Trust is much more than a feel-good idea: it can have significant effects on employee productivity, loyalty, turnover, and engagement.

It’s difficult enough for organizations and managers to build trust when all employees are together and interact daily. Building and maintaining loyalty with a workforce that’s partially or completely remote can be even more challenging.

However, a trusting rapport between leaders and employees is critical to individual and team success. Here’s how to foster that connection with remote employees.

What Is Trust and Why Is It Important?

Trust goes beyond warm, empathetic relationships; it forms the foundation of good decision-making and innovation. It takes trust for employees to ask a question that may challenge the current thinking of a leader or the current policies or procedures of an organization. Yet, if people don’t question the status quo, the organization will continue to make decisions based on potentially outdated or otherwise ineffective processes.

Trust is also essential for building the type of manager-employee relationship that encourages development and increases retention. Most employees seek opportunities in which they are encouraged to acquire new skills and build their capabilities. They need to request candid feedback to grow, and that can mean being transparent and vulnerable about their abilities and knowledge gaps. Trusting in the intentions and candor of their manager leads to greater self-awareness and commitment to the organization.

Warning Signs of Lack of Trust

When trust is lacking, remote employees display many of the same warning signs as on-site employees, but these flags may be more pronounced in remote workers. In addition to obvious signals like missed deadlines, look for the following:

  • Lack of contribution in meetings. A remote worker who never says anything in a video meeting may not believe their contributions are valued or may not think they’ll be heard.
  • Cautious responses or hedging when asked for opinions or updates
  • Defensiveness when asked to justify the amount of work completed. If a manager asks how the employee has been spending their time rather than about a project’s status, the employee may feel the manager doesn’t trust them.
  • Resistance to change, even when the rationale for the changes is explained. Employees work hard to sustain successful remote work environments; if they balk at organizational changes, it may be an indicator that trust is lacking.
  • Concerns about the continuity of their remote work agreement
  • A belief that on-site employees are more likely to get promotions, raises, recognition, or other perks

Ways To Build Trust

Building Trust from Day One

Up front, make sure that new hires understand how performance and promotions will be managed. People need to have accurate and realistic performance expectations. How will their success be measured? What activities will be tracked and what metrics will be used? Employees also need to understand the authority they have to make decisions and to act without first checking in with their manager.

In addition, leaders should communicate their management philosophy and how they want to work with their direct reports. What is the best way to communicate project updates? How should the employee raise problems or seek advice about conflicts with other departments? What is the best way to express a difference of opinion? This open conversation lets people understand their manager’s preferred approach to their working relationship.

Job descriptions often play an important, and sometimes overlooked, part in setting employees’ career expectations. Most organizations think of job descriptions in the context of the person already in the role. However, employees looking to advance need to have a clear idea of the responsibilities and expectations of more senior roles so they understand the skills and experience they’ll need to move up. The more potential future and career advancement they see in an organization, the greater their loyalty and trust.

Changing How Managers Assess Productivity

Managers of remote employees often need to change their approach to managing by results rather than by observation. The old way of thinking was that, if an employee is in the office from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., they must be working hard. Now, savvy managers have redefined their expectations, based on productivity and metrics that are critical to the organization and each employee’s role.

Basing performance reviews on productivity and results, rather than visibility, encourages employees to trust their manager and their organization because they believe they are being judged accurately and fairly.

Building Rapport with Remote Employees

When people work in the same location, managers and direct reports have ongoing, ad hoc opportunities to connect: going out for lunch, grabbing drinks after work, walking to their cars together.

With remote employees, some leaders find it artificial to schedule lunch or coffee via Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Many people already spend a lot of time in video meetings and don’t want yet more screen time. Conversations via email and text tend to be short, with less human connection, which makes them less effective at building relationships.

Also, giving employees a say in how they want to interact with their manager and the organization helps to build rapport. Besides status reports and regular meetings, how and when do they want to check in? Do they want to meet every other week to discuss how things are going? Are they interested in scheduling casual, non-business conversations with managers? Not everyone will want to make these types of connections, but it’s good to identify those employees who do.

In addition, trust occurs when organizations and managers:

  • Follow up on agreements from onboarding
  • Ask for feedback often
  • Assign accountability and authority when delegating
  • Give candid feedback, both positive and corrective
  • Ask questions of staff (either hiring new staff or existing staff) geared to learning what employees need from a leader, not questions geared for the leader to get what they want
  • Conduct frequent check-ins, especially when employees have challenges (e.g., new responsibilities, special projects, challenges at home); interpersonal check-ins are important
  • Be as reliable as employees are expected to be
  • Hold everybody accountable to deadlines, processes, and goals

Trust is a two-way street. Organizations that demonstrate trust and show that they value their employees, whether remote or onsite, are much more likely to have employees who trust them.

The Lindenberger Group can help organizations of all types and sizes measure, manage, and build trust with employees. For more information or to discuss your HR needs, please contact us at 609-730-1049 or send us an email.