These 10 techniques can help you build trust with remote employees

Trust is something that takes time to grow between coworkers. It happens when you can swing by a colleague’s office to ask for clarification on an email; when you notice an officemate reading your favorite author over lunch; or when you see pictures of your boss’s family on her desk. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, employees across the country and the world are stuck at home and learning to navigate a remote office environment. How can you help your employees build trust or maintain their existing bonds when working in isolation?

The challenge of building remote trust  

Remote working offers a slew of benefits, which is why more and more companies are choosing to recruit remote teams even without a scary virus shutting down whole cities and states. However, one of the biggest challenges remote workers face is developing a strong bond with their fellow employees. It can be difficult, after all, to feel connected to people who exist only through emails, chat messages, and profile pictures in your company’s team management platform. Additionally, as Salesforce explains in a training module on virtual collaboration, “It’s easier for miscommunication to escalate when you’re not face-to-face.”

Managers need to step up and make an extra effort to promote trust between remote workers and to establish a strong sense of company culture. It can be done, but it takes a strong commitment and ongoing focus. Here are 10 ways to do it.

1. Hire trustworthy people

Okay, so this suggestion might seem a little glib. Obviously, every company wants to hire trustworthy employees, and it isn’t always easy to tell who is and isn’t trustworthy when you bring on a new person. This is why it is so important to call a job candidate’s past employers and ask hard-hitting questions about their job performance. It also helps to offer your most authentic self during the recruitment process, which will encourage the prospective job candidate to reciprocate. That’s something we work hard to accomplish at Poll Everywhere as we grow our company.

If you currently have an employee on your team whom you don’t trust, it may be time to consider making a change. In an in-depth article on managing a remote team, Zapier co-founder Wade Foster explains, “if you continually find yourself worrying about what someone is doing, then you are spending brain cycles focusing on something other than the product or the customer.”

2. Offer trust to your team

Before you can expect trust from your team, you must be prepared to give it. Lead by example, as they say. The massive job listing platform, explains, “…if you view others as trustworthy, chances are they’ll reciprocate. Give your coworkers all the help they need from you, then trust them to execute.”

Resist the urge to micromanage or to change an employee’s work because it isn’t exactly what you would do. By loosening the reins, you can help your employees build more self-confidence and develop more autonomy within their job.

3. Focus on company culture in the onboarding process

It can be especially difficult to establish a strong sense of company culture with a remote team, which is why it needs to be top of mind during a new employee’s onboarding process. Don’t just ask everyone to introduce themselves with a short and boring monologue. Spice things up with some fun icebreakers to help new employees relax and engage in the process. Here are 7 exciting icebreaker games we recommend. Most of these options can be modified for a remote onboarding process.

4. Choose video meetings over calls and text

Phone calls, emails, and messaging all have their place in the remote workspace, but managers should make the effort to regularly get their teams together on video meetings. There’s just something about seeing the real faces behind the names of remote colleagues that can help team members feel closer and more connected.

Consider also allowing a little time at the beginning and end of the video meeting for chitchat and catching up. This type of talk isn’t a waste of time. In fact, it allows your team members to build bonds by opening up to each other and finding points of connection.

(Not sure how to hold remote video meetings? Here’s everything you need to know about setting up virtual meetings.)

5. Create remote team building activities

In most companies, the best team bonding experiences don’t happen in the office. They occur during the employee softball games, happy hours each Friday, or at the boss’s big holiday bash. However, who says you can’t host fun team building activities when you’re all working remotely? All you need is a little creativity.

6. Encourage team members to open up

Trust takes root when your employees learn more about each other and feel confident opening up. Think about different ways you can infuse a little fun and encourage appropriate self-disclosure during your remote working time. For example, you could dedicate a Slack channel or message thread to:

  • Pictures of family pets
  • Awkward childhood photos
  • Favorite 90s movies
  • Selfies in at-home work attire

7. Ask for communication and feedback

Show that you care about how your employees are feeling by asking for their feedback and questions. Requesting more communication from your team is especially valuable if your employees have just recently transitioned to a remote work situation. In all likelihood, your employees will have concerns, as well as useful ideas and suggestions. The company hosts regular town halls and “Say Jay” events where CEO Jay Steinfeld answers employee questions. Employees use Poll Everywhere software to ask questions and upvote the questions they want answered the most.

8. Respond to communication and feedback

It’s not enough to just ask for employee input and communication. Show you’re listening. That means answering your employees’ questions, especially the tough ones. Workers are incredibly nervous right now. Be honest and upfront. Also, if an employee offers a good suggestion, implement it. There’s nothing better than knowing the boss is taking your ideas seriously.

9. One-on-one calls

Zapier co-founder Wade Foster suggests randomly pairing two people on the same team for a short one-on-one call. It’s something he’s implemented in his own company of over 300. (They use Donut.) On the call, employees are encouraged to talk about their lives, hobbies, and anything else of interest. This isn’t a work call, it’s about recreating that valuable watercooler time where coworkers can learn about each other and build trust in one another.

10. Reward employees who do good work

When employees trust each other, they can focus on their areas of expertise without having to shoulder extra slack or look over their teammate’s shoulder. As a result, trusting teams also tend to be more productive and effective. Make sure you reward a well-functioning team by publicly praising their hard work and even offering some creative bonuses. Check out these nine great ideas for celebrating remote wins.

Trust can be hard to come by, especially among a group of coworkers who may have never met in person. Yet, trust is the foundation of a strong and healthy company. We also need to trust each other more than ever as we face these uncertain times. At Poll Everywhere, we can help by providing you with the audience response software you need to get clear, honest, and actionable feedback from your virtual team. For more tips on how to work remotely successfully, download our remote work toolkit.