Bridging the Trust Gap: Building Strong Relationships with Remote Employees
You reconnect with a former colleague after not seeing them for a long period of time, and notice it is as if you’ve picked up exactly where you left off. Why is this? Chances are, it’s because you’ve already bridged the unseen, yet critical, trust gap.
All important relationships require work and trust. The workplace is no exception. Think of the trust gap as a metaphorical distance between two people: the tighter the gap, the greater the trust and vulnerability between them, and the more “relationship currency” they have to bridge the distance.
I believe this basis of trust is the most important foundation for building cohesive, agile teams and retaining employees. But closing the trust gap takes time, and breaks in trust can reset the gap, or widen it even further than it started. At Reconciled we invest in building trusting remote teams. We hope that companies shifting to remote work by choice or by necessity during the new coronavirus shutdown can learn from our experience.
In-person vs. remote work
Even in an ideal face-to-face professional setting, bridging the trust gap typically takes 60 to 90 days. It begins during the hiring process and ramps up when work begins. Trust is built through daily interactions, and the first two to three months are a strong indicator—both on the manager and employee side—how the work dynamic will be moving forward.
Building relationships and bridging trust gaps is even more essential with remote work, to ensure that your team has the same degree of connectivity as they would have in a physical setting. If you are transitioning your close-knit in-person team to remote work this will likely mean ensuring that you keep up your frequent, reliable communication rhythms and address needs for increased communication.
When bringing new employees on board during your digital transition, bridging the trust gap may be a bit more difficult without a history of face-to-face daily interaction. Expect trust-building to require increased effort, particularly during the initial 60 to 90 days, to engage new team members and build a solid foundation.
When changes to your team’s dynamic are due to rapidly-evolving, emergency circumstances, you are now in a critical window when it comes to building trust. Employees will remember how you treated them in this time of crisis, and the trust gap will shift in accordance with the values you display in your leadership.
Invest in Onboarding
Do you spend as much time crafting your employee onboarding experience as you spend developing your customer experience? Many organizational leaders make the mistake of prioritizing customer onboarding over employee onboarding.
Because the initial employment period is a critical window to building relationships and trust, by failing to invest the time, money and energy that your team deserves, you essentially communicate to your employees that they don’t matter. They begin to feel merely like resources to be used rather than humans worthy of an engaging workplace experience. Establish a robust, comprehensive onboarding experience, that builds both personal and professional connections, to set the groundwork for trusting relationships.
Establish A Mentoring Program
While most of us have bosses or supervisors, professional mentors are far less common. Providing your employees with this rare gift by developing an internal, well-structured mentoring program is another valuable way to strengthen team relationships.
Mentoring programs build trust by providing employees with opportunities to discuss their workplace experiences—both good and bad—with someone other than their boss, as well as have someone to guide them through any unfamiliar tools and processes.
At Reconciled, any employee who has been working for the company for at least six months has the opportunity to mentor a new employee. We’ve leveraged these mentors to guide new employees through the onboarding process, communicate important information, and allow employees a sounding board and a trusted outlet. This builds strong roots of trust and connection between mentor and mentee, and between employees and the company.
Know Your Employees’ Goals
Knowing your employees’ goals, and the strengths that will get them there, cultivates a valuable awareness of who they are on a human level. It’s a concrete demonstration to your team that you care about each employee holistically and want to help them succeed.
Discussing goals—both personal and professional—also sets the groundwork for what types of individualized support and professional development you need to provide. An employee who hopes to move into a managerial position would benefit from different training and tasks than one who prefers to grow within their current role. Knowing your employees’ mindsets surrounding goals is a valuable way to connect and deepen bonds, and thus trust, starting at the beginning of your professional relationship.
Establishing professional relationships built on trust is about so much more than making friends at work. Building relationships is a highly strategic investment, and this is even more true when establishing and leading remote teams. Building trust strengthens employee engagement, decreases employee turnover, and improves customer satisfaction, which is driven by employee satisfaction. If you’re swayed by numbers, take note that through these outcomes, investment in building trust will also be reflected in your bottom line. But at heart, I believe that trust, caring and intentionality build workplaces where people like to work. Your team members are worth it!
Interested in learning how you can close the trust gaps in your company and create a more intentional remote work culture? Get in touch today.
About This Contributor
I help people discover what’s possible in their professional lives, remove the obstacles that allow them to get more done, motivate them to take fresh action that produces positive results, and inspire them to live a life filled with meaning.