How to Build Trust With Your Remote Team

Business.com / Managing / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Building trust with your remote team ensures project success. Without it, project failure rate would be higher.

You run a business or you manage a team. You need your employees to guard your secrets and protect your assets. Can you trust them?

Trust is not a fungible commodity that can be bought and sold. You cannot download a trusted app or learn trust from a YouTube video.

Trust is not only hard to find; it is also becoming more scare. A Pew Research Study found that only 40 percent of Baby Boomers believe that people can be trusted. This percentage falls to a mere 19 percent of the Millennials who were asked the same question.

Ernest Hemingway famously stated that the “most valuable way to learn if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” We don’t know with certainty what Hemingway meant. But it was said in an era before hacking and corporate espionage.

Although our image of 1950s employee loyalty has become somewhat tainted by "Mad Men", most people I speak to agree that there has been a significant erosion of trust within the workplace. Before we try to address the problem, let’s first figure out what is going on.

Related Article: 6 Reasons Why You Should Hire Remote Workers and How to Find Them

The Remote Workforce

Thanks to the proliferation of inexpensive technologies, the widespread availability of affordable Internet access and the globalization of markets, there have never been more people who work from home or freelance. The result is a remote workforce that is decentralized and disconnected from corporate culture. A project team can be comprised of people in different time zones and from different nationalities. I have written extensively about collaboration in the workforce, but even the best tool in the marketplace cannot bridge over cultural and language barriers. It boils down the following: when relationships are remote and distant, it is hard to build trust.

The Threat of Cyber Attacks

The second factor is that there has never been a time in history that companies are under the threat of third-party attack. Cyber threats and industrial espionage are at all-time highs and the first line of defense is an employee base that often lacks the skill and know-how to protect a company’s intellectual property. Here are some sobering statistics: almost 60 percent of enterprises cannot detect a sophisticated attack. The same survey indicated a similar amount of enterprises that consider employees the likely source of an attack.

The best cyber security policies are only as strong as the weakest link. In most cases, the weakest link is the employee who works autonomously and remotely. While tools such as remote access software give employees the flexibility to not store everything on their local macines, there are still a myriad of vulnerabilities that threaten remote workers. Intentions do not have to be nefarious for dangers to be real. When employees cannot be trusted to safeguard a company’s digital assets, the consequences can be catastrophic.

The solutions to building trust are not simplistic. There is no equivalent of weight loss type advice such “avoid carbs and exercise more” that can be applied here. If you want to build employee trust, it needs to happen at both an organization (policies and practices) and individual (management) level.

Related Article: Are They or Aren't They? How to Keep Employees Productive When Working From Home

Technology is not going to create trust. However, technology can be used to enforce and “trustworthy behavior.” Here are just a few examples. A file and document management system can offer different levels of access based on an employee’s seniority. Project management software with transparent workflows can keep everyone on the team updated on the progress of their colleagues in real-time. Time management software can track the number of billable hours worked on a particular task.

It is always hard to stop an employee with ill-intentions. However, there are cyber security policies to limit the opportunity for sloppy behavior to create network vulnerabilities. These include restricting the use of personal devices that do not have anti-virus protection and adding additional forms of authentication for remote access. VPN should be mandatory for transmitting company data.

The technology solutions are the low hanging fruit. There is no shortcut to creating a corporate culture of trust unless the organization and individual manager are committed to this.

Communication is Key

First, it is unrealistic to build any cultural values without creating a corporate culture that reflects these values. If your trust is important to you, then you need to communicate this to your workers. If your primary mode of communications is a weekly status conference call, consider your expectations carefully. If you are a manager, get to know your employee as an individual and demonstrate your commitment to them on both a personal and professional level. Find ways for teams to meet and spend time in group settings so that they can create personal bonds and build trust.

Second, hire “trustworthy” people. If trust a priority, then make sure that you recruit people that you trust. This is not about adding “trustworthy” to the list of job requirements and skill sets. Trustworthiness is an ephemeral quality. However, during the hiring process, you can ask questions or even create simulation exercise to weed out candidates that do not demonstrate this character trait.

Related Article: Remote vs. In-Office Workers: Which Employee Is Actually Better?

Third, in an era where there is less job security and employee loyalty, find ways to reward good behavior. This can be in the form of tangible compensation for achieving or exceeding expectations or even public recognition in front of a worker’s peers or management. Building a culture of trust is hard work. It may require a commitment of time and money. I am sure that your company has taken some bets on strategic initiatives. Some are less risky than others. But employee trust is a necessary investment in both the short term and long term financial viability of your company.

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