By Conner Williams | Consultant
For many people, the coronavirus pandemic brought about a new virtual working environment that is here to stay. As recently as May 2022, just 4% of employers indicated they were requiring their entire workforces to return to the office.
Not being physically present with your team can make it easy for managers to deprioritize individual investment, yet recent reports show that high employee engagement remains a key indicator of success; highly engaged teams are more profitable, feel more empowered to take creative risks, and are more likely to recommend their employer.
With teams split between in-person, remote, and hybrid work environments, it’s more important than ever to intentionally promote employee satisfaction. Here are ten tips to prioritize building trust with virtual employees:
1. Managing virtual reports requires a proactive, conscious, and intentional communication infrastructure.
Don’t assume that the announcements, instructions, guidelines, or directives that you send to your co-located team members will be received and processed the same way—or at the same time—by your virtual employees. Develop a process to ensure common understanding and shared contexts, and be flexible when accommodations need to be made.
2. Be aware that trust is an outcome not an input.
Trust is something that is developed over time; managers will earn their virtual employees’ trust by improving employee satisfaction and listening to team needs. Reciprocate trust by asking for and acting on feedback about what is going well, what is not, and what can be improved for the future and by openly sharing about yourself with your team.
3. Identify time windows to ensure that the time-zone burden is shared equally.
This practice promotes inclusiveness and shows that the team cares about virtual employees’ needs and preferences. Add your time zone to your email signature so your team knows when you are available.
4. Communicate openly and frequently, and set a positive, constructive tone.
Remind virtual employees that they belong and are contributing to the team and to the organization. Remember to prioritize setting clear expectations through consistent communication.
5. Make sure your interactions with virtual reports are consistent and predictable to reduce unwanted surprises.
Virtual employees will feel that the manager is more approachable if they are consistent in communication. It will make it easier to provide feedback if you schedule regular review meetings instead of resorting to ad-hoc phone calls, emails, or virtual meetings.
6. Lead by example: do what you say you will do, and make your actions visible.
Because virtual employees work remotely, they don’t always SEE what you are doing as a manager; it is important to find a way of showing them (e.g., through daily or weekly emails providing a summary of what has been done).
7. Develop ways for your team to learn about and from one another.
An online forum (like Slack or Microsoft Teams) allows virtual employees to solve problems and share challenges and successes with the rest of the team. It also allows for a more informal communication space, which can foster team-building through shared resources.
8. Ensure that all team members have equal access to information.
If information is not shared equally or is shared on a “need to know” basis, team members that are left out will feel that they are not trusted as much as their colleagues.
9. Create social time for the team—encourage ways of building relationships outside work-related tasks.
For example, you might manufacture this time through a virtual company retreat, an internal social networking web site, or activities around holidays.
10. Develop a strong team identity.
Keep a mission statement, create team symbols or even a team name, and plan shared activities between co-located and virtual reports.