Build Trust in a Remote Workforce

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1. Set core work hours

This one can go for both office and remote workers. The idea is that you set times of day when workers are available through all of your contact channels (phone, email, IM, video chat, etc.) and for meetings. Core hours are particularly useful when you have employees spread across time zones. You could, for example, say that core work hours are 9:00 to 2:00 local time. Employees can start earlier than that, and work later, but will always be available from 9:00 - 2:00. Core hours create predictability and respect, so that your East Coast employees won’t constantly ask why your West Coast employees keep scheduling them for 7:00 pm meetings.

2. Set communication SLAs

While we all hate interruptions (25% of survey respondents think that uninterrupted blocks of time would make us more productive), they seem to be more and more an accepted part of office life. People learn to depend on “pop ins” to ask a quick question or deliver information. In order to ensure that communication doesn’t come to a halt with your remote team, create service-level agreements (SLAs) that include communication response thresholds. You decide what’s best for you, but you could do 60 minutes to respond to an email, 5 minutes to respond to IMs and texts, etc. Just be understanding that remote employees deserve lunch breaks too.

3. Understand how much time work takes

Employees and their bosses should have regular communication about two things: the work that needs to be completed, and the amount of time it will take to deliver the work. The hours required to get something done is a very important part of the equation. A supervisor or team member might assume that a task will only take an hour, when in reality it takes 10 hours. Then, when that task is delivered a day and a half later than expected, and there’s no discussion about the discrepancy, trust will be lost. (This is partly why office workers rate themselves as the most productive in the office, ahead of peers and company leadership. We all make wrong assumptions about how much work other people are doing, and how long it takes.) At the time the work is committed to be completed by an employee, both parties should come to an understanding of how much time that work will take.

4. Measure & report

Michael Scott, the beloved manager on The Office, claimed his employee, Jim, was clearly NOT a hard worker, because, “I can spend all day on a project, and he will finish the same project in half an hour. So that should tell you something.” Obviously, most real-world managers would come to the opposite conclusion--the hard worker is the one who can focus and get the job done efficiently. Avoid subjective conclusions like this by agreeing on a method to provide constant visibility into workload and progress. You can do that through weekly 1:1 meetings, a shared status document, or your work management system. Regularly communicate the work that’s next on deck and how far you’re progressing to complete it. Also look ahead at your task list on a regular basis and communicate early and often if a deadline is going to slip. Trust will be maintained if your supervisors and peers have insight into your task list and priorities.

5. Foster team spirit

It can be a hard to build camaraderie with remote employees when you only have minimal regular contact, as opposed to in-office teams. For example, you may not notice a team member wearing a Cubs jersey, overhear someone talking about their (and your) favorite superhero movie, or find a common affinity for animals. These areas of common ground unite team members and build an underlying layer of trust in each other. Find ways to bring team members together for face-to-face interactions (video conferencing is an easy solution), encourage personal banter in team meetings, and encourage team members to actually talk to each other on a regular basis.

Agree on a method to provide constant visibility into workload and progress. You can do that through weekly 1:1 meetings, a shared status document, or your work management system. Regularly communicate the work that’s next on deck and how far you’re progressing to complete it. Also look ahead at your task list on a regular basis and communicate early and often if a deadline is going to slip. Trust will be maintained if your supervisors and peers have insight into your task list and priorities.

Are you ready to be remote?

If the predictions in our survey are right, half of the readers of this blog will be working remotely by the year 2021. That could include you. Start building trust and fostering remote working best practices today, and you’ll be ahead of the game when home offices start outnumbering regular offices.

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