How to Maintain Trust in a Virtual World
Has working from home changed your relationship with your colleagues? Do you feel you are being treated differently by your boss? Are they checking in on you more? As the boss do you trust that your employees are doing the right thing and how do you know?
Defined as the reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety of a person or thing, trust is foundational to the establishment and continuation of all positive relationships. Brene Brown, research professor in social work and author, describes trust as being built in those small moments of personal interaction and uses the acronym BRAVING to describe the seven associated elements
- Boundaries — I trust you to hold and respect these
- Reliability — I trust you will do what you say you’re going to, and consistently
- Accountability — We all make mistakes, owning up to them and taking responsibility helps us to maintain trust with each other
- Vault — I trust you will keep what I share confidential
- Integrity — To always come from that place of honesty
- Non-judgement — No matter the stuff up, we are there for each other
- Generosity — Assume the best of others
Brown’s work also touches on the need for self-trust. If you can’t trust yourself, why should anyone else?
When you’re in the presence of someone you like, consider like you and you believe they like you back, levels of oxytocin rise in the body. This leads to the establishment of trust. For any workplace, trust is critical to its success, not just in regard to customer service, but for every relationship between all employees at all levels. Authenticity and vulnerability are key.
If you enjoy a good working relationship with your boss and your colleagues you are more likely to enjoy your work, take more care in how you do it, contribute more, collaborate more effectively with other members of a team and stay longer in the role. Sounds a good place to work, right?
The payoff for the business is lower rates of sick leave, stress leave, mental health issues, absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover. This has to be good for any business owner or leader.
What we’re talking about here is psychological safety.
Achieving that in an office is one thing.
But what about when your team is working remotely or from home? How can you ensure your health (physical, mental and emotional) and wellbeing is still being taken care of, that you have the resources and support needed for the change in work circumstance and the ability to demonstrate your continuing competence and capability?
Some of the common challenges I’ve heard recently from those either working from home or managing their team members include:
Not knowing how productive an individual is
Different circumstances play a role here. There’s a big difference between working from home with sufficient space, adequate internet access and not too many distractions compared to those working in a confined space either with their family around them or living alone and dealing with the sense of isolation.
Some companies are resorting to monitoring software that keeps tabs on how much time and activity is being recorded on a person’s laptop. If ever there was a way for dismantling trust quick smart this has to be it!
If you are the business owner or manager contemplating using this, please DON’T! It is one more form of micromanagement and guaranteed to create a backlash that will not be pretty.
Also, early indications from those companies using this tech have found productivity hasn’t dropped during the pandemic and it’s not because of the tech itself. Playing “I Spy” in this way merely adds to the stress of those being watched.
The better way is to tune in and ask. We are not mind-readers and, unless we check-in, we have no idea how easy or hard it is to work from home. Making assumptions is a dangerous game because we are invariably wrong, and this can cause a rift.
Loss of autonomy
It’s a fine balance between enquiry and interrogation. One EA shared with me recently how she had enjoyed a really good relationship with her boss over the 7 years she has been in the company until Covid-19 hit. Now she feels he is checking up on her for every task and that he no longer trusts her to undertake her regular duties which she finds enormously frustrating and belittling.
This is where scheduling in regular weekly virtual check-ins where individuals feel safe to share concerns, worries or to ask for help are very useful. Knowing that you are cared about and that your colleagues have your back nurtures that sense of connection and belonging we seek. The leader who is listening, empathetic and kind will enable better team cohesion and trust.
Treating people as grown-ups, facilitating flexibility, not just in working hours but how the work is completed allows us to do our work in a way best suited for our particular circumstances.
BC (before Covid), the modern workplace was full of high expectations for the consistency, volume of output and overall productivity and performance of team members. But without the daily banter or brief interactions with colleagues to ask a question or seek feedback on a piece of work they’ve been challenged by, it can be hard when working from home to know if you are doing what is expected, whether it’s enough and can be tempted to keep on working to keep up appearances. With the average person working between an additional 2–4 hours each day in these changed circumstances, the higher workload and overwhelm can quickly lead to exhaustion and increase the risk of burnout.
Research by neuroeconomist Paul Zak found that compared to low trust companies, those working at high trust companies reported:
- 74% less stress
- 106% more energy
- 50% higher productivity
- 13% fewer sick days
- 76% more engagement
- 29% more satisfaction with their lives
- 40% less burnout
Not only that trust makes us feel closer to our colleagues, essential when so many of us are alone working together.
How to build more trust in our virtual world
1. Demonstrate your own trustworthiness first
Can you trust yourself to deliver on what you promised to do? If the answer is no, or maybe, what can you do differently? Asking for help, or a time extension is not a sign of weakness. It takes courage to speak up and ask for help. When the response is positive, that reassurance helps to alleviate stress and boost performance. Consistency in what you’ve signed up to do builds trust, fast, because you’re seen as reliable.
2. Reach out regularly
It may be harder to have face-to-face conversations but thank goodness technology stepped into the breach so we can at least eyeball each other. Touch is a major way to stimulate oxytocin production — think handshakes, high fives and hugs. In the post BC era where physical touch is restricted it’s good to know that eye gaze and devoting your full and undivided attention to a person speaking works well too.
The more time you can spend hanging out with others rather than always in a work-related capacity, the stronger the bonds of connection that form. While you don’t have to be best friends with all your work colleagues, getting along with each other and seeking common interests boosts tolerance and understanding and leads to more effective collaboration.
3. Show your appreciation
Saying thank you, being grateful and generous promotes positive feelings in the receiver and recipient. It’s those small moments of kindness like buying a friend a birthday card or shouting a colleague a coffee or hosting a virtual birthday celebration that make us all feel better and more connected.
4. Say sorry when you stuff up and mean it
We can cause offence so easily and often it’s inadvertent. If you know you’ve said something hurtful or could have been misinterpreted this is the time to speak up, apologise and seek to make amends straight away.
5. Find ways to laugh and smile more.
Being in the company of someone who makes you smile or laugh raises your feelgood hormones puts you in a more positive state of mind, so you feel happier and more related to the other person.
In a world full of fake news, uncertainty, fear and mistrust of institutions and governments, finding ways to maintain trust especially when operating virtually is vital to your overall health and wellbeing.
All relationships matter and they always start with trust.
What have you found helpful to maintain trust during these challenging times?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.