For many people who are accustomed to working in a traditional office environment, the hardest part about moving to a distributed team is building trust.

Managers used to walk by their employees every morning as they entered the office, keeping a mental time card in their head and immediately presuming that employees who are working from home are “up to no good.”

And popular culture has only reinforced this sentiment, with tv shows and movies depicting errant employees playing hooky to catch the big game, only to be caught by the boss when they inevitably appear on the jumbotron. 

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But I’ve got news for you; this isn’t Ferris Bueller's Day Off. As my friend Darren Murph at GitLab put it so eloquently in a recent webinar we hosted, “this isn’t just working from home; this is a crisis-driven work from home situation”—and we need to be humans first, and colleagues second. 

As someone who has always worked remotely and managed many remote teams over the past 20+ years, I have learned trust is not given—it’s earned. And that’s true on both sides.

Here are my top five tips for establishing trust among remote teams: 

  1. 1. Default to Transparency
  2. Be open about what's going on within the company. Just like you assume the worst when you don't see employees in their cubicles, they assume the worst when documents are password-protected, meetings are locked, etc. It's easier for people to trust you when they feel like they have the full picture.

  3. Simple things like making it so people can see your calendar, when you’re in meetings and when you’re with family, can make a difference.

  4. Have a shared drive where everyone can access the same information. Keep everything that you can open for all to see.

  5. 2. Get Personal

  6. Get to know each other on a personal level; a slack #watercooler channel, grabbing virtual beers, sharing music, expressing gratitude, etc. help us to get to know one another better—and not just in a pure work context.

  7. It is helpful for your employees to see you not just as a manager, but as a human. 

  8. 3. Set Clear Expectations and Goals

  9. This is critical in all organizations, but it's particularly important for distributed teams. Everyone needs to be operating with the same information, rowing in the same direction.

  10. The reality of remote work is that it is highly autonomous, so it's important that you set guideposts for employees to follow, and check in at key moments along the way to ensure things are on course. 

  11. 4. Focus on Outputs, Not Hours

  12. You need to move away from a fixation on the time someone puts in and focus instead on the goals and outcomes as outlined above. This is critical with distributed teams in general where people are working across time zones and have different work schedules.

  13. There is no prize for sitting behind your desk the longest, there is however a (great) reward in high productivity: innovation.

  14. 5. Make Deposits Into the Emotional Bank Account

  15. These are small little things like acknowledgment, appreciation, and recognition that people are doing a good job. Again when you’re not in the office to walk by someone’s office and give them a high five, it’s important to be really intentional about doing that virtually.

    Consider making a section of every meeting “high fives” or as we do, celebrating “winning Wednesday” on Slack where you highlight different accomplishments from members of the team.

Closing Thoughts

I’ve never regretted building a foundation on trust; in fact, the output of your team and the longevity of your company depend on it.

This transition won’t happen overnight—very few successful transitions do. but if you commit to living these five principles day in and day out, and keeping the lines of communication with employees open, you will come out stronger as a leader and team.


Bonus OfferFor more tips and tricks for managing remote teams, download a copy of our eBook: Innovation from Anywhere.


 

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