Many professionals are still working remotely or in hybrid work environments. While this type of arrangement can be great for convenience, productivity, fostering creativity and better use of resources, one issue I keep thinking about is the challenge associated with building trust.
I believe that leaders must recognize the importance of trust when it comes to building teams and making remote and hybrid arrangements successful.
To be fair, without being in the same physical location or having face-to-face meetings or spontaneous interactions regularly, it can be difficult for (even) experienced leaders to know how their employees are doing and whether goals are being met efficiently and effectively. Similarly, it can be difficult for employees who are individual contributors to develop trusting relationships with their peers.
The Importance of Trust in Remote/Hybrid Work Environments
Trust is the foundation for all successful interactions and outcomes, but this is especially true for colleagues in remote/hybrid work environments. When team members can trust their leaders and peers, they are more likely to be willing to collaborate, share openly and honestly, and sustain healthier relationships that lead to innovative and productive work.
In contrast, when there’s a lack of trust amongst teammates, members may become guarded and hesitant to communicate openly, creating roadblocks to productivity. In some respects, this may parallel what happens to employees who are members of underrepresented groups and work in environments where they need to be on guard for various forms of subtle and less subtle mistreatment and exclusion. To build a culture of trust remotely or across hybrid teams, creating an environment that fosters clear communication, clear expectations and protocols, and authentic inclusion is important so everyone feels supported in the journey.
The Link Between Trust and Psychological Safety
Psychological safety in the workplace should be equally important as providing a safe physical workspace. It’s a vital component of creating an effective and productive team environment. The best teams prioritize psychological safety for their employees, actively fostering an atmosphere where individuals feel comfortable contributing and speaking openly and honestly without fear of judgment or retribution from their peers or leaders.
Everyone has something valuable to add, but this contribution will never be realized in a toxic atmosphere of disrespect, exclusion, ridicule or retaliation. Establishing psychological safety enables people to take chances which is essential when solving new and difficult challenges or being creative.
Creating an inclusive workplace free from bullying and harassment must be a top priority for any leader. In an earlier blog, I explained how the fictional character Ted Lasso demonstrates this brilliantly and authentically. Not only is this the morally sound thing to do, but it also makes great business sense. Establishing an environment of psychological safety will allow your employees to devote their full attention to their work without having to worry about protecting themselves from mistreatment that may be lurking just around the corner.
Tips for Creating Trust Between Employees and Managers
1. Establish transparent communication rules – Establishing clear and transparent communication rules and channels between employees and their leaders is one of the best ways to cultivate a trusting relationship in the workplace. Not only is it important that staff know what is expected of them, but management also knows what is needed to support their teams.
Leaders should create regular opportunities for mutual feedback, offer an experienced perspective when appropriate, and make significant efforts to foster understanding in their comments. This is especially important in a remote workplace, where impromptu, casual encounters in or around the office don’t happen anymore. This could include regular check-ins with team members regarding progress on tasks and objectives or simply chatting about what’s on their minds.
2. Develop realistic expectations with clear timelines – Another element of building trust is to set out realistic expectations with clear timelines. Ambiguous roles, responsibilities, expectations and goals didn’t work well when we were all in the office; it’s especially important that there is clarity in a remote work environment. This can be done by having managers explain from the start what is expected from employees and make sure that their timeline for completing tasks is fair and achievable.
By communicating expectations, roles, responsibilities, and protocols up-front and clearly, everyone involved will better understand his/her position within the organization. Employees can be held accountable for their work while at the same time feeling supported by their manager.
3. Regular feedback on performance – A key way to build trust between employees and managers is to provide regular feedback on performance. Providing effective feedback establishes understanding, direction and communication for all involved. It also serves as an opportunity for continuing development, by reinforcing positive behaviors that should be repeated, as well as addressing challenges quickly so that solutions can be identified.
Regular feedback should always include the expression of sincere appreciation for hard work and dedication, as well as honest insight into where improvement opportunities exist.
Fostering an atmosphere of respect
Trust takes time to build but can be quickly undone. Trust develops through several small moments over time. A level of consistency becomes evident and allows us to build trust in ourselves and others over time.
Developing trust requires consistency more than anything else, whether on the part of the employee or manager. For the employee, this could involve small tasks done well, showing up on time or having an honest conversation when things don’t go as planned. Of course, it’s impossible to trust someone to come through on something big when they haven’t demonstrated that they are trustworthy on smaller, less consequential matters. Small deposits into the bank of trust can help us form strong relationships with those around us.
Fostering mutual respect among coworkers provides a powerful base for teamwork and collaboration. This is particularly true in the increasingly virtual workplace, where body language, physical presence and the immediacy or delay of work exchanges can be interpreted in unintended ways.
By fostering an environment that promotes respect — one where colleagues actively listen to each other and take into consideration everyone’s perspectives — room for honest dialogue is created, and stronger bonds of trust are built that enable more meaningful engagement. That’s just a win-win.
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