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5 ways to build trust with your remote team
Do you or some of your team members turn their cameras off most of the time or stay quiet about new ideas? If your remote team has been struggling with collaboration, miscommunication, and decreased productivity, lack of trust could be a contributing factor.
Last updated18 Aug 2022
The foundation of any successful team starts with trust.
Trust is hard to define because there are no metrics per se, but it’s rather a feeling you have with those around you. How psychologically safe you feel determines whether you can show your authentic self to others and how safe you feel being vulnerable. The safer you feel, the more inclined you’ll be to trust another person.
Some people are more inclined to automatically trust another person until something happens to break it, while others need more reasons to do so. Trust develops over time, over several interactions you’ve had with a person, making communication and establishing clear guidelines critical from the get-go.
What elements do you need to build trust?
The more trust you give, the more you get back, and the faster trust is established.
When working in a hybrid or remote setting, many social and work connections happen online over video calls, making it harder (if not impossible) for our brains to pick up on subtle clues such as body language or facial expressions. These subtleties all contribute to building trust; however, they are just one part of the trust equation.
In her book Dare to Lead, vulnerability researcher Brené Brown talks about seven elements of trust with the acronym BRAVING, which stands for:
Boundaries: establishing clear rules of what’s ok and not
Reliability: doing what you say you’ll do
Accountability: owning your mistakes
Vault: creating a safe space where confidential information isn’t shared
Integrity: choosing courage over comfort
Non-judgment: talking about what you need without fear of judgment
Generosity: giving your team the benefit of the doubt
When all the building blocks of trust are put together, the stronger the bonds your team members will have not only with each other; but also with their direct reports, so they feel safe asking for help before a problem arises.
While there are many ways to improve trust, here are five ways that have helped us as a 100% distributed company from the get-go.
Build trust in your remote team with these five tips
1. Start with your team leads
Trust starts with your leadership team. You have to believe that the talented people you hired are going to continue to do a great job remotely and that they genuinely care about their performance. Show that you trust them from the beginning, versus making your team members ‘earn’ your trust once a certain amount of time has passed, like waiting for a probationary period to end.
One of our guiding principles is 'trust from day zero.' This means that from the first day on the job, we trust that our new team members have the company’s best interest and their team members in mind.
Looking at our perks, for example, as soon as day one, our team members can use their personal budgets to get their home office set up, pay for fitness memberships or take a non-work-related class. There is no waiting period, and everyone gets the same perks, regardless of job title or salary. The same goes for booking time off of any kind. There is no waiting period or hierarchy, so our team members do not have to ‘ask permission’ to book vacation days or wait.
2. Set expectations for individuals
I think one of the things that managers get wrong most often is that they don’t start with what they expect from people. Generally, if one of your team members misses the mark, it’s because of unclear expectations from the start. I try to make sure that all of my direct reports get an ‘expectation doc’ on their first day. This isn’t about giving orders, but rather an agreement between two people outlining clear expectations and ownership areas. I find this takes away any gray areas or uncertainties should miscommunications crop up down the road.
3. Create a structure for how you work
Building a sense of rhythm into the workweek can help everyone feel connected.
On the marketing team, we work in an agile framework. We organize our teams in squads, with projects broken down into two-week sprints. That means:
Established outcomes for projects are broken up into two-week achievable blocks.
Everyone in the squad understands what the other is working on based on the backlog and what to pick up next if there’s additional time.
Daily stand-ups, sometimes through video calls but often asynchronously over Slack, to discuss progress or blockers.
Weekly one-on-ones and department meetings.
Two-week retrospectives to discuss what went well and what could be improved.
Once you establish a clear process of how work gets done, it’s easier for each teammate to know what’s expected of them and for teammates to hold each other accountable.
4. Keep your cameras on
Beyond the work itself, you need to build connections with one another, especially if you’ve never met in person.
One of the cultural norms that works really well is keeping cameras on by default. It’s a small thing, but that way you can tell that the person on the other line is truly engaged with the call. The foundation of any relationship is face-to-face communication, and video calls are the closest second you can get with remote work.
When the camera is on, it’s also easier to have the kind of smaller interactions you might miss while working remotely—things like asking about someone’s weekend or how their kids are doing. But if the cameras are off, you don’t know if they’re actually there, and it just makes things awkward.
Part of why this works is that we don’t have a meeting culture here at Hotjar. It’s no good to have cameras on all the time and risk Zoom fatigue if you’re in back-to-back meetings from 9-5.
Our default meeting style is asynchronous through Slack. We rarely have meetings with only one person presenting (we’ll send over a video instead for everyone to watch).
Only when we truly need input from multiple people to make a decision as a team do we call a meeting—which is another reason why it’s so important to keep cameras on and be present. To learn more about how we eliminate unnecessary meetings, take a look at our guidelines in this post from our CEO Mohannad Ali.
5. Find time to connect as people
Finding ways to promote downtime connections among your team is an important aspect of building trust.
I’m not talking about a Zoom happy hour either.
For us, that looks like a twice-a-month socializing event we call ‘coffee and learn.’ For around 30 minutes, one team member will share something with us they’re passionate about—we’ve had sessions on topics such as pottery, cold water swimming, and ambient music, for example. This gives us a chance to get to know each other outside of work. We might also take an online class or learn a skill together—like cooking or improv—to learn something new that has nothing to do with our jobs.
Another way we unwind as a team is by doing an icebreaker before the start of our department-wide weekly meetings. What you choose to do is up to you. What matters is that there is built-in time to socialize in a way that lets your team get to know one another as organically as possible.
Trust can feel hard to develop in a remote context if you're used to working in an office environment. As a company that's been 100% remote since before the pandemic, we’re dedicated to building a culture of trust and transparency. Ultimately, success with remote work starts with trust. The more you give, the more you get back in return.
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