The New Approach to Work Requires a New Approach to Trust How to maintain high levels of trust in a remote, hybrid, or asynchronous workplace
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In a remote work environment, trust becomes more complex and more critical.
Without the ability to quickly engage in casual chit-chat, share in social events or even maintain eye contact, trust has proven challenging to establish and nurture in a remote setting, especially regarding relationships with managers.
The trust deficit many experience upon transition to remote work can also be exacerbated by communication gaps that result when remote team members lean on traditional communication strategies, despite making dramatic changes to their working dynamic.
As with many attributes of our increasingly remote world of work, many have tried to carry over the same processes, habits and expectations with unfortunate results. They often discover the hard way that there needs to be a more concerted effort to build and maintain trust when team members aren't in the same building or even in the same time zone.
Without taking a new approach to building trust, remote teams often run into a few predictable mishaps. For example, traditional remote communication tools like Slack and email often encourage quick information exchanges but aren't equipped to facilitate more nuanced conversations. That is because in-person teams and remote teams operating during the same working hours tend to prioritize speedy synchronized communication over thoughtful asynchronous collaboration.
That strategy becomes more complicated when teams operate remotely and nearly impossible when team members work at different hours when the recipient isn't able to have that critical follow-up question answered promptly. If the team member isn't online when the conversation happens, their voice isn't heard, and they join the conversation too late.
Information bottlenecks are just one of the ways our old communication systems will struggle to maintain organizational trust in a more remote setting. Unfortunately, we also can't ignore the psychological impact of impersonal, incomplete or unhelpful communications. A pattern of informational bottlenecks ultimately makes it difficult for team members to trust that they won't be left out of conversations and decisions, even unintentionally. Frequent miscommunications are often not only a potential source of breakdowns in workflows but also in relationships.
Then there is the issue of favoritism and proximity bias, which is a significant concern for those working remotely on a hybrid team. Worse than feeling disconnected from your colleagues is feeling that you are actively not included in meaningful conversations and decisions. Not understanding how or why decisions are made or not being invited to contribute to meaningful conversations, typically leads remote colleagues to assume that it's because they're not getting as much face-time with decision-makers. Even if they are passed over for a project or a promotion for practical reasons, it will be hard not to assume that proximity bias is the cause.
For remote teams to be effective, there must be high levels of trust, especially in an asynchronous environment where staff members have limited overlapping hours in their workdays. A poorly crafted communication that leaves the recipient guessing becomes much more challenging to resolve when their workday ends several hours earlier.
When a team member doesn't trust a colleague to respond to an inquiry or do their portion of a project in an effective and timely manner, they might try and circumvent that colleague altogether. That means either going over their head, asking someone else or taking on more themselves, none of which are healthy responses.
Maintaining trust in a remote setting starts with effective communication and replacing some of those old in-person habits with systems and processes designed for our new reality.
1. Transition from prioritizing speed to prioritizing communication quality
Taking an extra few seconds to read and edit an email before sending or taking the time to organize information better ultimately leads to smoother handoffs, fewer bottlenecks and greater levels of trust. Though it might take a little longer at the outset, doing so will dramatically reduce the likelihood of costly delays later.
2. Transition from under-communication to over-communication
While you don't want to overwhelm the recipient, remote team members can be less reliant on real-time information exchanges when they have more information at their disposal, so long as that information is well organized. Thoughtful and thorough communications can ultimately reduce the likelihood of misinterpretations and misunderstandings, which often undermine trust among remote colleagues.
3. Remote teams need to establish etiquette around appropriate communication habits in a remote setting.
Simple guidelines on nudging and follow-ups, best practices for sharing important information and a mutually agreed-upon process for handoffs will go a long way in reducing miscommunication and building trust.
4. In a remote and hybrid setting, transparency is paramount, especially in decision-making
When organizational leaders and managers set clear expectations, when progress is measured objectively, and when they offer insights into decisions, it dramatically reduces opportunities for miscommunication and assumptions of bias or hostility.
5. Just as our communication strategies need to adapt to a new reality, so do our communication tools
While Slack, Zoom and email have their place, organizations should consider other platforms purpose-built to facilitate better communication — and ultimately higher levels of trust — in a remote setting.
My company, Bubbles, is one of many such tools that can help organizations improve their remote communication practices. The platform allows users to post short videos, audio or text messages and allows recipients to respond in whatever medium they prefer. Audio and video messages automatically generate a transcript, enabling remote team members to get the answers they need without a nudge or a follow-up.
Most of us have spent our entire lives working in a real-time, in-person setting, but the habits we've developed aren't conducive to a high-trust remote organization. Adapting your communication strategies and tools will become vital in maintaining high levels of trust in a remote, hybrid or asynchronous environment.