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Trusting Your Remote Teams to Do the Right Things (Even When No One is Looking)

By Ken Wagner, Ph.D.

“How do I know my remote team is just as productive as when I was able to see them in the office?”

“How do I know they are doing the right things in the right way? Are there metrics I can use?”

“How can I be sure my remote employees are fully engaged, even though I’m not around?”

I’m hearing these questions a lot as remote work has become the “new way of work.” As a leader, what can you do? Do you use keystroke counters and always-on cameras to see them—because you can’t fully trust them? Or, maybe you should “trust but verify?” Or, “trust and hope for the best?”

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 Notice that recurring word “trust.” There has to be trust between you and your team or working remotely won’t work. Trust can’t be blind, of course. You need to build trust by engaging your people in focusing on what’s important. So, how do you do that now that you can’t readily see or hear them?

You need specific information about how they are approaching their work, what they are doing/saying, how they are organizing/prioritizing, and especially what they’re avoiding.

 

Check Your Own Leader Behavior

Your leader behavior is key to building trust. You do so by demonstrating the following:

  1. Partner with your employees to set achievable sub-goals, and provide objective feedback on how well people are doing
  2. Listen with a complete focus on understanding what they are doing, their thinking, and concerns
  3. Make a perspective-taking effort to better understand the conditions in which they are working and living (“stay in your own shoes while appreciating another’s perspective”)
  4. Build-in positive accountability by asking about and reinforcing the behavior you want
  5. Ask intentional questions to help people stay connected to mission and strategy

The primary difference in “remote managing” is the need to be more purposeful and deliberate with all interactions—changing the medium to “virtual” creates a genuine barrier. But it’s a barrier that you can leap over.

 

Dialogue, Listening, and Feedback

Back to building trust. Building trust over distance is not easy, but here’s how:

  • Use intentional dialogue, focused on proven business-critical behaviors such as, setting clear direction, building competency and measuring progress. Remember to connect the behaviors to results that matter
  • Listen to understand
  • Offer value-adding insight and feedback

When communicating, ask remote employees what they are experiencing as they work. Show your genuine interest in their day-to-day work, as well as customer and peer conversations. Get to know each employee’s remote working environment, technology, family distractions, etc. Listen to their concerns. These frequent check-ins, if supportive rather than evaluative, tell them that you really care. Every interaction can function both as a learning experience and a trust-building moment.

But how do you really know when your remote employees are doing what they should? Remember your KPIs: If the metrics are trending in the right direction—and you know people are achieving them through the right behaviors—then things are likely operating as they should, regardless of the details of your peoples’ working style.

However, it may be that new behaviors will need to be shaped around these metrics. For example, employees might need to learn to innovate or customize processes in adjusting to the new situation while maintaining the core intent of these processes. Similarly, leaders must be more consistent in asking directly about employees’ impact and experiences to tap into the things that matter.

Remember the Golden Rule? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But in reality, this is not sufficient. Instead, the Platinum Rule should be our guide: “Do unto others as they would like done unto them.” Follow this and your people will do the right things, the right way—even when no one is looking.

Also see Leading Virtual Teams: Strengthening Your Relationships

This blog was authored by Ken Wagner, Ph.D. Ken translates human potential into business success to drive profitability, operational excellence, employee engagement, and leader performance. His deep subject matter expertise in leader development, behavioral science, motivation, learning, and systems analysis has given him highly diverse understanding across a broad spectrum of private and public industries ranging from complex, multi-national organizations to specialized boutique companies, in more than 20 countries, across 6 continents.

Topics: Leadership, Communicating with Teams, Working Remote, Leading Remote Teams, Managing Remotely

Ken Wagner, Ph.D.

Written by Ken Wagner, Ph.D.