3 Ways to Build Trust From Behind a Screen 💻

leadership trust Sep 16, 2020

We’ve reached the tipping point of remote work. Initially sparked by the widespread availability of high-speed internet, working from home became an imperative for many during the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic. But as more employees walk away from their office desks, organizations are discovering the myriad financial and operational benefits to having a remote staff. And with continued advances in technology, the need for increased mobility and flexibility, rising housing costs in cities, the ongoing war for talent, and the threat of future infectious outbreaks, remote work is only likely to increase.

But for all of its benefits, going remote has some drawbacks. We’re all familiar with the  stories of Zoom meeting snafus and technical gaffes. But there are some more serious issues lurking behind the seemingly superficial ones. Among them, trust is perhaps the biggest concern, because a lack of it impacts wellbeing and overall mental health.

Trust isn’t just a feel-good, nice-to-have item on a leadership wishlist. According to Harvard Business Review, employees at high-trust companies report 106% more energy at work and 50% higher productivity compared to those at low-trust companies. But when trust is low, morale, productivity, and communication suffer, giving rise to turnover.

Remote work threatens trust because it removes most of the in-person cues we have replied upon in the trust-building equation. Touch (e.g., hand-shaking), full body communication (as opposed to just a face on a screen), and unscheduled social time to make meaningful connections are all important neurological triggers that build trust in an in-person workplace. But with all of these options essentially eliminated within a virtual environment, leaders must make a conscious effort to build trust with and between remote workers.

When teams are remote, there is no opportunity for water cooler talk. If you are all business all the time, there is no time or space left for relationship-building. So you’ll need to intentionally schedule and create spaces for social interaction to develop a high-trust environment. In this new era of remote work, it is the responsibility of the leader to create and nurture a culture of connection.

Trust is built in the interactions between the transactions.

Here are three interactions you can include to build trust from behind a screen with your employees and colleagues:

  1. EXTRA TIME:

Plan extra time before or after meetings to allow for conversations that are not meeting-specific. Under stress, a focus on task-only priorities will amplify stress, which gets in the way of trust and creativity. If the folks in your virtual room seem a bit shy, you can kick things off by asking about weekend plans, or sharing a brief personal story.

  1. HAVE FUN:

Plan inter-departmental social gatherings. These can take the form of virtual games, social hour, or randomly assigning Slack “work buddies” to help each other through the challenges of working remotely. But be aware: just putting social events on the virtual calendar is not enough. While movie night and happy hour are fun activities to share with people who are already friends, they might not evoke the social vulnerability needed to build genuine trust between colleagues. Try to encourage active sharing and listening, with topics that allow people to get to know each other beyond their business persona.

  1. TAKE NOTE:

Write down what’s important to others: family names, milestone events, concerns, goals, and interests. If you’re not sure, ask questions to learn more. Be genuinely curious and listen fully to their responses, resisting the desire to share about yourself unless asked. When we demonstrate that we remember these types of details about a person, it makes them feel valued. And when others feel that we value them, their trust in us grows.

These tips are just the beginning of a longer conversation about leadership and the importance of fostering a culture of trust. For more insights, practice worksheets and expert guidance, join our monthly eLeaderHUB program


About the Author

Sandra McDowell, MA, PCC, CPHR, SHRM-SCP

As the founder and voice behind eLeadership Academy™, Sandra McDowell helps leaders and organizations increase performance and well-being by leveraging insights from cognitive science to harness the untapped power of the brain.

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