Trust is an essential building block of any successful team. Without intentional effort to encourage bonding and transparency between teammates, distributed teams can be particularly prone to assumptions and misinterpretations that break down trust.
Although many remote teams seldom meet in person, some proactive management strategies can cultivate strong workplace relationships and productive collaborations.
1. Start early
When building a new team or shifting an existing team to remote work, take advantage of the group’s early days to set the right tone.
The Harvard Business Review suggests that in new situations, people are more likely to give each other the benefit of the doubt. If a team recognizes that they are dependent on each other — that “everyone’s in the same boat” and the team’s performance as a whole reflects on every individual — they’ll be more inclined to trust each other.
How can managers use their team’s onboarding period to create a sense of unity?
Establish clear goals. Teams need a common purpose that equips them to perform at their best with a clear path to success.
Promote each member’s strengths. Point out what each member brings to the group and clarify how their contributions complement each other and play a part in the team’s outcomes.
2. Open communication
Maintaining channels for continued, transparent communication is the most effective way to keep a team collaborating effectively.
This is where remote teams actually have an advantage, unlike in-office teams that tend to get bogged down in unnecessary meetings and unexpected drop-bys. Use the many tools available — from Crossover’s WorkSmart management and productivity platform to messaging apps to email to video chats and more — to encourage purposeful communication.
A mix of synchronous and asynchronous options ensures team members have a way to stay in touch regardless of their communication style. Every communication platform should have a designated function to avoid information overload.
3. Be responsive and reliable
When managers lead by example in being available and responsive, it helps create a culture of trust and predictability. In fact, one study of globally distributed teams showed that there’s a direct connection between lack of trust and unpredictable communication patterns. This is preventable with good communication habits.
Many remote teams find it helpful to:
Use calendaring or schedule-sharing tools. This is a must for teams that are spread across multiple time zones and makes it easy for managers and teammates to keep each other updated with their availability.
Commit to regular contact. Whether it’s daily or semi-weekly check-ins, shared status updates, or collaborating within a project management platform, regular communication with reports drives motivation and accountability and shows investment in the team.
4. Don’t neglect personal connections
In an office, getting to know your co-workers is automatically built into the environment. But for distributed teams, that’s not necessarily the case, and you have to be more intentional about connecting.
Why is this important? Relationships that extend beyond work build empathy, and empathy builds trust and accountability.
Consider incorporating time for personal connection into team interactions. Try starting off meetings with time for personal updates or creating a “virtual water cooler” space like a chat room or Facebook group to bond over interests or share just-for-fun content. Managers will find that their team will be more united and invested in each other’s success for the effort.
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