Build Trust in Virtual Teams: 17 Best Practices You Shouldn't Ignore
Trust is the glue that binds teams together – and a multidimensional one: top-down, bottom-up, and between colleagues.
Without trust vibrating in all directions, teams will fall apart.
In today's decentralized, post-pandemic world, more people than ever work remotely. Managing remote teams has become a critical skill for managers.
Trust is even more important in remote teams than in physical ones.
Remote teams lack the everyday bonding, body language, and monitoring —the part of seeing that your employees are working and not chilling at the beach.
Sadly, employee trust isn't what it could be.
Almost 4 employees in 10 believe their organization won't put their interests before profits.
We can only imagine the damage to motivation and productivity – especially in remote teams.
This article will equip you with the tools to build trust in virtual teams for higher productivity and profit. And, most importantly, happier people!
🖥️ Why trust is important in virtual teams
A high level of workplace trust comes with many benefits. Some of them are:
- less stress;
- more energy;
- fewer sick days;
- higher productivity;
- higher levels of satisfaction;
- team members who dare to initiate and take risks.
You can naturally nurture many of these qualities for physical teams through everyday interactions.
However, when building trust in remote teams, there's an increased risk that employees feel isolated and unsupported.
From the management side, it's harder to monitor actions.
Is an employee late to a meeting because they had tech issues or because they were slacking?
There's less context to assess your coworkers critically.
Add to the mix that some scientists believe we are programmed to distrust everyone except our close family. So, it's harder to get past that innate barrier of distrust with people you don't see daily and may have never met in person.
That's why creating and sustaining trust in virtual teams is vital.
🏗️ 7 Essential elements to build trust in remote teams
So, how do we build trust in virtual teams?
Take note of these 7 elements and incorporate them for a trust-proof workplace.
Accountability and dependability
No one likes to feel watched. But unfortunately, micromanagement is one of the fastest ways to kill trust. It says you don't trust your employees to do what you and the job role ask.
But there's a fine line between monitoring too much and too little.
With no accountability from the team lead, employees can feel lost, directionless, and prone to slack.
Tip: Regular communication and checking the atmosphere of the team can help you find the optimal level.
Consistency in communication
You want to be able to expect your employees to show up on time and do an excellent job.
But if they only see and hear from you sparsely, there's a disconnect that damages trust.
Your employees can feel overlooked and like they don't contribute to something meaningful.
The remedy is consistent communication.
Tip: Even if you don't have a lot to say for the daily or weekly meeting, instead of canceling, take a few minutes to ask how everyone's day is going.
Checking in will work wonders for the trust within your distributed team.
Physical meetup (if possible)
The reason behind business trips is that meeting someone in person builds trust. It's enough to have met once to cultivate trust that continues in the virtual environment.
Tip: A way of building trust in remote teams is to organize a meetup or company trip.
[Image of team Zavvy from the onboarding journey]
Trust in virtual teams goes both ways: managers need to feel they can trust their teams, and employees need to feel they can count on their boss to have their best interest in mind, provide the necessary equipment, and pay their salary on time.
Trust also needs to happen horizontally – each team member needs to trust the others to do their part of the work, show up on time for important meetings, etc.
Tip: Take a pulse check on the reciprocity level.
Do you trust your employees but don't feel they reciprocate your trust?
👀 Note: As the manager or team leader, you have to take the lead and show your employees trust before you can expect it in return.
Transparency fuels trust.
To foster transparency, ensure frequent communication about project performance, business results, organizational changes, etc.
Tip: Your people will appreciate feeling like they're part of the organization and not just a means to reach an end.
Walk the talk
You cannot impose trust. It needs to bloom from the inside out.
Think about any relationship.
You trust the person based on their actions over time, not what they say. That's why you must repeatedly show your team that it is safe to trust.
Then, they will be happy to return the favor!
Back to the above analogy, a workplace relationship is like any other relationship – it requires investment to flourish.
While trust cannot be imposed, you can and should make conscious efforts to strengthen interpersonal relationships in a virtual environment.
We will explore what that can look like below.
🏆 5 Benefits of building trust in virtual teams
1. Trust fosters innovation
In remote and on-site teams, you need trust for creation and innovation. If employees don't feel safe thinking outside the box and managers don't trust the new, unconventional solutions from the team, innovation will stall. This challenge is particularly true for remote teams since on-site teams have the advantage of seeing each other and bouncing micro-decisions off each other – thus leading to faster decision-making and innovation.
2. Trust strengthens morale
Don't underestimate the power of groups.
For most people, it's easier to be motivated and do a great job among people who are focused and hard-working.
However, trust can partly substitute for the accountability and motivation from being surrounded by colleagues. Focusing on building trust in virtual teams is thus an investment in work ethics!
3. Trust is a subtle form of accountability
When you trust people, they tend to deliver.
Inevitably, a manager needs to have more trust in a distributed team than in a physical one. When people are trusted to do a great job despite the distance and no one monitoring them, they usually are eager to prove their reliability to enjoy rewards in the form of freedom with responsibility.
4. Trust gives you the energy to focus on relevant tasks
Trusting your on-site employees is relatively easy.
If you work in the same (or an adjacent) room, you can keep an eye on everyone arriving on time, doing their job, and not leaving before the workday ends. Over time, you'll have spotted which employees you can trust.
It's not as easy for virtual teams.
You can't see who's working. Even if your team members are online, they could be baking a cake or cleaning their homes.
Knowing that you can trust your remote employees will save you much energy that you can use for relevant tasks instead of trying to figure out who's working and when.
5. Trust improves employee retention
Since trust is one of the main factors behind employee satisfaction, a remote team bound by trust will lead to happier employees.
And happier employees are more likely to stay within the organization, leading to lower turnover and higher profit.
Remote teams lack the everyday interactions that naturally build trust, so investing in forging trust will positively impact remote teams' employee retention.
😞 5 Mistakes organizations make when trying to build trust virtually
1. Not focusing on building trust from the start
Trust is less tangible than, for example, Q1 revenue. Since it's not evident to measure, it can be tempting to overlook.
But if you don't build trust from the start, it can lead to unnecessary misunderstandings. But having to solve misunderstandings will make it harder to establish trust moving forward.
2. Being unpredictable or contradictory
If you promise to email everyone the meeting notes, and nothing happens, trust will suffer.
Likewise, telling your employees they don't need to report to you on one day, only to question why they haven't reported the following day, will hurt trust.
Tip: Stay consistent, and let your employees know what you expect.
3. Rushing things
Rome wasn't built in a day – the same goes for trust in remote teams.
So allow trust to unfold naturally as a result of repeated, consistent actions. And refrain from judging people if they have a healthy amount of suspicion before someone has proven themselves trustworthy.
4. Assuming trust will happen naturally
While the above point is valid, it's crucial not to sway too much to the other end of the spectrum. Trust is not a result of time only – but of trustworthy behavior over time.
Your team will trust you if you repeatedly prove that your actions align with your words.
However, trust will suffer if you postpone meetings and promise things that never happen. Building trust in virtual teams is a skill that can be learned and perfectioned.
Neglecting it won't make it magically arise, though.
5. Supposing everyone views trust the way you do
Based on perception and previous experiences, everyone views trust differently. So instead of assuming a standard definition, reaching a consensus is essential. One way is to have group discussions about what trust is, how to build it, and what to do if there's a lack of trust.
🤝 9 Behaviors that build trust in virtual teams
Your team doesn't have access to the same information as you. That's why it's vital to communicate what's happening within the organization. To build trust in remote teams, prefer overcommunicating rather than skipping essential details that make people feel left out.
2. Promoting clarity, transparency, and vulnerability
Trust requires courage and vulnerability. And you have to go first. Set the example by modeling transparency and openness.
Another thing that helps strengthen trust is role clarity: ensuring that your people are aware and fully understand their role expectations.
3. Investing in relationships
Invest time in building and strengthening relationships beyond the transactional. You can achieve this through small talk and team-building activities – for concrete examples, see below.
4. Offering flexibility
Show trust in your team by offering flexible hours and counting on your team members to complete the job and deliver on time.
5. Encouraging knowledge sharing
Knowledge sharing is a win-win: it allows your team to interact and enhance their knowledge, enabling relationships to form organically.
6. Rotating leadership
Being in a leadership position means taking on more responsibility – and responsibility positively impacts trust. Therefore, if possible, operate on a rotating leadership schedule.
7. Non-verbal cues
Virtual teams miss out on important body language cues that contribute to building trust in the workplace. A way of compensating for this is to make sure you see each other as much as possible – by leaving the camera on during video calls.
8. Offering constructive feedback
Honesty reinforces trust.
It will be easier for your employees to trust you – and each other – if they know they'll get honest and constructive feedback on their work. Unfortunately, delivering negative feedback without suggestions for improvement can lead to resentment, lower productivity, and confusion.
Your employees might not know how to improve.
💡 Is poor employee performance giving you a headache?
Learn how to diagnose and address it effectively. Your people and organization will thank you for managing poor performance in a proactive and supportive way.
9. Setting and sharing common goals
Having shared goals to work towards helps everyone feel connected. And connection is a crucial ingredient in trust.
Holding each other accountable is easier when each person's expectations are clearly defined.
💡 17 Best practices for building trust in virtual teams
1. Encourage the use of proper collaboration tools
Collaboration tools make it easier to gain clarity on who's doing what. It saves precious time by removing unnecessary back-and-forths.
Communication tools like Slack or Workplace with direct messaging encourage quick and frequent communication. Thus, they require a lower degree of formality than writing an email.
2. Invest in employee well-being
Employee well-being is one of the main "soft" factors behind trust. When employees notice that you care about their well-being, they are more prone to reciprocate trust.
💡 Discover 25 employee wellness statistics every manager should know and five bonus tips for promoting employee well-being.
3. Promote work-life boundaries
Promoting healthy work-life boundaries shows your employees that you care. They will know that you have their best interest in mind, making it easier to trust you.
4. Make sure everyone aligns with the organization's mission and vision
Getting everyone on the team on board with the mission and vision creates a sense of unity and shared purpose.
5. Create rules and standard operating procedures
Rules and routines for operating procedures enhance clarity. And clarity is a critical factor behind trust in remote workplaces.
6. Prioritize onboarding more than you usually do
Onboarding is always important – even more so in remote teams. We have explored how trust is a multidimensional concept, and onboarding software like Zavvy takes care of the practical and people parts of trust.
💡 Want more? Check out our article on integrating remote employees into culture, teams, and processes.
🙌 Discover 47 ways to boost remote employee engagement.
7. Have a functional work-from-home policy
The work-from-home policy should state working hours, reporting, communication guidelines, technology usage, and virtual meeting etiquette.
➡️ Get Zavvy's ready-to-use template for work-from-home policies.
8. Get to know each other virtually
Knowing each other is one of the cornerstones of trust. Set up a dedicated chat channel for non-work related conversations where people can share funny GIFs and have the virtual equivalent of coffee chats. Plan team bonding activities online.
Coffee roulettes aim to enable small talk and bonding happening during lunch breaks.
Each person receives a partner to have a video call with.
The aim is to have a casual chat about non-work related topics. Afterward, there will be fewer barriers to trusting each other when collaborating or asking for help.
✊ Zavvy helps you automate the allocation of coffee roulettes.
A similar concept is the Zavvy-exclusive feature walk and talk. During a walk and talk, two colleagues are matched and asked to schedule a time for a 45-minute walk outside.
The only rule is no job talk. You can imagine the potential boost in trust after those 45 minutes. All while getting the daily movement in, helping to decrease stress and increase well-being.
👯🏿 Discover all of our connection journey templates.
9. Create a collaborative work environment
A collaborative work environment leads to increased visibility into who is doing what. Knowing that favors trust.
10. Make your intentions crystal clear (including setting clear goals)
Your message gets diluted with distance. It's similar to how hearing someone talking from across a valley is more challenging than someone standing next to you.
Clear goals help move your team in one direction, creating connection and increasing trust.
🎯 We have created a guide to learn how to set effective employee performance goals – including 33 skill-based examples.
11. Keep employees in the loop with company updates
Regular company updates – about the good and not-so-good news – helps build trust in remote teams.
Our client, Data Guard, uses Zavvy for sharing company-wide updates. Their product marketing team sends a short monthly training journey highlighting product updates. This way, everyone is always on top of changes – which is especially important for the sales team.
12. Promote accountability
When people are held accountable for their tasks and results, they get more engaged. Just like trust boosts engagement, engagement promotes trust, creating a positive spiral.
13. Nurture employee growth
Investing in your employees' growth helps build trust in virtual teams. Everyone wants to grow, evolve, and feel like their desire to learn more is granted.
Tip: Invest in software for a more seamless career growth process that doesn't require reinventing the wheel for each new hire!
14. Provide an open forum for sharing knowledge and discussing ideas
We mentioned how trust is required for innovation. If your employees know they are trusted to have sound judgment, they will cultivate the courage to make bolder decisions. An open forum where ideas and knowledge flow freely helps spread enthusiasm for creation and innovation.
15. Enable mentorship
Mentorship helps create deep, meaningful relationships that foster trust. It allows for natural knowledge-sharing and stimulates innovation and creativity.
💡 Learn more about hybrid mentorship and what to consider in virtual mentorship.
16. Cultivate constructive feedback practices
Constructive feedback helps build trust since it's part of transparency. Your employees can relax when they know their peers and leaders will help them overcome shortcomings and point to areas of development. This approach will lead to a growth mindset rather than a source of growing resentment.
17. Hire the right people
When your hires are motivated to work in a remote environment and potentially already used to it, they may find it more natural to trust.
➡️ Build trust with your virtual teams from day 1 with Zavvy
With Zavvy, building trust within your virtual teams becomes a breeze. Our different products cover and automize all aspects mentioned in this article.
Build trust from day 1 with your new hires through our popular employee onboarding software. The software takes care of all parts of the onboarding experience so that you can focus on being (virtually) present with your new hire instead of stressing out over things that don't work.
Our 360 feedback software helps you listen to your employees' voices and provides a framework for multidirectional feedback.
Career growth is another critical factor behind trust. Create a culture of growth in your virtual teams through the career pathing software.
Finally, the importance of connections is something we've mentioned in multiple places above. So again, we've got you covered. Build meaningful relationships through our connection programs.
Discover how to foster your organization's trust and support culture with Zavvy's people enablement suite.
Book a free 30 minutes demo with one of our experts.