Building Trust

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Updated March 23, 2023

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If you feel trusted, you feel more responsible, and if you are responsible, you earn more trust. It’s simple.Nuno Baldaia, software engineer, Doist*

Trust is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship. It’s also one of the most important aspects of successful, high-performing teams. In a Harvard study of trust on professional teams, they found that high-trust teams report:

  • 74% less stress

  • 106% more energy at work

  • 50% higher productivity

  • 13% fewer sick days

  • 76% more engagement

  • 29% more satisfaction with their lives

  • 40% less burnout

When you trust someone, you don’t have control over that person’s intentions or actions, but you believe that they have good intentions and will do what they say they’re going to do. Building trust in a remote environment can be more difficult, because trust typically arises gradually over time through our direct interactions with other people. Without traditional in-office touchpoints, it’s tempting for managers to want to opt for more visibility into their team’s productivity, whether that takes shape as a time-tracking app, website monitoring, ad-hoc requests for status updates, or other forms of micromanaging. But this makes it harder for colleagues to form trustworthy bonds with each other; as a corollary, it’s easier for trust to break down in remote teams.

Just as it’s best to intentionally design and continually support communication in a remote environment, it’s also important to do the same with trust-building activities. This includes:

  • Establishing “On Track” as the default status for everyone on the team.

  • Publicly recognizing and rewarding people’s efforts and successes

  • Supporting the psychological safety of remote workers

  • Getting everyone together every once in a while—remote teams that trust each other turn out to be happier and more productive.

cautionA high-trust remote culture will not build itself. Investment in building relationships across wifi connections requires each individual to learn how to communicate effectively digitally, but also needs time allocated to non-transactional activities, like co-working sessions or yearly retreats. Additionally, it’s important to make sure you’re rewarding people for embracing company values, and to take steps to seriously address situations where an employee compromises values, regardless of how “good” their work is.

Supporting Mental Health

The only time a manager is allowed to inquire about how many hours you work is when they suspect you’re working too many hours.Sid Sijbrandij, co-founder and CEO, GitLab*

While striving for impact, burnout becomes a big risk for remote employees. Without institutionalized boundaries, people are left to create their own. And in some cases, those are neglected entirely. As Adam Grant and Reb Rebelle put it, “The road to exhaustion is often paved with good intentions.”* The unfortunate consequence of increased autonomy and self-regulation for remote workers is that sometimes people struggle to set their own boundaries due to a multitude of contributing factors, including tendencies like giver burnout, as Grant and Rebelle describe. Managers and employees can work together to:

  • Set boundaries. The burden for creating boundaries at work should not fall to employees alone. The steps that employees can take to protect themselves should be encouraged; but it’s far more important for managers to look out for signs employees may be working too much. It’s the responsibility of the employer to help their people establish the right boundaries. This isn’t heroic—it’s smart and sustainable. Employers can use specific constraints like a minimum vacation policy, a mandatory set of holidays to take off, and asking employees to block off non-work time on their shared calendars.*

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