I’ve had many conversations recently with leaders and managers about their WFH (working from home) team culture, and one topic keeps coming up over and over again: trust.
This could be in a team that’s all working from home full-time, or some people are back in the office, or they are alternating shifts between home and office to manage social distancing. But these leaders all have one thing in common: They don’t know how to build trust in this WFH environment.
This is a big topic, with a lot of subtlety and nuance. But there’s one key factor that underlies everything else: You build trust differently in a WFH team.
In an office, people build trust through personal interactions. They work in the same building, park in the same car park, and eat at the same canteen or local cafés. They bring in birthday cakes, send their children to the same schools, and walk their dogs in the same park. They take the same holidays, support the same sporting teams, and watch the same Netflix series. Even a culturally diverse team has many things in common.
This isn’t as easy with your WFH team – even if you all know each other in person. It might not matter in the short term, because you put up with difficult working conditions for the sake of health and public safety. But if you’re running a WFH environment for a while, you need to find other ways to keep that trust between team members (and you!).
Distant team members build trust through their work.
When team members aren’t physically together, they can still build trust, but they do it differently. Instead of using personal interactions, they build trust through their work. They look for reliability, consistency, integrity (keeping promises), and responsiveness as indicators of trust.
This works both ways: The in-office people expect this of their working-from-home colleagues, and vice versa.
This is good news for you, because these factors also directly affect productivity and performance. Get these things right to build trust, and you boost productivity at the same time.
Set clear guidelines.
In the office, you can often get away with loose guidelines for, say, reliability. For example, if you promised to send somebody a report in time for a 2pm meeting, but you can see they are still stuck in their previous meeting at that time, you know they won’t need the report on time. But if you can’t see them because they are working from home, you can’t make that assumption.
The trouble is, many people apply those in-office “rules” in a WFH environment without thinking about the consequences. So, work together as a team to set clear guidelines on what we expect in a WFH environment.
For example, here are some practical things you can agree for everyday operations:
- Clarify expectations about how people respond to requests (for example, replying to email within one working day).
- Choose appropriate communication channels (for example, using Slack, not email, for urgent requests).
- Set deadlines and milestones for a reason, and explain the reasons (“I need that delivered by 1.30 tomorrow, so I have time to quickly review it before my 2pm Zoom meeting”).
If you’re the team leader, don’t just make up these rules yourself, even if you think you know the right rules. Instead, involve your team in creating them, so they understand the reasons for them. Even if you don’t get them right at first, it’s better to build them as a team. Make the effort, because this is a key part of building trust in your WFH culture.