Summary: When people are working from anywhere with limited in-person connection, leaders must intentionally replace and / or adapt interactions to support the development of trust between individuals, teams, organizations and, yes, even communities.
Trust is foundational. It is the enabler of healthy commerce. Whether in-person or virtual, without it, most market transactions would be impossible.
High-Trust Companies™ (HTC’s) are highly successful in part because they nurture confidence with conviction among all of their stakeholders – customers, employees, leadership teams, vendors, strategic partners, investors and communities.
As I wrote in a recent essay, when compared to Low-Trust Companies, HTC’s have:
- Stronger revenue growth
- Better margins
- Lower customer churn
- Less employee turnover
- More innovation
- Better risk-adjusted returns on capital
- Healthier, respected brands
This confidence and conviction of HTC’s also supports their ability to change in response to trends and shifts in the marketplace. It allows for the acceptance of necessary shifts in how people work – especially in this new era.
Add to this the fact that, whether at the office, working remotely or a combination of workplace options (all of which we refer to as Work From Anywhere™), employees of High-Trust Companies report:
- 76% more engagement
- 74% less stress
- 50% higher productivity
- 40% less burnout
- 29% more life satisfaction
In fact, a leading indicator of how people evaluate leadership effectiveness ranks trust as most critical for the success of the organization. Within emerging disparate and hybrid environments, trust also directly correlates to the performance of virtual teams.
In other words, Trust matters. Without it, such numbers, let alone transformational shifts, would not be possible.
Like most shifts, this new era has created fresh opportunities to rethink how we interact and operate. This includes how to best build trust with other humans within virtual interactions. For example, the traditional approaches of instilling trust, such as positive reads on body language and other such non-verbal communication, can fall short across video meetings. With the absence of real-person connection, you need to intentionally replace or adapt these “personal virtual” interactions we once relied upon to help us build trusting relationships.
The result? Leaders need to explore new ways to build trust in the workplace, regardless of where that workplace may be.
Here are three recommendations to get started:
1. Use the Dimensions of Trust
In its simplest form (and as I’ve written about in a series of essays on Medium), there are three dimensions of Trust: Competency; Character, and Connection.
Competency-based trust is having confidence in our abilities, including the ability to trust that others are capable of doing the things that we choose to rely on them to do.
Competent leaders demonstrate expertise, ability and thought leadership by using strong, well-developed communication skills. Transparent, proactive, consistent communication with virtual teams will help each person to understand expectations and agreements, the company’s direction and the decision-making process, and to simply feel more connected.
Character-based trust is all about integrity (e.g., honest, fair, authentic) and intentions: Do we trust the other person’s intentions and, more specifically, are those intentions in conflict with my needs?
Character-based leaders follow through on commitments they make to their remote teams with additional effort. If they’re unable to keep a commitment, they’ll immediately address the reason directly. They also make sure that they are seen on video calls, making it a point to connect personally and professionally with team members, especially when not in the same room as often.
Connection-based trust is all about the non-competency, non-character things that keep us connected in a healthy way – a kind of bridge that makes the other two forms of trust relevant. Over time, our socially evolving ancestors began to see the power associated with trust. More specifically, they learned that if they didn’t trust first, there was no way they could divide and conquer in order to take advantage of their individual talents. (Here’s a link to a recent essay on the topic: “A Deeper Dive into Connections-Based Trust.”
Connection-based leaders are often seen as compassionate, showing they care for others and value their interests, which is most important for inspiring a level of trust. Such leaders will likely meet with remote team members frequently to check in with them, connect one-on-one and build a personal rapport.
2. Develop Trust Through Actions
Adapt the trust-but-verify strategy of building trust with actions that confirm trustworthiness. As mentioned in Character-based trust, always do exactly what you say you're going to do and over time, this will build goodwill, trust and, over time, act as a measurable for accountability.
3. Focus on Delivery
There are a few life circumstances that are baked into the remote work model. Work-life balance means more interruptions and shorter bursts of dedicated work time. “Regular” work schedules may evolve into early-morning or late-night computer sessions. These adaptations can initially stress out workers and distress the rest of the team – especially when the team is not aligned around a shared direction, initiatives and goals.
By focusing on people delivering what they agreed to do (and when), companies will still accomplish desired outcomes no matter how much “in the seat” time is spent by team members or when that time it’s spent.