How can leaders and managers build trust with remote teams?

By Peter Cleverton

Leaders and managers need to build trust with remote workers through transparency and effective communication.

Effective communication is essential to help leaders build trust with their teams. We cover communication skills for leaders and managers in our online leadership and management apprenticeship course. It also helps keep employees engaged while working remotely. 

The following article from Peter Cleverton at HireRight explores why building trust with teams when working remotely is critical for leaders today.

What challenges do managers face with remote work teams?

  • How do we know staff are working as hard as they should?
  • How well are employees being supervised?
  • Can staff adapt their working hours?
  • How can policies around how much time can be spent on other things like browsing the internet be enforced?

These are some of the questions on a manager's mind when they are leading a team of remote workers.

It's important for managers to recognise that trust cuts both ways. Employees will be wondering how their employer will be measuring both their productivity and their wellbeing, what support they will be given and what security they have in their jobs. 

What are the risks of a lack of trust among your remote workers?

It's new territory for many and organisations are still working through these uncertainties. The latest Edelman trust barometer found that one in three employees don’t trust their employer - which makes for concerning reading. 

A lack of trust can lead to a number of issues.

  • It can cause internal conflict and a toxic working environment.
  • It can distract attention away from the job in hand.
  • It can act as a demotivator, a source of resentment and a sap on morale.
  • A lack of team trust can also drain away job satisfaction and potentially cause an exit of talent and a loss of goodwill – or even outright reputational damage.

These are problems no business needs - especially at the moment - and they could be even more damaging in a remote-working situation than in a workplace-based environment due to the difficulties involved in resolving them.

How can leaders build trust in a remote working team?

Step one - have a responsible data strategy for employee personal data.

The use and security of personal data and related privacy issues has been a major cause of mistrust in recent years. From gathering information on date of birth, home address, qualifications and past experience, now companies are becoming more and more sophisticated in what data they collect. Some firms are even using high-tech tools to monitor their staff. With so much knowledge about individuals comes great responsibility to use it sensitively and protect it properly.

Having a well thought-through, responsible data strategy should be a given. But as well as being watertight, it needs to be transparent. Be clear about what your approach is and, where possible, allow staff to feel they have some control over the process. 

As a first step, ask for employees’ permission to gather and store data and be fully transparent on what information is held on record. Of course, employees will want assurance that their employer will look after that data, but they also tend to respond positively if they feel that their rights are being respected, which can also build trust. 

From AI to facial recognitions, be transparent about technology 

As the range of different technologies used in the workplace grows - from time tracking systems to call recordings and even, in some cases, facial recognition - openness becomes even more critical. Staff won’t take kindly to feeling they are being spied on or micro-managed. 

It makes sense, and may even be legally required, to inform them what digital tools are being used and why so that the case can be made in a positive way and the desired result achieved; whether it is to boost productivity or improve customer service. Crucially, staff have a right to be told if data is being passed on to third parties via these tools.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are also coming to the fore in many organisations to help improve company (and staff) performance. The prospect of AI is a potential source of fear which breeds mistrust in the workplace, as workers may worry about how it might be used to monitor their activities and to learn (and take over) their jobs.

Upskill remote workers on the use of data 

This fear can be tackled by engagement. Train staff on how data and AI are used in the workplace, including getting employees involved in designing internal data processing and machine learning systems. This will give them insight into the inner workings of their employer and help get them on board with its future direction. It will help to add a ‘human’ element to AI making it far smarter and more fit for purpose - but also better understood and so less scary for staff.

To create trust right from the start, transparency around data is essential in the recruitment process too. For example, by providing candidates with easy to understand information about what data will be collected and how it will be stored during and after the application process, they are much more likely to feel comfortable with the approach taken. And again, legislative trends seem to indicate that this level of transparency could be required in the future, if it isn’t already. If background screening is carried out by third parties, this is doubly important. 

Recruiting remotely? Build trust by giving clarity around background screening

From a business’ perspective, conducting background screening, in itself, relates to issues around trust. Employers need to know that candidates can do the job they are applying for and that means verifying that they have the qualifications, skills and experience they claim. If it is made clear at the outset that such checks will be made, candidates will appreciate the clarity around the process and understand its purpose and anyone tempted to elaborate or exaggerate on their CV might think twice.

In today’s digitally-enabled, increasingly remote-working world, the issue of how businesses handle sensitive staff data and manage working relationships is not going to go away. In fact, it’s getting more complex. So, it’s vital to manage these issues appropriately – and to be seen to do so by employees. 

Trust is created through transparency and engagement. It’s not just what you do but the way that you do it that matters. That becomes even more true, yet even harder to do, in an environment where staff are working from home. It’s a new challenge certainly, but one which must be tackled in a clear and constructive way.


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