nurturing trust in remote and hybrid work environments

building stronger connections in a dispersed world

This blog continues the series that was started by my article, "Leading with Intent in a Remote/Hybrid World," which was first released in the Cutter Consortium Amplify journal.

The emergence of remote and hybrid work environments has gained more prominence than ever as society adapts to the shifting dynamics of the workplace. This change has many advantages, like better work-life balance and wider talent pools; however, it also presents unique challenges, notably in building trust. Trust acts as the glue that holds organisations together (whether they acknowledge this or not), fostering collaboration, innovation, and high performance. In this article, I will explore the significance of trust in remote or hybrid work environments and discuss practical strategies to nurture and sustain trust.

Clear Communication and Transparency:

Communication becomes the cornerstone on which trust is established in a remote or hybrid work environment. Establishing effective and transparent lines of communication enables people to interact and share information with ease. Transparency is essential because it enables people to comprehend the thinking behind choices and to feel a part of the broader organisational dynamics.

When we look at organisational transparency, leaders and transparency are inextricably intertwined. However, this is frequently not acknowledged; transparency is perceived as something that is implemented rather than something that leaders are inherently a part of (delve deeper into gentle leadership, leading with transparency and intent in Dave Martin's blog on "intent-based leadership in a remote world").

In order to foster trust among their people, especially in a remote or hybrid environment, open communication and information transparency must be encouraged. One of the first things I advise leaders who ask me how to get started on this is to change their meetings and one-on-one check-ins such that they invite questions, clarifications, and understanding from their people rather than being focused on status reporting and organisational updates. In order to make room for this, I ask them to consider what can be shared or received async. (For more information on this, read my earlier blog on async working.)

Additionally, I encourage them to share everything they can and to do so frequently and often, even to the point of explaining why they are unable to share specific information. Too frequently, we see information withheld and eked out "as needed" or "as the situation requires," leading to mistrust or a lack of organisational confidence. Also using techniques like the OKR (objectives and key results) model to bring about organisational alignment on what they are attempting to accomplish and the behaviours they are seeking to shift.

All of this helps build trust, but it's important to emphasise the role effective tools play in fostering transparency and communication. It's important to take into account technological solutions that encourage open communication. These solutions include chat platforms, online message boards, virtual obeyas (see previous article on virtual obeyas), as well as video conferencing that is especially designed for this use rather than corporate solutions that tend to drown people in their clumsy interfaces (you know the ones I'm talking about). 

Establishing and Co-creating Guide Rails :

For a variety of reasons, it's essential to establish and co-create guide-rails with the teams when working remotely. They provide a clear framework and set joint expectations for leaders and employees alike, ensuring the boundaries and guidelines that they need to operate, communicate, and escalate are well understood, ultimately creating autonomy and flexibility.

This also ensures that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities and can align their efforts towards common goals. Due to their involvement, team members also experience a sense of ownership and are more likely to take personal accountability and responsibility for their work. Even when teams are working remotely, all of this helps to preserve consistency and alignment . 

Guide-rails also serve as a source of support and structure. Remote workers often face challenges such as work-life balance, isolation, and distractions. By establishing guide-rails, organisations can offer guidelines and resources to help employees navigate these issues, fostering their well-being and job satisfaction. (remote:af, via our team launch pattern, provides a proven way to surface and create these guide-rails.) 

Team Bonding:

In a physical office setting, casual conversations and spontaneous interactions contribute significantly to team bonding. In remote or hybrid work environments, enabling these opportunities becomes even more important for building team connections. I have included some events below that I have used or participated in to do so when working with remote teams.

Virtual team-building events: These events can include virtual escape rooms (a number of organisations now specialise in these events), online scavenger hunts, or collaborative brainstorming sessions. The act of working together to achieve a common goal helps team members strengthen their relationships and improve collaboration.

Virtual Water Cooler: Establishing a virtual water cooler space where team members can engage in casual conversations, post information of interest and discuss non-work-related topics. This helps create the spontaneous interactions that occur in traditional office settings and encourages informal bonding. Here at remote:af we use baseball card exercises called It enables the participants to share as much or as little as they wish about themselves. It creates connections and conversations as well as understanding in the team as they share. We have seen many teams come alive with conversation and interaction after this exercise as they discover attributes and interests. The exercise utilises four quadrants in a baseball card style used on a virtual board. Participants can add photos, images and words that represent them, the four quadrants are   

  • Home:me (things like family and where they live etc.)
  • Fun:me (things they like to do: surfing, cooking etc.)
  • Work:me (their past and current roles, what they do in the role etc.)
  • Identify:me ( Traits they can rely on themselves for and traits they know they have to watch out for)

Fostering Emotional Well-being:

In today's digital era, fostering emotional well-being in remote working contexts has become more important than ever. As more individuals transition to remote working, it has become important to create a supportive and positive virtual atmosphere that promotes emotional health and resilience. Trust is closely tied to a sense of psychological safety, where individuals feel comfortable expressing their concerns, seeking help, and sharing their ideas without fear of judgement.

One key aspect of fostering emotional well-being is establishing open lines of communication. Encouraging open and transparent communication channels enables remote employees to express their concerns, share ideas, and seek support when needed. 

Equally important is establishing and respecting clear boundaries between work and personal life. Remote workers often find it challenging to disconnect from work due to the absence of physical boundaries. Encouraging employees to set a schedule, take regular breaks, and create a designated workspace can help them maintain a healthy work-life balance. Encouraging self-care activities such as exercise, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques can also contribute to emotional well-being.

Providing access to resources for mental health support is crucial and often forgotten once remote working begins. Offering virtual counselling sessions, employee assistance programmes, or online wellness platforms can help individuals cope with stress, anxiety, and other emotional challenges they may encounter while working remotely.

Some final thoughts: In the evolving landscape of remote and hybrid work environments (the "now normal"), nurturing trust and creating better connections have become indispensable but often forgotten factors in building stronger connections among remote teams. Clear communication and transparency form the foundation of trust, enabling interaction and fostering a sense of belonging. By implementing practical strategies like these, I believe organisations can cultivate trust, enhance productivity, and create a thriving remote and hybrid work culture