6 Ways To Build Trust & Collaboration In A Virtual Team

by Ben Richardson
19th August 2021    6 Minutes
Two people collaborating and shaking hands

One of the biggest disadvantages of remote teams is that building trust between team members is tough.

In this article, we look at ways to build trust in remote teams.

As with physical teams, it just requires some thought and planning.

We look at:

What Is Trust In The Workplace?

What Are The Benefits Of Trust In The Workplace?

How Does Trust Improve Workplace Performance?

What Are The Signs Of A High Trust Workplace?

6 Ways To Build Trust & Collaboration In Remote Teams

3 Mistakes People Make When Trying To Build Trust

Final Thoughts

 

 What is Trust in the Workplace?

Trust is the belief that someone else will interpret and approach every action honestly and with sincerity

If you trust someone you are confident that they will behave positively and that an interaction will be mutually beneficial. 

Without trust in a business, there is nothing but process, hierarchy and extra expenses. 

Trust is at the core of all good relationships, whether they are at work or at home, and fundamental to a good organisational culture.

 

What Are The Benefits Of Trust In The Workplace?

Trust impacts all aspects of relationships. 

Given how crucial relationships are to team performance, if follows trust can have a material impact on team performance.

This is backed up by research which shows that increased intrateam trust does improve performance. 

Interestingly this work also found that the more interdependent a team is, the more trust is important. This makes sense as the more you depend on others to get your work done, the more benefits you will get from a high trust environment.

The benefits of a high trust environment at work include:

  1. Improved morale and motivation.
  2. Improved teamwork, collaboration and idea sharing.
  3. Improved openness to feedback and coaching.
  4. Improved employee retention.
  5. Improved flexibility and openness to change.
  6. Reduced office politics
  7. Reduced stress and potential for burnout.

 

How Does Trust Improve Workplace Performance? 

Trust is one of the biggest factors in workplace collaboration. 

This is the mechanism that means that improving trust in a team leads to better performance.

As the benefits of collaboration in the workplace are very widely known and understood. 

Studies have shown that collaborative teams show more grit and resilience (source), improved peer-to-peer learning (source) and employee engagement (source).

When people share ideas and work together, they make better decisions and get to focus on the tasks that they are best suited to.

 

What Are The Signs Of A High Trust Workplace?

High trust workplaces are reasonably easy to spot. 

A high trust environment will manifest itself  in some or all of the following:

Vulnerability:

Team members don’t fear the judgement of their peers. This means that employees are far more likely to get the help and co-operation they need to do their best work, as they don’t have to worry about ridicule. 

Healthy debate:

Team members exchange ideas and opinions openly working to find the best solution to problems. They aren’t concerned about others trying to claim credit for their good ideas, or dismissing their bad ideas.

Teamwork:

Team members are committed to working with each other, regardless of their opinion about a decision. Even if they disagree with a decision that has been taken, once it has been taken they will contribute towards the shared goal in the same way that they would if they agreed with the decision. 

Accountability:

Team members will hold each other to account, as they know that they can do so without bad feelings. A trusting team will know that others are treating them fairly and so find criticism far easier to accept. 

 

 

 6 Ways to Build Trust & Collaboration in a Remote Team

Not all of these ways to build trust will apply to all workplaces.

As you look at the list below you will need to think about which methods would apply best to the virtual team that you manage. 

 

1. Get to Know Your Team 

You might know your team members’ names, but do you really know who you’re working with? 

The most effective way to develop trust between remote employees is to ensure everyone knows the other team members properly. This means knowing more than their names. 

If time allows, encourage your team to spend the first few minutes of a meeting chatting and breaking the ice.  This will mean that they get to know more about each other and connect more closely.

If you are their manager you can model the behaviour you would like to see by asking people about their day, family, pets or hobbies. 

The more people connect with each other, the more they are likely to trust each other.

Another great team building activity for remote teams is having a happy hour meeting. 

These encourage them to come together as colleagues and talk about anything but work. It is best if participation is encouraged rather than mandatory. 

 

2. Be Clear About the Team’s Objectives and Goals

When everyone is working remotely from their homes, it is easy for people to become confused about their objectives and goals. 

This is especially true when there is a lack of clear goals.  

When there are face-to-face interactions these misunderstandings are easily picked up and corrected.

When a team is virtual these misunderstandings are much less likely to be spotted and can remain uncorrected until they become problematic.

The best way to avoid confusion is

          Regularly clarify the team’s primary objectives, priorities, and milestones;

          Specify a role for each team member and tell them how they can add value to the outcome;

          Use modern digital technology and tools to ensure everyone stays updated;

          Encourage people to ask questions when they are doubtful. It will ensure they are not working based on their assumptions.

 

3. Create Rules and Standard Operating Procedures 

One of the major challenges of remote work is monitoring progress and outcomes. 

You don’t have the option to ask for quick updates face-to-face in the same way. That’s why you need a system in place that ensures every team member is working effectively.

Without this, lack of productivity and derailed projects will become a problem. 

Creating a standard set of rules and procedures is a well-established way to deal with this. 

          Create mandatory rules and standard operating procedures. Make sure that everyone is held accountable to them.

          Explain what you expect from each member. Tell them about their responsibilities and deadlines.

          Use digital tools to your benefit. Rely on shared documents, calendars, project management apps, and more to ensure consistency.

          Provide feedback during the process. Adapt according to the progress and outcomes.

 

4. Celebrate Milestones and Achievements

Celebrations of milestones and successes bring people together and provide positive feedback. 

Celebrations are tricky when people are working from home. Some managers feel that there is no point but this is exactly the time when extra efforts should be made.

They offer a reason to bring team members to focus on something positive which is a really good way to build trust in a group as they can see what they have achieved together. 

 

5. Provide an Open Forum Discussing Ideas

Many companies struggle with building trust and collaboration because they are not democratic. When people don’t feel that their ideas are listed to they stop contributing them.

Managers need to give their team members a genuinely open forum and allow their team to have debate ideas and solutions openly and honestly.  

 The isolated nature of the virtual workplace exacerbates this issue making it even more important.

The sense of being a part of something bigger than themselves motivates people to work harder. This way, they are more likely to work as a team and achieve the company’s goals.

 

6. Trust Your Team

It is natural for people to reciprocate behaviours.

If you show trust in your team they are much more likely to show trust to your and others on the team. 

This means that if you want to foster trust in a group the best place to start is by showing them trust. 

For example:

There are many benefits to having rules and SOPs in place as discussed above. 

However, when people are working from home they don’t have the same ability to compartmentalise their home and work lives that they would in a physical office.

This means they might not be able to exactly meet all of the requirements. 

If you avoid getting too hung up on small things and focus on whether they are hitting their milestones you are showing that you trust them to successfully manage small issues. 

 

3 Mistakes People Make When Trying To Build Trust 

Team managers often make a multitude of mistakes while attempting to build trust and collaboration in virtual teams. A few of the common ones include the following: 

 

1. Not Giving Trust From The Start

Most of the managers believe that their team members should earn their trust over time.

They feel that employees should only gain the organisation’s trust after achieving their milestones within the allocated budget and deadline.

Requiring team members to prove themselves often leads to demotivation and a sense of mutual distrust.

When you don’t trust your team members, they don’t trust you back, resulting in a less efficient work environment.

That’s why it is important for the managers to give and communicate their trust right away. This can take multiple forms such as:

    •         Providing insightful and constructive feedback on their progress.
    •         Enabling them to make the most of new opportunities.
    •         Encouraging them to take initiative.

 

2. Being Unpredictable Or Contradictory

If you commit to something, make sure that you follow through. 

Similarly, try not to change priorities at short notice unless there is a very clear reason to do so, and if you do so make sure that you communicate those reasons to all key team members. 

A big part of trust is consistency.

It is difficult for people to assume anything about your intentions if you are not consistent, and you don’t keep your word. 

In turn, a big part of being consistent is being transparent. If your team members understand why things are being decided then they won’t feel that things are contradictory or unpredictable even when things are changing rapidly. 

You cannot promise a bonus to your team members if they can ensure early delivery of the project and then back out.

 

3. Rushing Things

Trust is built over time. It is a process that takes time. 

Trying to force the pace is counterproductive. People don’t like being pushed 

Another mistake that leaders often make is they try to force trust in their team. Instead of attempting to build and nurture it gradually through positive feedback, they attempt to force it.

When you try to force a situation on your employees, you lose credibility and integrity, which can be potentially disastrous for your team. Instead of trying to force people to like you and each other, give them the opportunity to do that themselves.

 

Final Word

If you are leading a virtual team, your role as a leader is crucial to building trust and collaboration.

Building a trusting and collaborative culture in your team will also be one of the biggest contributors to productivity and creativity.

The great thing is that if you get it right not only will your team be more efficient but you’ll have more fun leading them.

 

Image Credit: Magda Ehlers  , Savvas Stavrinos.