It is said that 50% of the UK workforce will work remotely by 2020. There are a number of reasons for this, both worker and organisational led. Desks are expensive so companies are reducing workspaces to hubs and hot desking facilities. Workers are actively looking for improved work life balance away from a long and expensive daily commute.
But deadlines and workflows still need to be maintained. As managers and leaders, how can we still retain the feeling of being a part of a team and ensure that things are still done effectively? How do we retain high-performing teams when team members are geographically spread? This provides a challenge for managers who no longer see their team members regularly.
We have been doing a lot of work around remote team management. We have designed and implemented programmes and also work with the University in Brighton to develop further insight on the subject. This article focuses on the key element of managing a remote team: trust.
Trust is the fundamental requirement in any relationship but it is even more pivotal when the two parties don’t see each other. The manager or leader has to trust that employee or team member is performing. As a manager we also have a duty of care to our team members so we have to trust that they are ok, especially if we can’t see them. They may be developing work related stress or mental issues which we won’t know about so we have to trust that they will be open with us and tell us if they are anxious or worried about something. If they keep it to themselves then their productivity and efficiency may be affected.
In a traditional environment, trust is implied over time and not always consciously considered. In a remote management scenario, trust needs to be more actively sought and managed rather than being a passive emotion. It should be a management skill that is practised as much as that of communication, delegation, objective setting and other core management skills.
We can do this by considering trust as part of a formula. We can then use this formula to gauge how we need to build and sustain trust in our remote team workers. The trust formula breaks down the key component parts including the length and history of the relationship and evidence of credibility and skills. Trust is the product of these dimensions blending together and can be expressed in the following way:
Trust = professional intimacy x credibility
For example, I could have a new team member who has a brilliant cv (high credibility) but I have no experience working with them (low intimacy) so my trust of them is lower than someone with whom I have a long experience (high intimacy) and have had good results (med to high credibility). I could have a superstar team member with whom I have worked a long time and has constantly exceeded my expectations (high credibility). I will clearly trust them more and my level of risk will be lowered. Trust only exists where there is a risk. When there is no trust and the co-worker is remote then the risk of nothing productive happening or low quality work is increased. This is when the dimensions of intimacy and credibility need to be exercised.
How can we use this formula in the management of remote teams? Everyone is different and will require different approaches. By consciously thinking about these dimensions we can begin to create effective communications for individual team workers that will lead to greater trust as required. For example a new team member will be low on both credibility and intimacy so we need to focus on building both by being particularly open and supportive but also clear on objectives. A long standing team worker (high professional intimacy) with low credibility may need help in achieving a given standard required. A conversation about training or working with them to give them a better working environment could achieve greater trust in them. All team workers will have different levels of credibility and professional intimacy to us. We need to consciously assess this and use it to inform our communication approach. This will lead to mutual respect and trust.
Once trust is broken it is very difficult to get it back. It is like a muscle: we have to work at it to keep it effective. Managers need to exercise the dimensions of trust to make it grow and get the most from it.
Latest posts by Bob Bannister (see all)
- Leading remote workers in the digital era - July 9, 2019
- Why trust is the key to managing a remote team and how to build it - September 4, 2018