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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

How to effectively build trust with your remote team

Asking people on your team for their input, even if they don’t have the authority to approve anything, makes them feel included.

How to effectively build trust with your remote team
[Jacob Lund/Adobe Stock]

It might be the biggest understatement ever to say that the world is going through a rough patch right now. Issues like COVID-19, economic turmoil, political division, and racial injustice all are creating stress, conflict, and instability. Trust is in short supply across the board, so you shouldn’t be surprised to also see it in your business. Remote work, which is more common and accepted now, only adds another complicating layer into the mix. A lack of trust doesn’t have to be your norm, however. It’s possible to build it up, even if you’ve got people working from home.

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SOLICIT THEIR INPUT

Asking people on your team for their input, even if they don’t have the authority to approve anything, makes them feel included. This is especially true in remote setups because the fact that you asked sends the message that you haven’t forgotten about them and still care about what they think.

You can solicit their input informally or formally, and you can request feedback on just about anything. What’s their opinion on your 10-year anniversary logo? Would they change anything in an ad you’re designing? It all counts.

ACTIVELY LISTEN

Active listening means you listen to learn and understand. It’s all about being empathetic and taking the time to formulate the most appropriate response. When you do it well, people feel heard and valued. They let down their guard and share more honestly with you because they know you’re going to consider what they have to say and not dismiss them.

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As an example, I get lots of emails from different technology companies that show really cool ways to do marketing. I pass those emails on to various people on my team who might find them interesting. Then, during their one-on-ones, I’ll bring up the emails and ask them what they thought about the messages. It’s a simple thing, but it lets them know I’m curious and value their opinion.

RESPECT CONFIDENTIALITY AND BE CONSISTENT

Most of the time, whatever you talk about can be shared with anybody in your group. But there are times when you might have to tell somebody that the conversation is just between you and them. Don’t talk behind anybody’s back, because it usually comes back to hurt you. I’ve had times, for instance, where salespeople had preconceptions and said certain things that damaged the trust with the marketing team. That takes time to get back.

This ties back to being consistent in what you say. For instance, let’s say you’ve got two people working on a project and they’re responsible for different aspects of it. If you tell one person one thing and the other person something else just because you want to get the project done, and if they realize you’ve been playing games under the assumption that they won’t find out, they’ll end up seeing you as manipulative and lacking transparency.

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CELEBRATE WHAT’S AWESOME

Even when things look a little bleak, there’s almost always something pretty amazing you can point to. Focusing on these successes or positives helps people feel like you really are paying attention to their efforts and believe in what they can do.

In my company, we have a “celebrate great” program. It lets people thank anyone publicly for their service. It’s a solid trust-building tool because people can recognize others across the whole organization. I try to be the top cheerleader to encourage other people to give kudos whenever they can.

SHOW COURAGE IN CHALLENGING SITUATIONS

This doesn’t mean you have to be fearless. Everybody gets scared and unsure, even leaders, and people will see you as more relatable if you show some chinks in your armor. It just means that when things get rough (COVID-19, anybody?), you take the bull by the horns and go in willing to give it everything you’ve got. You move forward despite your apprehension or anxiety. When people see that you’re not quitting, they’ll take that as a signal you’ve still got their back and have faith in their ability to succeed. They’ll take your cue to keep putting in an effort.

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Some periods will be easier for your business than others. But trust is important at all times—good or bad. Always make strengthening it a top priority. Take personal responsibility for the level of it you see in your company, because whatever you model will come back to you.


David Partain is SVP of Northern Trust and CMO of their subsidiary, FlexShares Exchange Traded Funds.

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