Though restrictions arising from the pandemic have gradually eased, the public demand for remote work it has brought remains. According to a 2022 study by the Institute of Policy Studies which tracked 2,000 workers over nine months, “between 41 and 52 per cent felt that flexible work arrangements should be the new norm for workplaces in Singapore”. However, this development has underscored the paramount importance of trust in fostering successful remote teams. Unlike traditional office setups where visibility often equates to productivity, employers have to trust that their remote workers will meet their deliverables. Such faith in employees has added benefit: research shows people in high-trust organisations reporting “106% more energy at work“, “76% more engagement”, and “40% less burnout”. In this article, we will delve into the three pillars of trust-building in remote teams.
Transparency and Clear Communication of Expectations
In a remote work environment, setting clear expectations is the bedrock of building trust. As it is often difficult to see what is taking place on the other end of the screen, remote teams should first have a conversation to establish the rules of engagement for remote working. These guidelines help to establish how workers ought to interact with one another in an organisation.
This is a dynamic and transparent process, as both parties negotiate to find a middle ground. Leaders should share insights into the organisation's thought process behind their expectations, and display the flexibility to tailor the working arrangements to each employee’s needs.
At aAdvantage, induction sessions are conducted where new employees are briefed on the rules of engagement for remote work. This empowers them with a clear understanding of the organisation's expectations, communication guidelines, and response time standards. Such practices eliminate guesswork and ensure everyone is on the same page.
After the rules have been established, regular check-ins (physical or virtual) and feedback loops (for example through surveys) to follow up are also essential. These provide employers with platforms to understand the remote employees’ feelings and thoughts on the current working arrangements set in place. Leaders can identify the rules that enable employees to work at their best, as well as the ones that are holding them back, and take proactive steps to improve their experience. This two-way dialogue ensures a thriving remote work culture that maximises employee engagement and productivity.
For these mechanisms to work, however, employers and employees need to accept that both sides will need to give and take; employers will need to listen to the voices of their employees sensitively and empathetically while employees will have to respect that there may be some areas they need to compromise on. With a strong foundation of communication and accountability in place, employers can adopt a more hands-off approach to the way they manage their employees: an important step in facilitating the next pillar of trust, employee empowerment.
Empowering Your Employees
Empowerment is the second cornerstone of trust in remote teams.
Micromanaging erodes trust quickly between employer and employee. By overcoming their own personal biases against remote work and focusing on monitoring the outcome rather than controlling the process, employers in effect grant a degree of autonomy to their employees. Scrutinising how often employees are online or how many hours they clock may result in frustration rather than productivity, even jeopardising the quality of work produced in the end. Whether employees want to work in the wee hours of the morning or late at night should not matter, so long as the work is delivered on time, at the mutually agreed timing (this is where the aforementioned clear communication of expectations comes into play). To ensure that working at your own pace does not devolve into working in isolation from the rest of your peers, employees should be kept looped into vital conversations: Slack, Google Workspace and Zoom are but some of the popular technologies to explore.
When employees feel trusted enough to work independently, it cultivates a sense of responsibility, thereby driving them to produce better results. Empowerment also goes hand in hand with respecting employees' personal boundaries: an important point to note, given remote work’s tendency to blur the lines between work and home. The employee’s work-life balance can be respected by avoiding interference with their off time outside of work hours. On a different note, surveillance and restrictive tracking software often feel intrusive or violative, and signals to the employee that they are not trusted. Respecting boundaries help to demonstrate an organisation’s commitment to their employees' well-being and autonomy, lessen stress for employees and ultimately build a culture of trust.
Lastly, employers can empower employees through facilitating their growth. High-trust workplaces help people develop personally as well as professionally. At aAdvantage, a platform of employee development is our Buddy System, wherein newly onboarded interns or employees are paired with experienced mentors who serve as reliable points of contact for various concerns. This system is a way of helping new hires learn under the expertise of their mentors, as well as to integrate into the bigger organisational culture. This example also ties in with the next pillar, relationship building.
In a remote work scenario, maintaining strong relationships is challenging but critical. Neuroscience experiments show us that “when people intentionally build social ties at work, their performance improves”. Creating a psychologically safe working environment would be an excellent starting point, more so during uncertain times. For instance, employees should feel that they are able to surface issues, raise concerns, or express differing viewpoints without fear of repercussion.
Leaders can also help to set an example of admitting that they do not always have all the answers and express appreciation when employees put forth their ideas. Asking for help, rather than being a sign of weakness, is indicative of a secure leader and helps build credibility. Notably, a culture of vulnerability-based trust enables work to be done more efficiently through collaboration and knowledge sharing.
It is also important that managers set aside time for informal, non-agenda-based conversations, instead of limiting all communication to work-related topics. In order to encourage more “water cooler conversations” between co-workers, companies can experiment with a mix of virtual and in-person bonding activities. One challenge of remote work is the presence of physical distance; utilising effective communication tools and techniques help bridge this difficulty. Some popular platforms have been mentioned in this article, among an abundance of options for an organisation to choose according to its needs.
At aAdvantage, regular town hall sessions as a vehicle for employees to raise their thoughts to the leadership team. These sessions come with a segment called “aAdvantage in Conversation”, where anyone can bring up anything under the sun: thank a team member, ask questions, raise concerns, or share a story.
Engaging in peer interactions yields multiple positive outcomes, including inspiring others to strive for excellence through the peer recognition of achievements (also another form of employee empowerment). Employees can also receive knowledge and support through this shared forum. Moreover, when a sense of mutual care among individuals exists, they perform better as they aim to uphold the trust of their colleagues.
These bonding sessions can be built into an organisation’s culture in a way that feels unrestrictive. For instance, aAdvantage’s policy-level arrangements grant employees the flexibility to choose their work settings, with the exception of mandatory in-office gatherings and events. This arrangement ensures that team members don’t go on extended periods of social isolation, whilst still protecting their flexibility to work from their chosen locations when not engaged in these collaborative activities.
Trust is the cornerstone of effective remote teams. Before all of this advice can be implemented in place, employers must first and foremost recognise the importance of trust in remote work cultures and set an example for cultivating it. By embracing transparency, empowering employees, and nurturing relationships, companies can transition to remote work successfully.
Our comprehensive service, 5B for Virtual Teams, aids in helping your organisation in building the trust needed for remote work excellence. Contact us to find out how your organisation can benefit from 5B for Virtual Teams and other solutions.