Smart leaders accelerate trust in virtual offices

Trust is important to all teams, but is especially crucial for virtual teams. We may never meet our remote colleagues in person. We could work together for weeks, months, or maybe even years at a time without face to face interactions. Our teammates may just seem like a pixelated name. Yet, we must believe that we possess the same goals, intentions, and work ethics.

I have worked with virtual teams for years, and I can attest that creating psychological safety nets for online teams is not as daunting as it may seem. Here is everything you need to know.

Why is trust important?

Trust boosts productivity. Teammates that trust don’t lose time second guessing or double checking each other’s work. For true collaboration to occur, team members must believe that the others will complete tasks on schedule and to the expected level of quality. Colleagues embark on projects together, expecting that even when paths diverge, teammates will meetup at the destination or somewhere along the way. 

Trust also creates a sense of safety that enables honesty. Free of the fear of judgment, teammates can present counter arguments or propose innovative ideas during discussions.

Lastly, trust in coworkers lays the foundations for high employee satisfaction. Employees who believe in colleagues feel happier on the job and radiate positive energy. 

How does trust differ between remote & non-remote teams?

At the office, you can walk down the hallway and see your coworker diligently squinting at the monitor or speaking to a client on the phone. When you bump into your colleague in the breakroom, you can casually ask, “how is that expense report coming?” But when you work from home, you must assume your teammates’ productivity. You must have faith that your teammates are knowledgeable, skillful, and dependable.

In fact, faith is critical in remote offices. Faith means believing despite a lack of evidence, while trust is more confirmation-based. Remote work requires much more faith upfront, which you can then verify with checks and procedures in the business. Appearance and body language play big parts in our decisions to trust, yet we cannot physically see our remote colleagues. Thus, until trust develops, we must default to faith.

Ironically enough, remote work calls for greater levels of trust, yet provides fewer opportunities to establish that trust. Online work means less human contact, which means slower-growing familiarity. Luckily, leaders can speed up the process with the following trust building tips.

How can you build trust on remote teams?

There are four main ways you can build trust on a virtual team:

Execute online team building activities: Team exercises develop skills and bonds that inspire interteam confidence. You can lead your crew through a variety of online team building games that create shared experiences and establish common ground. Trust comes more easily when teammates spend purpose-driven time together, and these kinds of virtual challenges aim to supercharge the bonding process. There are a ton of free virtual team building activities you can do on conference calls.

Recognize employee achievements: We trust competent team coworkers. Recognizing achievements reinforces teammates’ skill. At, we use a Slack channel called #you-are-awesome to call out teammate victories. Occasionally, peers post kind words or wishes, which demonstrates another component of trust: caring. By celebrating remote worker wins on a public forum, you promote excellence and appreciation, helping your virtual colleagues lower their guards and increasing employee engagement.

Set clear expectations & hold teammates accountable: For teammates to depend on each other, group member roles must be clear. Employees must know what to expect from each team member. Once coworkers fulfill those duties, trust will follow. By outlining positions and responsibilities, you set the standards for success. It helps to clarify tasks during meetings and team chats, and keep organization charts handy. Managers can eliminate further doubts by ensuring teammates fulfill these promises. By championing accountability, you communicate that teammates must correct missteps. The act of owning mistakes can prevent and rectify distrust.

Encourage consistent communication: Conversation develops familiarly, and familiarity breeds trust. Whether colleagues video call to straighten out project details or parry puns on a team chat, communication is one of the quickest ways to build rapport. As a leader, you should equip your crew with channels of communication, for instance, by providing collaboration software and scheduling online socials. Yet simply supplying these tools is not enough; you must actively encourage your teammates to connect. An easy way to get started with improving communication for remote workers is with virtual icebreaker exercises.

If you follow these steps, then your remote teams will come to rely on each other much faster.

Final thoughts

So much of our online persona centers around presenting our most polished selves to the world. We might save face, (our remote colleagues are none the wiser about those fresh spaghetti stains on our pants,) but we don’t gain trust by hiding behind a computer screen. Trust requires some level of vulnerability, and conscious team building encourages that vulnerability. By reintroducing human elements into the internet office, you provide conditions for trust to flourish.