6 tips all remote managers can use to build trust with their teams
By Taylor Burke, TechnologyAdvice.com
Anyone who’s been in a long-distance relationship knows that the No. 1 factor that makes or breaks its success is trust.
Without trust there’s a lot of “why didn’t you answer my call?” and “where were you last night?” These questions, even when answered, can plant a seed of uncertainty that often grows into full-blown finger-pointing.
It’s the exact same factor that’s most critical to a different kind of long-distance relationship: the remote worker’s relationship. Without trust, there’s a lot of “why didn’t you answer my Slack?” and “where are you with that project?” This leads to micromanaging, the results of which range from high turnover to health problems.
But how do you develop and maintain trust with your teammates when you work remotely, particularly if it’s your first go? With the right mindset and a little bit of technical support, managing a workforce from afar is definitely achievable. Here are six tips to get all first-time remote managers started.
1. Start off on the right foot
Some new managers hesitate to set clear expectations with their direct reports, lest they sound like a kindergarten teacher laying out the rules on the first day of school. However, research suggests that clear expectations may be the very foundation of high employee engagement. And they’re especially necessary for remote employees.
Expectations include well-defined goals and role requirements, but they also include the basics, like the hours everyone works (this is really important if you span time zones), how you’ll alert one another of your time off, when you’ll all provide project updates, and so on.
You can avoid micromanaging by leaving room for flexibility. And you’ll also keep those distrustful questions from gnawing on your brain if you know one of your employees leaves early on Tuesdays to volunteer and another always makes deadlines but doesn’t like to share work until a project is finished.
2. Use multiple channels of communication
We’ve all been so head-down in a project at one time or another that we’ve missed a scheduled meeting. In the office, someone can just to tap you on the shoulder to remind you about the meeting. But as a remote worker, making contact can be a little more difficult.
It’s not just that multiple channels of communication make it easier to get attention. They also help you choose the medium that makes the most sense. Quick updates, friendly banter, and file sharing are easily done over chat tools, while bigger project updates are better saved for email.
And long lists of questions are best answered over the phone. Subscribe to a video-conferencing tool, but don’t make employees use it all the time. While it’s nice to see each other’s faces, one of the joys of working remotely is the ability to occasionally work in your pajamas all day.
3. Don’t forget about the relationship
It’s much easier to build a friendly rapport with your team when you can take them out for coffee or catch up with them in the office kitchen. Working remotely can make this more challenging.
There’s no arrive, hang up your jacket, put away your lunch, “how was your weekend?” chatter that unfolds in a normal office. Oftentimes, the first time you contact a teammate on any given day is when you have a request, so things can go from relational to transactional really quick.
Make relationship-building a habit or task like any other on your to-do list. When you sign in to check your email on Monday, send your team a friendly hello on your chat tool. Think about what you’d do if you were there in person. If a teammate tells you about an interesting place they visited, ask to see a photo.
Remember that your avatar doesn’t show emotion, so throw in an emoji now and again. Remote or not, employees want to know their managers care about them as people, not just as workers.
4. Get technical for collaboration
Project management tools aren’t just for project managers. There are plenty of options (and many are free) on the market more focused on task management and simple collaboration.
These tools help you organize files, share updates, and check off tasks in real time. Employees love them because they help with productivity, and remote managers love them because they make it possible to check progress without asking.
5. Track employee hours (even if they’re salaried)
Off the cuff, this might sound like the ultimate micromanagement move, but more and more organizations are placing time tracking expectations on employees — yes, even salaried employees.
Your people may balk at the idea at first, but give them time (pun intended) and chances are they’ll come to enjoy the process, especially if your time tracking tool is mobile-friendly and works how your employees do.
Frame the tool as a productivity resource rather than an accountability check. With all the distractions today’s world has to offer, using a time tracker can help employees recognize and address their own productivity slips.
6. Assume the best
The final tip for successfully building trust in a remote management relationship: assume the best. If a teammate isn’t responsive for 30 minutes, chances are they are hyper-focused or making lunch, not on a mid-day Netflix binge.
You’ll know if the work is getting done and done well, so focus on outcomes over processes. And if distrust does start to creep in, communicate. It’s better to talk it out today than let it grow into a bigger problem tomorrow.
About the Author
Taylor Burke is a contributor for TechnologyAdvice.com, covering company culture. She’s been working and managing remotely for nearly a decade and only occasionally stays in her PJs.