Virtual and remote teams are now a common occurrence in any global organization. While remote working allows companies to harness the best talent regardless of geographical location it also comes with its challenges. With trust being one of the key elements of any effective team – how can we build trust in remote teams and create an inclusive work environment?

It’s true that remote and virtual teams can ensure that people with unique competencies are connected, creating a high-performing link to serve a common purpose.

Research has shown that by substituting remote teams for physical teams, the speed and agility of execution will increase as time zones are no longer a barrier or hindrance. However, this will only happen if the framework for building trust in remote teams has been established.

Equally, working virtually empowers team members. They can work independently where they want and are more engaged and motivated by the project.

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Yet despite the numerous benefits, the transition from physical to virtual teams is fraught with difficulties causing many virtual teams to underperform or fail entirely. The need to build trust in remote teams is now more pressing than ever.

Leadership misjudgements account for some of these failures, unclear workflows, and processes for perhaps more. Ineffective and mismatched tools have a significant impact on productivity and efficiency. Cultural misunderstandings and miscommunication may also lead to a lower success rate.

Leaders of virtual teams, tasked with the responsibility of putting together a team that fosters productive and long-lasting relationships, know that building an environment of trust, collaboration and communication with remote colleagues, can be the difference between failure and success. 

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Trust starts coming into play from the early stages of constructing the team.

Imagine that you are interviewing for a new member of your remote team.

You’ve asked the insightful questions to gauge their personality and suitability for the team, you’ve thrown in a mathematical puzzle to see if they can think calmly under pressure, you’ve checked out their connectivity, you’ve maybe even played the parachute game to see if they embody the team spirit you foster, yet the key deciding factor is often based on an instinctive feeling of dependability, trust and fit.

You have to trust yourself to make the right call. You have to trust that they are being open and that what they are saying is true.

Do you trust them to give it their all? Can you build trust in remote teams?

Trust

It’s precious, it’s precarious and it’s critical to team success, both in a physical and virtual environment.

Think about the dimensions of trust that are needed for a project to come off.

  • Trust between a team and the company that it works for

The common purpose has been evaluated and clearly defined, and the deliverables are achievable.

  • Trust between a team and its leader

A leader should be aware of individual competencies and project priorities. They are ultimately responsible for building trust in remote teams and must be capable of adapting and redirecting team efforts, motivating and developing each member, and facilitating communication among the team.

  • Trust between one team member and another

Individual accountability, cultural awareness, and mutual respect build a feeling of community and reciprocity.

Building a remote team culture that is based on trust, on a common purpose and on fostering long-lasting productive relationships is the long-term goal of many multinational companies. It’s also one of the biggest challenges, as testified by the number of failures.

Gartner introduced the concept of the four pillars of trust that ensured remote teams would work successfully. Some 16 years on, these four pillars are still relevant and help shape ways to build and sustain trust in a remote team.

Key elements to build trust in remote teams 

Here are 10 key elements to be taken into consideration to help you to build trust in remote teams and sustain a highly effective, productive and successful group, using Gartner´s recommendations as a starting point.

1.  Dependability

Be reliable. The team is constructed with careful thought based on skill sets, personality traits, and communication styles. If team members are dependable, the team leader can anticipate how people will perform and trust them to meet deadlines and deliver.

2. Consistency

Be predictable and be consistent. All team members are treated with the respect they deserve, workflows are consistently applied, and protocols are applicable to everyone without any exceptions.

3. Congruency

Say what you mean and do what you say.

4.  Reciprocity 

Be a team player. We all know that there is no “I” in team; the team succeeds as a group.

There must be a clear team purpose that is linked to individual responsibilities and tasks.

Leveraging the concepts of swift trust and the affinity bias has a huge impact on our first impressions. We tend to trust those members we perceive to be similar to us.

5.  Confidence

Demonstrate confidence in all team members. Every member of the team has been selected based on their competences, experience, and personality to play a key role in the team. Trust will be lost if confidence is lost. Praise and reward achievements from individual members with a focus on how these milestones play a critical role in group success.

6.  Accountability

Share demonstrable progress from members and give under-performing members individual coaching to help them get back on track. No team member wants to feel they are carrying the heaviest load because another member is shirking responsibilities or taking advantage of the system.

Trust is built over time and can be destroyed in a matter of minutes. Empowerment comes at a cost to the members and they must be accountable for both their positive actions as well as mistakes and errors.

7.  Transparency

Share information openly with the team. Work schedules, project progress, and task status should be available to all members at any time.

8.  Collaboration tools

Select the correct applications to support the team. This is crucial to effective remote working. Remote teams need an infrastructure that allows them to focus on achieving their goals. Shared folders, collaborative documents, etc. play a key role in this.

9.  Interpersonal relationships

Take time to socialize virtually. Virtual teams need to have a channel that replaces the social interactions in a physical environment.

A leader can encourage personal connections by encouraging team members to share more personal updates, from how they spent the weekend to the last time they laughed. Be inventive and invest time and energy in building that rapport: this is an investment that will lead to enduring relationships.

The virtual water-cooler can enable non-work communication to take place and relationships to be built based on common interests. The quality of the relationships between the team members can make the difference between goals being reached and goals being exceeded.

10.   Commitment

Gain commitment to accomplishing the goals established by the team leader. Team members need to be committed to meeting deadlines because they have an understanding of the overarching strategy and how their individual tasks map into it.

Virtual and remote working are here to stay. Flexible working, work-life balance and employees working where and when they wish will only increase as organizations compete over the best talent. If you are to build trust in remote teams you need to rethink your management and communication strategy.