Several months ago, Forbes predicted that 73% of all teams would have remote workers within the next decade. That was before. Those who have previously rejected remote working have suddenly been forced to embrace it. Everyone is talking about the “new norm”. But we must be careful. The “new norm” will not look like this current one. This is a temporary emergency solution. The situation has forced us to change and hopefully grow. But it has also levelled the playing field in a unique and only temporary situation in which almost everybody is working together, from home.
People are working together with a clear shared purpose: survive. Thankfully there will be another side of this. But in this future this united sense of solidarity will not be such a given. When the business agenda switches back to profit and growth, when teams are a mix of remote and non-remote employees and when managers are less forgiving about work deadlines and interrupted communication, it will be harder to feel solidarity. And with lack of solidarity, comes lack of trust.
Why trust is vital
Trust is an innate social, interpersonal glue. It is an unspoken agreement. In evolutionary terms it was as simple as “I will commit and share my resources with you, believing that you will do the same for me. Together we will have a better chance at surviving.” In professional terms it translates as: “I will work hard for you, believing you will do the same for me. Together as a company we are stronger, faster, more innovative, more productive. This will benefit us all.”
Trust is the foundation of productive relationships that lead to business results. Trust deepens engagement, increases commitment and fosters collaboration. It encourages individuals to create and innovate by providing an environment of psychological safety. Employees and teams will not perform well without trust.
Dimensions of Trust
Trust is built by a web of human social interactions and consolidated by performance indicators. It takes time to build but can be destroyed in a moment. Remote workers have far less opportunity to take part in these interactions. Therefore, you need to work more deliberately when working with a remote team to get them to trust you and each other. For this you need to have a strong understanding of what trust is.
The military psychologist Sweeny divided trust between colleagues into three main dimensions: Competence, Character and Caring. More recently Reina have redesigned these dimensions for the corporate world. Their dimensions are Character, Competence and Communication. It is a natural evolution of Sweeny’s work; in the corporate world communication is how we show empathy and understanding.
Three C’s of Trust
The dimensions are not exclusive, but they are a strong framework for which to think about trust, especially with teams who work remotely. With Trust of Character, each member of the team has faith that the others will behave as expected and so does the same. It is the dimension needed for a team not only to be effective, but also have a positive outlook.
Trust of Capability works in a reciprocal manner to Trust of Character. Once established it provides an environment of safety in which team members feel they can make mistakes. It helps individuals feel valued and supported. It creates mutual respect and with Trust of Character helps shape a sense of solidarity.
These two dimensions are underpinned by Trust of Communication. Communication and transparency nurtures honesty and openness. This is vital for collaborative projects to thrive. It encapsulates both emotional understanding and professional understanding and drives a shared sense of purpose.
Road Map to Trust
An awareness of these dimensions can facilitate programs and actions to help build and maintain a more holistic sense of trust. For example, bespoke learning and development and acknowledgement of employees’ skills will help build Trust of Capability. Clear boundaries, expectations and consistency will boost Trust of Character, whilst transparency, ownership of mistakes, and continuous two-way feedback will incrementally grow Trust of Communication.
These are not the only or exclusive dimensions of trust, but they are key ones. And nothing will replace the benefits of a face to face meeting, especially at the kick-off of a team project. But as we start to look towards a future in which remote teams will play a bigger role, it is valuable to put the work in to really understand trust. Doing so can ensure your company is ahead of the curve when the new norm starts to crystallize.