As the world has responded to the pressures of the COVID pandemic, many people have shifted to remote and hybrid work modes, and are being confronted by the problems of working as a team in their new work environment. When staff are operating remotely, one of their concerns is about maintaining a healthy work culture. Employee unity and trust can thrive in a positive culture, which leads to more productive work outcomes. To strengthen team culture, here are 8 ideas to promote remote worker trust and unity.
Why trust and unity matter
All employees benefit from a workplace of trust and unity – they feel committed to their work, and feel inspired. This may not be the case where these features are scarce. Other practical reasons for aiming to increase workplace trust and unity include:
- Your staff are encouraged to speak out
- The organization’s ethos becomes stronger
- Peer-to-peer interaction is facilitated.
So, when you lead staff, how can you promote a trusting and united community when they are widely dispersed, including WFH and hybrid?
How to promote remote worker trust and unity
Whether you are implementing an open-door policy to encourage psychological safety, hiring accounting services to minimize financial management mistakes, or developing clearer policies and protocols, you can promote a culture of trust and unity in many ways. Here are 8 ideas to promote remote worker trust and unity:
1. Start with clear expectations
Despite best intentions, some actions can be interpreted negatively when expectations aren’t clearly set. This is especially true in a remote work setup. Think of the instances when, as an employer, you had doubts if an employee is genuinely working when they haven’t returned your messages in an hour or so. Or, when you, as an employee, felt underpaid for the remote work you’ve done.
To avoid these feelings of doubts and distrust, the first thing to do is to communicate clear expectations. Some of this communication relates to:
- Organizational mission and vision
- Organizational goals and objectives
- Policies and protocols
- Core values
- Code of ethics
- Compensation and benefits
By informing employees about these strategic elements, management will ensure that everyone will know their workplace commitments. Also, workers will feel they are adequately paid, and management has their best interests as a priority.
Get team members to contribute to discussion
Team leaders should lead a separate discussion or meeting for each of the above elements. Rather than showing only boring online PowerPoint displays, try to get the team actively involved with an online whiteboard each time. Then:
- Review each organizational statement with them to discuss how that statement provides better operational and strategic outcomes for the organization.
- Discuss how your division or team can contribute to or comply with the organization achieving these outcomes.
- Discuss what individual team members can do to contribute to divisional/team achievements which lead to organizational performance outcomes. They may even be able to say how these various activities or plans contribute to the benefit of larger society.
- Review down the track. Ask team members in a meeting about how these discussions may have helped their approach to their decision-making.
Ensure you explain why each policy, code, protocol, or strategy has been developed by the organization. But first in these discussions, get the participants to say why they think the policy etc was developed. Being obliged to give such thought would enable participants to better understand the reasons for their introduction. As noted in point 2, below, you need to explain why policies have been developed, ie, “because” they were needed to …” etc.
At the completion of each meeting, provide all team members with a copy of the whiteboard information, for quick review in future. Check down the track if they have further insights into the original discussion. Ask them what examples they can share with their team members about how that understanding and knowledge has helped them in their job. Ensure in future discussions and meetings that you mention how these elements on the whiteboard are there in the background for reference and guidance. Some may think this is largely a waste of time, but in the long term you will find it pays off with employees by improving remote worker trust and unity.
2. Lead by example
Employees often learn about the culture of the organization and expectations of management by watching the behavior of their management. Leading by example with honesty and transparency builds trust immediately. Model the behavior you want to see. If you want to see honest dialogue and trust, you have to be honest and trustworthy. If you do the opposite of what you say you want, they will not feel inclined to follow your direction. To show that teamwork and trust are qualities you value, you must become an example of these characteristics on a daily basis.
Praise peers for good effort and results. Give team members credit when they work hard, and show your appreciation for this. In fact, research has proven that giving employee recognition for work well done creates better workplace performance. What’s more, when team members praise their colleagues for good effort and results, the morale of all team members is lifted. More enlightened team members even give their boss timely direct praise, which helps the boss’s morale. This is an effective way to promote remote worker trust and unity.
Explain why. When you make a decision or report on a change of policy, etc, always explain why. Give reasons. Research shows that saying “because” is a powerful motivator. Explaining why increases support from others and imparts trust in you because you have given them a logical basis for decisions and changes.
3. Establish good performance standards
Moving teams into a remote working environment crucially requires you to be clear about performance standards for your team members. Questions need to be resolved on what good performance looks like. Due to the distance between leaders and teams it is vital to be clear on what good performance entails. Distant team members are obliged to make decisions more frequently than in an office environment, where they could simply put their head around their boss’s office door.
Establishing good performance standards requires leaders to start by consulting their team members on what they believe are acceptable behavior and results. Then the team needs to agree on the behaviors involved in good performance. Be more specific than accepting vague descriptions like “proactive” and “industrious.” The specific behaviors should be described instead.
Agree on actions by team members that can be described as high performance and good performance. This will enable them to know what to do and when they need to achieve it. When remote team members clearly know what is expected of each of them, they develop trust in their colleagues and their boss, which builds their remote worker trust and unity.
4. Provide feedback
Every team member needs to know they can get feedback from their boss and their peers in a way that is respectful, supportive and actionable. Giving and receiving regular feedback is more difficult to attain with remote teams than with office teams due to their distance. Leaders are limited in how much of their direct reports’ behavior they can observe, but at least they can set measurable performance standards, including SMART objectives. And they should commit to giving and receiving more frequent feedback. Staff may not comment on this, but feedback is extremely important to them.
Always respond constructively
A US study in 2018 of 27,000 executives, managers and employees found that only 23% of people said when they shared their work problems with their leader, that their leader always responds constructively. In contrast, 17% said their leader never responds constructively. If the figures are combined for those who say their leader always (23%) or frequently (22%) responds constructively, that still leaves more than half of employees (55%) who feel their leader doesn’t consistently respond constructively when they share their work problems.
This is important because if a team member says their leader always responds constructively when they share their work problems, they’re about 12 times more likely to recommend the company as a great employer. The implication is clear: give constructive feedback to increase levels of remote worker trust and unity.
So, how can you quickly start responding constructively when employees share their work problems? Get past “How are you today?” and “How are you going?” These aren’t really questions, they just pave the way for small talk. They just draw the inevitable response, “Well, thanks” , “Not bad,” or similar. Don’t stop there – ask your team members questions like “What roadblocks are you having to deal with?” or “Are you able to get a clear run with this project – anything getting in the way?” etc.
Your next step is to respond constructively to those problems. Above all, don’t get defensive. For instance, if one of your team tells you they are overloaded with work, causing them to labor frequently at night or during weekends, you need to respond constructively. Say something like, “I didn’t realize I was doing that, thanks for sharing with me.”
But don’t just fix a problem they face. Much of the time they can solve it themselves, with your support, so respond like a coach. Instead of saying “How can I best help you with this?” , say something like, “What do you need to sort this out? This shows you have confidence in them, which will increase their trust in you and their team spirit.
5. Build virtual team events
Team building is essential to employer branding, and it’s one of the best tools to get employees together, too. Team-building activities are not just limited to physical gatherings. Luckily, today’s video conferencing technologies enable group games and activities to be conducted among remote workers. This provides a significant boost to remote worker trust and unity.
Games like charades, scavenger hunts, and pictographs lead to great participation by staff members to work and cooperate as a team. Also, icebreakers, like ‘Guess Who’ and ‘Would You Rather?’ are easy-to-implement activities that will allow everyone in the group to get to know each other.
‘Guess Who’: Before starting this activity prime a flip chart with 3 or 4 questions. Examples may include: Favorite film? Favorite television program? Favorite food? Favorite music? Pet hate? Famous person you admire? Your ideal holiday? A unique fact about yourself, etc
Make sure each participant has a blank sheet of paper and a pen or pencil. Show the primed flip chart and ask the participants to write their answers, but not their names, on a piece of paper. Tell them to ensure that none of the other participants see the answers they are writing. Allow 5 minutes for this and then ask participants to fold their answer paper and hand it to you. Select each piece of paper at random and read out the answers given. Ask the groups to guess who is who.
‘Would You Rather?’ is a conversation or party game that poses a dilemma as a question beginning with ‘Would you rather?’ The dilemma can be between two supposedly good options such as “Would you rather have the power of flight or the power of invisibility?”, two attractive choices such as “Would you rather have money or have fame?”, or two supposedly bad options such as “Would you rather sleep with your best friend’s lover or your lover’s best friend?” The players, sometimes including the questioner, then must choose their answers. Answering “neither” or “both” is against the rules. This leads the individual players to lightheartedly debate their thought process.
6. Provide a suite of tools for communication
Due to the generational gaps between remote workers, employers must prepare to accommodate their communication needs with a suite of options. These must be based on suitable software and hardware that provide a fast-paced collaborative platform. To achieve this, employers should consult their team members to reach a consensus on preferred options for video conferencing, phone, chat, and more. Newly introduced tools should include high-quality webcams for videoconferencing and microphones that allow for smooth and clear audio. This will allow staff to maintain a high degree of communication with distant peers to promote a sense of interaction. This array of communication tools needs to be suitable for hybrid work as well.
In addition to communication tools, you could check that team members have their working wellbeing in good shape. You can possibly help with suggestions or even by supplying some tools and tools and accessories that add to a good working environment. This article, “The best 12 work-from-home gadgets and accessories” may be a useful thought prompter.
7. If possible, arrange in-person interactions
There are no quick ways to establish relationships. The effort may be substantial, but the enormous benefit makes it well worthwhile. While technology is essential for engaging remote teams, there’s no substitute for in-person contact. Many employees feel that being able to communicate personally, face-to-face with their boss and other teammates is an important feature of a good job. This improves people’s relationships, and therefore personal trust, in ways that no one might have predicted.
Maintain reliable and meaningful communication
A US survey found most leaders need to communicate to staff far more often than they think is necessary in order to maintain their trust. Frequent communication reduces fear and uncertainty, and ensures employees have heard the message, according to the findings of the survey, reported in the Harvard Business Review in 2020. Although leaders may experience fatigue from repeating core messages, it is important to realize team members need to hear these messages multiple times – in different ways and through different channels.
Gallup has found that consistent communication – in person, over the phone or electronically – is connected to higher employee engagement. For example, employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers don’t hold regular meetings with them,.
Gallup also found that engagement is highest among employees who have some form (face-to-face, phone or digital) of daily communication with their managers. Managers who use a combination of communication channels are the most successful in engaging employees. And when employees attempt to contact their manager, engaged employees say their manager returns their calls or messages promptly.
8. Organize team catch-ups
Provide opportunities for team members to get to know you and each other on a deeper basis through team events and activities. Look to create opportunities for team members to interact and build their relationships with each other. Create connected, shared experiences that build bonds and lead to good teamwork.
Sharing food times strengthens bonds. Food is a great way to have employees join together in an office. It’s also an excellent tool even in the virtual world for workers to bond with each other. How can this be done? For small teams, why not order something online for all employees? Although this might take some logistics, particularly when sending out employee addresses and contact information, many say it’s a remarkable way to make them feel appreciated and remembered. If you want a workaround in this task you can stop looking for personal phone numbers or addresses, and do things like giving out free credits or coupons that employees can use to buy food they want.
The number of remote workers has grown dramatically for various reasons including the current health crisis, and technological advances. However, just like any other mode of work, it has its share of challenges, mainly when promoting a culture of trust and unity.
The suggested steps above can build employee values that help an organization thrive in a remote work setup. Setting clear expectations and providing different ways that allow communication may help in cultivating trust. In addition, virtual team-building activities and sharing food times can improve unity. If possible, face-to-face interactions may also be implemented as a fantastic way for everyone to work towards reaching the same goals. When you implement these types of actions you will see the positive influence on remote worker trust and unity.
Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.