Without trust, navigating a virtual workplace can be difficult. To put it simply, trust enables success by facilitating communication. Likewise, knowledge sharing sets the team up for effective cooperation and collaboration. We know that trust builds more slowly in virtual workplaces than face-to-face due to asynchronous communication (e.g., email, document sharing, etc.) Society for Human Resource Management notes that “ building trusting relationships is central to success in virtual teams because people who trust their peers are more likely to demonstrate risk-taking behaviors that enable team excellence.”

Why is it important to build trust in a virtual environment?

When we think of successful work environments, we picture happy employees working as a team. Higher levels of engagement, productivity, and an enviable workplace culture that boasts health and respect. What we don’t think about, is what it takes to attain these things. The top contributor to these things is trust! When employees trust their co-workers and management, this leads to overall job satisfaction. Coupled with a sense of wellbeing, this leads to employee retention and increased engagement and productivity.

A healthy, respectful workplace culture also begins with trust. It’s a known fact that businesses with strong workplace cultures are often more efficient and have better long-term results. That is because trust is reflected in our workplace culture. Think of it this way, we all know that disrespect leads to resentment. When you have such a lack of trust that employees are resentful, you end up with a high turnover rate. Who wants to work for an organization where they don’t feel a sense of self-worth? In organizations that foster a high trust culture, employees recognize each other and look for resolution to conflict rather than taking disagreements personally.

Hermann International states “building trust is a job for everyone in the organization. Leadership sets the tone, HR devises and implements the framework, and managers have a crucial role in instilling trust through their words and actions. Remote and hybrid work are essential components of modern organizations. Managers must evolve their skill sets and learn how to build trust in a virtual team. But they can’t do it alone — they need support from executives and HR leaders. Engage your virtual employees in ways that allow them to shine, collaborate and bring their best thinking to work — even if “to work” isn’t about going to the office.”

How do you build a culture of trust in a virtual environment?

The first step to building trust in a virtual team is to hire the right people. By building a strong foundation, you ensure a solid team. Take time to focus on self-improvement and encourage team members to do so as well. Remember, trust is assumed, not earned. Communicate openly and honestly. Take time to listen to each other, and lead by example.

Building trust in a virtual workplace takes time and dedication. However, there are key behaviors that you can focus on with the intent of building trust.

  • Communicate regularly, not just about work. Use one-on-ones to build trust and support amongst team members.
  • Set clear goals together, as a team.
  • Be transparent and honest.
  • Support employee wellbeing. Organize a (virtual) team retreat, or plan team bonding activities.
  • Hold everyone accountable! Manage conflicts, don’t avoid them.
  • Embrace mistakes. Learn from each other and share positive results.
  • Offer thoughtful feedback.

St Bonaventure Online University notes that “Successful remote management must involve a sense of employer to employee trust. Employees do not want to feel like their boss is checking in on them constantly to ensure they’re still doing their job.”

If there is one thing you should take away from this, it is: Trust Your Team.