Building trust when remote

Chapter 13: how to build trusted work relationships

Posted by Luke Thomas
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Now, let’s talk about another pain point that you may feel but may not want to admit - trusting your team. You may read advice on how you need to build trust with your team when working remotely.

What does this even mean?

Does this mean you should do virtual trust-fall sessions? Statements like, “you should build trust” is too vague to be useful. I’m going to do my best to provide some clarity here.

What is trust?

Trust is defined as: firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

Accountability (discussed in the previous chapter) is about having faith that the work will get done. Trust is a belief in the person who’s doing the work. If we want to build trust from apart, how do we do it?

The building blocks of trust

I think about trust in the same way I think about a math equation. My theory is that there are three main factors that you can control, and one factor over which you don’t have a lot of control:

1. Ability

Is the person skilled at what they do? Are they capable of doing the work? Do they have the expertise required?

If someone doesn’t have the skillset for what's required in the role, trust will erode because you won’t believe that they are capable of performing the work required.

2. Reliability

Can you trust that the person will deliver on what they said they would do? If someone does what they say, your level of trust in the person will grow, as they will establish a track record of being reliable.

3. Rapport

Also known as empathy, I think about rapport as having the ability to mentally walk in someone else’s shoes. Can you empathize with why someone made a particular decision? Do you understand what motivated them to make a decision?

My favorite example to illustrate this point is a quote from Abraham Lincoln:

"I don't like that man. I must get to know him better."

This quote highlights that it’s easy to dislike someone or not trust them if you don’t know them. If you don’t have rapport with your team, it’s easy to assume the worst because you are too disconnected from reality.

4. Time

The fourth variable is time, which is something over which you don’t have much control. I included this as the multiplier in the equation because it impacts all the other variables in the trust equation. Spending more time with your team members can help you build rapport and become more empathetic. It can help you understand what talents someone has. It can also help you understand how reliable they are.

So how do you build trust?

If we want to build trust, we need to move the needle on the trust equation. I’ve outlined ways you can do this below:

1. Improve ability

If you want to improve skill and ability, you need to invest in training, mentorship, or you need to find a job for the person that better matches their strengths.

2. Improve reliability

If you want to improve reliability, consider creating systems that improve accountability as described in the previous chapter. You may want to consider investing in tooling like Friday to systematize accountability.

3. Improve rapport

If you want to improve rapport, you should:

  • Have regular 1:1 conversations — this will help you understand what makes people tick and how they are feeling about their work.
  • Complete a people profile — see a user manual for how someone works, see their personality and other facts to remind you that you work with people, not robots.
  • Hang out — see the chapter on feeling connected to your team for more specific recommendations.

4. Time?

In the trust equation, I shared that time is the multiplier for building trust. Oddly enough, time can boost or chip away at trust. For example, if someone is unreliable, over time you will collect more data and become more convinced of your intuition.

I’d encourage you not to think of time in terms of weeks or months, but instead, the depth of relationship you are able to build with someone.

Aisha’s perspective

“Building trust with the team was something I strove for when starting work at Friday. At my previous job, even though I was working remotely, we started off working in person. I knew of all my coworkers and their work habits, so it wasn’t jarring when I switched to remote work.

At Friday, we do regular coffee shop co-working meetings where we learn more about each other. I’ve also met up with Luke in person a couple of times instead of having a virtual meeting. I enjoyed just grabbing a coffee and walking along the beach while we talked about work and also random stuff. That helped build the idea that I can trust my team, because we can engage in these activities. Working remotely does not equal separating yourself from everyone else, as I once feared. There are ways to stay connected in more ways than just all being in an office.”

In conclusion

You need to trust your team if you want to do amazing work. I hope you use the framework in this chapter as inspiration on how you can improve ability, reliability, and rapport. Just remember, this won’t happen overnight.

Want to keep reading? In the next chapter, we share how you can stay aligned with your team.

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