For a remote team to function well, trust is one of the most important factors. We leaders need to believe that people are working when we can’t see them, that the quality of the work will be high, that people are accountable for the deadlines and outputs that others require to achieve the team’s goals. Conversely, they need to believe that their manager will support them, help them find the resources and answers they need, and not worry that there are other agendas at work that might undermine them.
So, yeah, trust matters. And while we like to say things like, “assume positive intent,” and “don’t jump to conclusions,” our brains often go to dark, scary places. The reason is that if we don’t have proof that people are doing what they should, or working hard, or aligning their purpose with the team, there’s a gap in our knowledge.
Filling the Knowledge Gap
That gap often gets filled with suspicions that blossom into full blown paranoia. So what makes the difference? Evidence.
How do you know that Ian is really working on that report? Because he gives you updates on his weekly report and it’s finished on time.
Sally seems to spend a lot of time picking her kids up from school. Suspicious isn’t it? Yet the quality of the work is good and her colleagues say she’s helpful and responsive. Relax.
Rajesh has started being very quiet on group meetings; in fact you haven’t heard him speak up in weeks. You can continue to sit and wonder, or you can call on him during the meeting. Maybe reach out to him afterwards and ask if there’s something going on you should know. There might be a problem, or might not, but without evidence you just don’t know. And doubt can lead to suspicion, and then to paranoia, which can lead to fear which leads to the Dark Side. Okay, so you might not build a Death Star, but there’s not much trust there.
How do you get this evidence?
- Are there metrics in place, and are they being met? If quality slips, or work is late, how come?
- Do you receive regular updates that match reality? Heck, do you even receive regular updates?
- Do you communicate frequently, or only when deadlines loom or it’s already too late?
- When you give them news from the organization, does it match what they see and hear?
- Do you share information with the team, or are they unaware of what each other is doing and how high the quality is?
- Does the team know each other as well as you know each member? How is that impacting their ability to trust each other?
There are many ways to provide evidence. Share files and project updates. Make sure that team updates are accurate and focused on what’s important. Share good news with the team as a group, not merely with one person at a time so they all feel included.
It takes time and mindfulness to continually provide the evidence people need to work together and form a real cohesive team. But the alternative is worse.
This is all part and parcel of being a great remote teammate. If you would like to achieve that for you and your team, check out 12 Weeks to Being a Great Remote Teammate.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.