How Remote Work Made Us Lose Trust to Our Coworkers

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Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

Imagine the situation: you are sitting on your desk, just doing random work duties. Everything is going as usual: then at some point, this new girl who was just hired a couple of days ago approaches you hesitantly.

“Hi” — she says, — “I am so sorry to bother you, but David said that you could help me with this project. I am completely new to Figma, could you please give me a couple of minutes?”.

You have nothing to do with this — it’s not your work to teach someone something. But she’s new to the company and you want to be polite and friendly. You show her how things are done — and during a tutorial, find out that she lives two blocks from your apartment and the running season has just started. Now you are jogging together three times a week, and planning to participate in a half-marathon together.

Now, let’s change a little thing. You are working remotely for the exact same company during the quarantine. Everything is going, as usual, someone from HR department hired a new employee. You’ve seen her before on one of these big Zoom-calls, where 30 of your coworkers are trying to share the news all at once. You were not listening — your dog decided to chew your charger. While you were chasing him, trying to save the cable, you missed everything about the new coworker.

Two days later you get a Slack message:

“Hi 👋 I am so sorry to bother you, but David said you can help me with my project. I am completely new to Figma, could you please give me a couple of minutes?”.

“Oh heck, — you think — why the hell am I supposed to do this? Couldn’t she just google some tutorials?”

As research shows, there are different levels of teamwork. All of them, definitely, lead to some kind of result, but collaboration is the best way to get really impressive results.

Level 1 — Co-ordination

At this point, we are talking about orders. Co-ordination involves only narrow goals like: “Get this done…”. The performer does not have a real keen interest in fulfilling his duties, he or she wants to do something, because “it should be done.”

Teamwork could help, but it’s not pivotal to success — because it’s all about small tasks and short-term goals. Everyone follows their own interests or the interests of the department. Usually, people think about fulfilling agreements, not losing money, and finishing the brief. And think less about new bright solutions for the good of the whole company.

Usually, you will not have special tools made to create trust between coworkers. Actually, you will have very little access to any tools at all — only the ones you need directly to complete your work. At this stage, it doesn’t matter if there is a strong bond between team members.

Level 2 — Co-operation

Next, we can see the evolution in goals, which are broader but still mandated: “We need to…”.

It works when we think about improving any of the processes that previously existed in the team, about writing instructions, about transferring cases, and setting tasks. Some team members can be extremely engaged while others are not — it will still work out.

All of us seen companies, that work in the co-operation world. You have some kind of friendly atmosphere — but you do not trust anyone very much. You can communicate with others, but the tools are not the best. You can ask for help and some of your team members will gladly help you. There is very little transparency in your team: departments are still working separately.

Level 3 — Collaboration

Hoorah, we have arrived at the stage of teamwork. The only one that can lead to great success and help new creative ideas come to life. It’s collaboration.

Okay, what is it? First, it involves shared and common goals: “I wonder if we could…?”. At this point, everyone in the group should be very engaged and have a willingness to work for the common good. It requires a lot of trust within the team — so you can share your problems and start to solve them together at the exact same moment as they arise.

Secondly, in order to achieve effective collaboration, you’ll need good tools, that will allow you to share information easily and safely. Every member of the team should be able to use these tools from their arsenal. It would be nice if mentors would help newcomers to get familiar with them.

One more thing: you can’t do any of these steps without a strong corporate culture. You should feel a strong bond with your team so that in difficult moments you do not hesitate to lend your support. The backbone of collaboration is trust.

And it’s extremely hard to gain trust when you are working remotely.

What is inside trust?

Transparency

According to Slack Future of Work Study 80% of workers want to know more about how decisions are made in their organization. Even more, employees want the future company to be transparent. Studies also prove that teammates trust each other more if they know that they are being paid equally.

Personal connection

Don’t underestimate the importance of small connections: knowing where your colleague is from, what football team your teammate likes, and the list of things he or she is allergic to. You should share all these little details to find something in common, to build a personal connection and feel that you are part of the tribe.

Competence

And that’s not all about being an expert in your field. It’s about operational knowledge, technical knowledge, and willingness to learn something new. Without a doubt, you should track the trends and be part of a professional society.

Why trust is so important for Collaboration?

The survey suggests that face-to-face collaborations are more likely to yield success than virtual ones. It’s all about trust issues: when you share a lot of information about a project with someone, you want to see this person next to you.

John Dean of Enterprise Connect maintains, “I really need to know who it is I’m dealing with — and whether I want to engage with them or not. There are a lot of things [such as shared values] that I couldn’t assess without in-person contact.” Actually meeting the person catalyzes the interaction and helps to turn a transaction into a relationship.

Great onboarding helps to gain trust

35% of companies have no formal onboarding program. It means that newcomers are supposed to learn everything by themselves, being thrown out of the water onto the shore. How are they supposed to gain trust in a company, that leaves them alone on these important first days of work? How can you expect them to be engaged later on and to help others out later if nobody cared about them in their first days at work?

“Most collaboration falls apart when people aren’t sure of what their role is, or feel that someone else is overstepping their boundaries, or not pulling their weight — and those situations create conflict, and make it difficult for people to communicate,” says Paul Saunders, Textron’s Director of Enterprise Collaboration.

It’s clear and understandable, that 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding. And by great, we mean: long-lasting and thoughtful. The best employee onboarding programs are structured and strategic, rather than administrative, with a focus on people, not paperwork.

It seems that during onboarding a newbie’s chance of making friends is really high. 50% of employees with friends at work report that they feel a strong connection with a team. Connections like this lead to a high level of trust. So it could be a good idea to think about the buddy-program in your company too.

But it’s not possible to become real friends with a colleague when you are working remotely.

Physical gifts make employees feel appreciated

One cool thing about offline work is that you can welcome new employees with some “real” presents. Company’s merch helps them feel bonded with others. 94% of people surveyed said that receiving a gift from their employer made them feel appreciated, happy, and valued — which will definitely help gain some trust. You can not deny that it is pleasant to receive a gift, even a small one, on the first day of work?

And what about the holidays? Christmas is just around the corner. 36% of workers say, that a physical party is the best holiday gift they could ask for. It’s also good for networking inside the company and once again could help them to find a friend. Online-parties for big teams is a crazy idea: it will not bring any joy, but only confuse.

Small talks

To bring people together, they have to be able to talk with each other. Nobody thinks about such things as small talks when working in the office, but you miss them so much when working remotely. You should share troubles and wins, show empathy for each other. If your colleagues see that you are interested not only in the results of their work but also in a new haircut, if you go to dinner with them, if you are ready to share gum or to bring them coffee, they will begin to trust you much more quickly.

Trust, as well as project success, appears to decline as collaboration becomes more virtual. When you write to a colleague in a work chat, he or she knows that you definitely want to get something from him or her. When you are just chatting near the coffee machine in the office, this feeling does not arise. Remote working has made us losing trust in our coworkers.

It’s a big problem for leading personnel. Managers are struggling to find a real connection with their teams, while they are not able to see their reactions. According to HBR, managers who cannot “see” their direct reports sometimes struggle to trust believe that their employees are indeed working. When such doubts creep in, managers can start to develop an unreasonable expectation that those team members be available at all times, ultimately disrupting their work-life balance and causing more job stress.

There are ways to establish trust in remote collaborators, though, by injecting a bit of face-to-face interaction into the virtual interaction. In a 1998 experiment by Elena Rocco, at the University of Michigan, participants were told to play a “prisoner’s dilemma”-like game, where they could either collaborate — and win more — or betray one another, winning at the expense of others. Groups that connected solely online (the experiment used email rather than video) did not collaborate very well. But when they were allowed to meet for brief periods face to face, their rates of cooperation rose dramatically.

What’s next?

We can talk for hours straight about how bad remote collaboration is. But there are no options available when we face a situation like that we are in now. And the only way to make online collaboration work for you is to find proper tools to make your employees feel better connected.

We have nothing to tell you about corporate culture and onboarding programs — that is the job of your HR department. But we can help you to restore small talks within the team and to help them to find points of contact.

NextPage recreates small talks for your team. Just like the ones you had near the coffee machine and by your desk. There is no need to feel alone and abandoned while working remotely. Turn the page — someone is waiting for you there.

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The blog about serendipity meetings that can change our lives.

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