To learn how to build trust with remote teams, we’re going to an expert: Jock Purtle. The founder of business broker Digital Exits, Jock has been working remotely since he started his first company at 19 years old – and he’s sharing his tips on managing remote teams.
You’ve decided to jump in on the trend of using remote workers. This is great. Not only is this the future of work – the number of people working remotely in some capacity or another has grown by 115% since 2007 – but it’s a great way for you to offer employees an exciting perk, and take advantage of the ever-increasing pool of talented freelancers.
Yet there is one obvious downside to working with remote employees: you lose that personal touch. No more stopping by someone’s desk to see what’s going on, or that pre-meeting small talk that makes everyone feel a little closer. The relationship becomes all about business, which is good, but this focus on efficiency can make things feel a little less personal.
The trick is to try to avoid this whenever you can. Remote workers tend to be more engaged and productive – but for this to happen, you need to make them feel like a part of the team, even if they’re working from the other side of the globe.
Here are five ways to help build trust and rapport with your remote employees:
Do virtual one-on-ones
In a virtual work setting, it’s really easy for both you and your remote employee to want to cut out all of the extra stuff and focus strictly on work. In some ways, this is great. But this tends to make the relationship far less personal, and also increase the chances of problems or issues getting ignored until they become too serious to solve.
A good way to prevent this from happening, and also of building trust and rapport with your remote colleagues, is to make time for virtual one-on-one meetings. A quick 30-minute call where you ask remote employees how things are going – both personally and professionally – can go a long way toward making both people feel a little closer to the other.
A one-on-one is far more comfortable than a group meeting, and during this time you can give people the chance to really speak your mind. There are lots of things to consider before setting up a one-on-one meeting, but it’s worth it to can begin building better, more balanced relationships with remote employees.
Work to build team spirit
Again, it’s really easy for remote employees to ditch all other aspects of their jobs except the task on hand, and this includes the fun stuff. Since there’s no office or team environment, people tend to close themselves off, and this makes it much harder to build rapport and trust. As such, you’ll need to work a bit harder to change the dynamic.
Some effective ways of doing this are to make time during meetings for employees to discuss non-work issues. Consider spending the first ten minutes asking people to share some news from their lives, even if it’s something really small. At first people will be shy, but soon they’ll warm up; everyone wants to interact socially, even if they’re doing it over a conference call.
Another good thing to do is to create space in your communication tools for people to express themselves. For example, if you use Slack, consider creating separate channels where people can post photos and comments about things they’ve been doing outside of work. This is a good way to “humanize” these digital relationships and help people feel closer to one another.
Build a feedback culture
The more someone feels valued in what they do, the more likely they are to trust you and open up to you. Since remote workers are removed from the office setting, it’s easy for them to feel as though their thoughts and opinions matter less than those of their onsite colleagues. But it’s your job to break down this assumption and make remote workers feel valued.
During team meetings, or in one-one-ones, ask people where they think things could be improved, and then do everything in your power to implement these solutions. When you can’t, make sure to explain why, as this shows people you’re listening and trying to follow through with their suggestions.
Take the initiative
Most people are shy, and they will be even more so in a digital setting. So, for your efforts to build trust and rapport to work, you may want to think about making the first move. Consider offering up some topics for conversations during meetings, or be the first one to post photos to your designated Slack channels.
Furthermore, take steps to show you’re professional and are worthy of being trusted. For example, if working with freelancers or independent contractors, make sure to pay invoices in-full and on-time. This small gesture of good faith will play very well with new employees, and it will make it much easier for people to trust you.
Get to know people
A good thing to remember is that people tend to have a hard time trusting people they don’t know. They’ll be standoffish at first, but if you can succeed in making them feel comfortable, then you’ll find it easy to get to know them and to build a solid relationship.
Keep this in mind, and follow these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to building relationships with remote employees that are healthy, productive and rewarding.