Remote project teams are rapidly becoming a centerpiece of today’s global economy.
With so many resources available to facilitate remote work, such as Slack, Trello, Asana, etc., and with added benefits such as increased worker flexibility and improved engagement, more and more companies are embracing this trend.
Furthermore, remote teams allow you to access a global talent pool, making it easier to find and recruit the best possible people to help your business grow.
Much of this trend is aided by the growth in freelancers, who will soon make up over half of the U.S. labor force. It’s quite likely your project team includes, or will soon include, several of these independent contractors.
However, remote teams are not without their challenges. They represent a new way of working, and as such, they require new management and interpersonal strategies.
Perhaps one of the most pressing challenges when it comes to working with remote teams is trust. It’s hard to put your faith in someone you may only know through emails or other digital messages, but you must learn how to build this trust if you’re going to make remote teams work for you.
Here are four tips to help you build trust with your remote teams.
4 Ways to Build Trust with Your Remote Project Team
1. Be Hands Off
When working with someone in an office setting, frequent checkups and updates are expected. As you walk from one part of the office to the other, it is common to stop by someone’s desk to ask how things are going. Everyone understands there’s no malice in this action, and they learn to embrace this type of management.
However, when dealing with remote teams, you obviously don’t have this luxury. Most managers who are new to remote teams tend to try and mimic this management style in a digital setting, but they often fail in their attempts. This leads to problems because freelancers and other remote workers are used to setting their own schedules.
Pestering them when they don’t have questions or when deadlines are far off could indicate you don’t trust them to get the job done, or that you are trying to micromanage them. And if they begin to feel this way, then trust erodes or never forms in the first place.
The solution to this is to be ‘hands off’. Give people assignments and deadlines, and then let them come to you when the work is done.
Use a collaborative project site to track tasks, timesheets, and engagement with other team members, for example, in discussion boards, without the need to constantly seek updates. When people are wasting your time, you’ll know and you can react.
If something changes with a task such as a deadline, then, of course, notify them.
Other than that, simply make yourself available and give people the freedom to complete the work in a way that makes sense for them. Doing this will help you build a healthy and productive relationship with your remote teams.
2. Open and Frequent Communication
To build trust with people, it’s important to get to know them. Instead of sending annoying messages asking for status updates, consider setting up weekly meetings to discuss what’s being worked on and answer any questions they may have.
This way, you can keep tabs on what’s going on without micromanaging. And having a fixed point in their schedule to meet with you will give remote workers a firmer timeline with which to work.
However, to go a little further and to really build strong relationships with your remote teams, make sure to create time to talk about things beyond work.
Think about it: when working in an office, you get to know people. You learn about who they are, what their lives are like, and through this, you can begin to learn about their values and beliefs, all of which lead to trust. When working with people online, this is much harder to do.
Make it a point to discuss things during these regular meetings that don’t have anything to do with work. Ask people about their families, their hometowns, their hobbies, etc.
It might seem like a waste of time to talk about “non-work” things, but this type of effort humanizes the digital relationship and makes people feel more comfortable, increasing the chances that both parties will grow to trust each other.
3. Be Professional
Some companies are tempted to misuse remote positions to pay fewer taxes and benefits, whilst increasing the liabilities for the contractor.
It should go without saying, this is not a smart move. These actions plant the seed of mistrust between you and your remote workers. Depending on who first makes a suggestion like this, the other will think, “if they are capable of doing this, then what else are they doing?” This creates suspicion and makes it really hard for people to trust each other.
To avoid this, make sure you’re doing everything as professionally as possible. It’s true that managing remote workers can be an administrative nightmare—especially when there are people working in other countries—so consider working with a professional employer organization (PEO) to help you sort everything out and remain compliant.
Plus, when you do something like this, it automatically creates the dynamic of a business relationship, which helps breed more confidence and trust.
4. Pay on Time
Actions always speak louder than words. And one of the best things you can do to win people’s trust is to honor your commitments. If your remote teams are full-time workers on your payroll, then paying them on time is a simple matter of making sure your payroll system is up-to-date.
But when dealing with contractors and freelancers, things get a bit tricker. These workers will always want to be paid immediately, as experience tells them this is the best move. But this might not always work with your plans.
When this is the case, simply let them know up front when they’ll be paid and why you do it that way. Then, make sure you pay all your invoices on-time.
This helps people see you as a person of your word, and this will go a long ways towards helping you build a healthy relationship with your remote teams.
Summary: Trust is an All the Time Thing
It’s important to not think about trust as something you can acquire. While you can certainly develop a relationship with people to the point where there is trust, it’s something you have to constantly work at to maintain. As a result, always keep the points discussed here in mind when dealing with your remote project teams.
If you do this, then you’ll be able to build remote teams that can help your business grow into what you’ve always wanted it to be.
Guest Author Bio
Jock Purtle is the founder of Digital Exits, an online brokerage service that specializes in the buying/selling and appraisal of online businesses. He started his first company when he was just 19, and since then has bought, built and sold three more. Since all of the businesses he has built are online, he has become an expert in managing the challenges and benefits of remote work, and he enjoys sharing this expertise with other business leaders at any chance he gets.
This post was originally published in September 2018.