Trust is Crucial in Remote Work Settings

By: Shawn Belling 

My latest book Remotely Possible has been available for about a month, and we had the official launch event in collaboration with the Wisconsin School of Business Center for Professional and Executive Development (CPED) on Thursday, July 29, 2021. My remarks at the event focused on trust and the critical role it plays in successful remote work cultures

Trust and Leadership 

More than anything, leadership, whether remote or not, is about trust. You must trust to be trusted and create an environment where the presence of trust is assumed. 

A modern leader can’t operate on the premise of “seeing one’s people.” The famous and effective HP way of “Managing by Walking Around” is still effective – but you will learn, or likely already have learned, to accomplish this differently. 

If you feel you must “see your people” to believe that they are trustworthy and productive, you hired the wrong people. Or you, yourself, are in the wrong role. 

Now and forward, leadership is about building cultures of trust and accountability, and building teams of people who are trusted across the room, across the state, or across the country. 

Trust and Culture 

Trust is a core component of creating a culture that supports remote and hybrid teams. In fact, trust in the most valuable currency in any organization. Trust is the currency that enables people to open up and be honest with one another and share enough of themselves that people build relationships, feel safe admitting mistakes, and seek to learn from others. 

The most successful organizations in the hybrid remote work world that is ahead of us will be those that already had a strong culture of trust or those who can change or build that culture. 

Shawn Belling

Trust and Accountability 

In order to successfully build remote, distributed, or hybrid teams, leaders need to believe they are working with team members who are “motivated self-starters.” When hiring new employees, learn early if candidates are accountable, independent problem solvers. You can do this by introducing trial periods or projects for new team members so they can quickly build trust with leaders and coworkers. 

Be the leader, or build the leaders, who are accountable for enabling teams to get things done, remove impediments, create environments of continuous, asynchronous information and communication. 

Trust and Mistakes 

Formulating trust starts at the top. cofounder Kevin Borders has written about creating a “mistake-friendly culture” in which leaders admit their mistakes and share their challenges. Make a point of going out of your way to communicate that you too are only human. Always assume positive intentions by your people, teams, and leaders and foster vulnerability by hosting retrospectives with your teams. Doing this periodically will help to create trust while enhancing learning opportunities for your remote team. 

Trust, Theory X, and Theory Y 

Along the lines of trust in the workplace, there are two theories you also need to consider. In short, “Theory X” management believes that people don’t want to work and must always be watched, coerced, rewarded, and punished. “Theory Y” management, on the other hand, believes that people want to work and that work is a natural, self-expression that assumes self-motivation and accountability.  

The classic micromanager fits in the Theory X category, and organizations built around this approach tend to be hierarchical with lots of management layers to provide supervision and hold everyone accountable. In remote settings, Theory X will not be successful and assumes an adversarial relationship. If you are working in a remote setting you must assess yourself, your leaders, and your culture. If you fall into Theory X, are you willing to change your approach before it becomes a problem? 

Theory Y assumes self-motivation, ownership, and responsibility, and therefore a more collaborative management style is typically present in the organization. This approach is a natural fit for the remote, distributed environment as they create an environment where people can thrive in their work. Try to intentionally build a team of motivated and accountable people and reward that behavior with more trust, responsibility, freedom, and latitude in how your people work. Remember, work is not a place you go, it is a thing you do, and it happens in many settings – intentionally reward value, not time

Collaborative Servant-Leadership Will Carry the Future 

The organizations that rely on butts in seats and charismatic leadership need to realize that this is a way of the past and that Theory Y will allow your remote team to thrive. The future belongs to the leaders who collaborate with their teams to support them, lead through trust, admit mistakes, and create a learning culture. Take time to identify, foster, and celebrate the strengths of your teams. You have to give trust to get trust while rewarding accountability. Remote organizations succeed with trusting cultures led by collaborative servant leaders. 

Adapting your organization and culture to support a remote or hybrid work environment takes ongoing conversation and strategy. Set up a Discovery Session with one of the Solutions Advisors to explore how a work from anywhere policy can create a competitive advantage for your organization. 

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Shawn Belling

Shawn Belling is a globally experienced technology executive, project management speaker and instructor, and author. Shawn has held executive and management roles in higher education, software, consulting, biopharma, manufacturing, and regulatory compliance sectors. Shawn released his book Succeeding with Agile Hybrids in November of 2020 and Remotely Possible in June of 2021.