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The Importance of Trust in a Remote Environment

Posted on August 11, 2020
Image of a woman's arm coming out of a laptop computer and shaking hands with another.

There is no question that for most of us the world turned upside down when we were suddenly forced to work remotely last March. We all had to learn how to effectively communicate in Zoom meetings, avoid Zoom Fatigue, focus on our work, and the list goes on. One key element I have not seen discussed much is building trust while working remotely.

What is trust?

First, let’s look at what constitutes trust. According to a 2018 Psychology Today article entitled, “What is Trust?” the authors break it down into a number of statements:

  • Trust is a set of behaviors, such as acting in ways that depend on another
  • Trust is a belief in a probability that a person will behave in certain ways
  • Trust is an abstract mental attitude toward a proposition that someone is dependable
  • Trust is a feeling of confidence and security that a partner cares

To sum up these four statements up, trust is something we feel when we understand that we can depend on another person to meet or exceed certain expectations. For example, Mary trusts that Bill will complete his tasks while she is away on vacation. Jerry trusts that Phil will handle all of the client’s needs while he is at a conference. The trust in these two scenarios is not simply given, it is earned over time. Bill earned Mary’s trust through all of his actions over the past six months as he demonstrated his ability to work independently. And Phil earned Jerry’s trust because he continually demonstrated his ability to handle client issues when his co-worker suddenly got sick and he stepped up to help and did so successfully.

How to build trust with your manager

Trust, however, doesn’t simply flow in one direction. While we often think of subordinates building trust with their managers, managers must also build trust with those who report to them.

First, let’s look at how one builds trust with their manager. There are three critical elements:

  1. The Dilemma of Over-Promising – it is always better to under-promise and over-deliver than to over-promise and under-deliver. Now, you can’t continually under promise because that will erode away at trust as well. But where it truly matters, avoid over promising.
  2. Honesty and Accountability – always be honest with your manager and do not play the blame game. If you dropped the ball or made a mistake, own up to it immediately. Usually, in time the truth comes out and you cannot build trust with your boss if you were not honest about making a mistake. Most bosses will trust you more for being honest and taking responsibility.
  3. Step It Up – another way to build trust with your manager is to step up to help when there is a big project, a co-worker gets sick or leaves the company or there is simply a need. Managers notice those who are happy to pick up the slack and help.

How managers build trust with employees

Now, let’s look at three critical ways managers can build trust with those under them:

  1. CommunicationPoor communication leads to confusion, which can breed doubt or sow chaos. As a manager, you must communicate effectively build trust with your team. Communication must also be timely and meet the needs of the team. When expectations are clear, the team is much more likely to deliver and have a positive impact on the bottom line.
  2. Transparency – This can be difficult. There are obviously times when you might told about company plans in confidence, such as a new acquisition. The acquisition will mean doubling the size of the team and likely promotions. In this case, as the manager, you have to follow the lead of senior leadership and not divulge any details to your team. However, when possible the more transparent you are, the more trust your team will place in you. In situations where you believe changes are in the company’s future, but you have not been told anything specific, nor have you been told to keep anything on the down low, then you can speak about the potential for change and what that might mean to the team. There is a fine line to navigate when it comes to potentially scary changes as you must be careful not to instill panic, which will reduce productivity, but it is also unfair to let the team plod along as if everything is perfect and it will sow distrust.
  3. EmpathyEmpathy is a critical piece in the trust puzzle. Without empathy, you will never be able to understand the needs of those who report to you. Empathy requires that you put yourself into another’s shoes to better understand that person’s perspective. This allows you to manage your team with compassion and understanding, which fosters trust in those who report to you.

Clearly, trust is crucial in all relationships, but I think sometimes we forget the importance in our working relationships, or we take it for granted. This is especially true in our current remote environment. Like any other relationship, elements of trust may be given immediately, but full trust is earned over time. If you do not work to build that trust, you are actively eroding your relationships with your manager or your direct reports. Without trust growth will be hampered, success stalled, and both managers and direct reports will feel unappreciated and undervalued and - all of which is important for every team and organization, but especially important right now as we work remotely.

Stay safe and healthy,

Anne Converse Willkomm

Assistant Clinical Professor

Department Head of Graduate Studies

Goodwin College of Professional Studies
Drexel University

Posted in interpersonal-communications, leadership-management-skills