Charles Feltman, President of Insight Coaching, and author of the acclaimed book The Thin Book of Trust. In our interview, we talked about the importance of trust, especially in a hybrid world where in-person interactions are rare and there are few opportunities to make reparations once trust is broken. (See our downloadable Tips for Building Trust tip sheet. for even more tips.)

  • Massive disruption in the workplace has caused confusion, chaos, and in many cases, a breach of trust that may take a long time to heal. In the absence of frequent communication, managers and employees alike may be making uncharitable assumptions about each other’s motives and desires. While some managers may assume that some employees prefer working remotely so they “can do as little as possible,” some employees may assume that their managers want them back in the office “so they go back to micromanaging us.” Assuming good intentions can go a long way to rebuilding trust.
  • Managers should be willing to discuss their rationale if they insist on people returning to the office, even if it’s because they are being forced to implement a policy mandated by their higher-ups. The greater the transparency about how decisions are being made, the greater the trust, even when employees are unhappy with the decision. If the manager has some latitude when it comes to where and when their employees work, the more likely they’ll be to have an open, honest discussion that may lead to compromise. For example, if employees can show how they’ve strengthened collaborative relationships or maintained productivity levels while working virtually, managers may be less insistent about the need to bring everyone together under one roof three days a week. On the other hand, if the manager has created new opportunities for improved cross-functional collaboration in an office setting, employees may feel better about coming into the office.
  • The value and benefits of creating and maintaining trust haven’t changed since COVID, but some of the behaviors and actions that build trust have. For example, before COVID, managers could cultivate and maintain trust with their employees with frequent face-to-face interactions, both professional and social. But in remote work environments, managers have to work harder to demonstrate trustworthiness, especially when their employees resent having to return to the office when they see little reason. Employees, for their part, feel they need to show managers how successful they can be working remotely, something they may not have felt compelled to do when they worked in the same location.
  • The world of hybrid work creates an inherently uneven playing field. Proximity bias is real, despite our best intentions to make everyone, regardless of work location, feel equally valuable, respected and listened to. When people feel they’re not being treated equitably or fairly, they’re more likely to distrust those they see as responsible or benefiting from the perceived inequity, which usually includes managers and colleagues alike. Remote team members need to be convinced that they have equal opportunities for promotions, career advancement, rewards, recognition, projects, and so on, which requires time, energy and intentionality from their managers, as well as active, ongoing marketing.
  • Rebuilding broken trust takes more effort in a remote/hybrid world, when there are few opportunities for the kind of thoughtful, reflective, intensive, and often difficult conversations where people can reveal their vulnerability and create safe spaces for honest conversations. Leaders of hybrid remote teams need to develop exceptional antennae for sensing when trust has been broken and for taking proactive steps to make needed reparations, without delay. Even better, leaders can ensure their teams have conversations about trust and what they want to do about it when it is damaged before something happens.
  • Learning how to make and sustain connections in a hybrid world will require patience. In an all-virtual world, it may have been quick and easy to ping someone to check in, ask a quick question, or just to say hello. People moving back to the office need to learn new ways of connecting, striking the right balance between engaging in social interactions without causing unwelcome interruptions. Introverts may be inclined to say a quick hello as they sail down the hall, while others may be eager to share highlights of the last two years. We’ve all changed in profound ways over the last two years, and it will take time to develop new rhythms and opportunities for interaction to rebuild the kind of trust that’s needed to build a healthy hybrid team.
  • Hybrid and remote teams tend to rely more heavily on email and text, which can be well suited for succinct exchanges, but they’re no substitute for conversations that require complex, intense or nuanced communication. Since they lack vital nonverbal information, emails can lead to misunderstandings, confusion and mistrust. Much better to pick up the phone and make a call or schedule a virtual meeting, preferably with video, for this kind of conversation.
We all have to recognize that no team or organization can just go back, full speed ahead, to where we all left off in March 2020 as though nothing has changed. Most of are still struggling with the enormous dislocation that COVID has forced on us, and many are still grieving losses in their lives of family, friends and colleagues who didn’t make it through. We’re all trying to find our footing in the not-quite-yet-post-COVID world at a time when the very nature of our work is rapidly changing all around us. Taking a deep breath, slowing down, and giving each other the benefit of the doubt will go a long way to build, rebuild and sustain trust.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving a bountiful, fulfilling and joyous holiday surrounded by friends, family, favorite pets, neighbors and anyone you hold dear. We’ll be hosting a few close friends to share conversation, great food (fingers crossed!), and (most likely) at least a few good laughs. And then – the holiday shopping season begins!

Links

Tips for building trust in a virtual/hybrid world – downloadable PDF file

The Thin Book of Trust: An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work: Charles Feltman: 9780988953864: Amazon.com: Books

To Build Trust Within Virtual Teams, Psychological Safety Is Everything – Guided Insights

12 Tips for Building Trusting Relationships Across Your Virtual Team – Guided Insights

Daring Leaders Build Trust by Peeling Away the Armor, Choosing Courage Over Comfort – Guided Insights

Building Trust Calls for Different Approaches Across Different Cultures – Guided Insights

Prove You’re Trustworthy – Here’s How, and Why It’s Critical to Make the Effort – Guided Insights

Cultivating Trust from Afar in Tough Times – Guided Insights

Building Trust Within Virtual Teams – Small Steps Add Up – Guided Insights

 

Related Workshops from Guided Insights

Wondering how I can help?

Let’s schedule a 30-minute meeting so we can explore how to work together to address your most pressing challenges.

Find Articles

Recent Posts

SUBSCRIBE TO COMMUNIQUÉ – FREE EZINE

Sign Up Today to Get Free Tips for Creating a Level Playing Field Across Your Virtual, Hybrid Team