Meeting the Challenge of Building Trust with Remote Teams


Remote work, or work from home, has become a part of the landscape courtesy of COVID-19. Where companies could once rely on the excuse that it had never been done before, they now no longer have that luxury and many employees have realized that they do not need to be tied to a physical location to do their jobs effectively.

As a result, there is no going back. A recent survey from Tech Republic revealed that 1-in-3 employees are willing to quit and go work somewhere else if remote work is eliminated entirely post pandemic. It is no longer a luxury, it is now part of the expectation many employees have.

Response to this varies. Some companies are moving to entirely remote workplaces, others are looking to experiment with hybrid models that are yet to be completely figured out. Many find themselves still debating.

In a session at our recent HR Exchange Live: Employee Engagement and Experience event, Tango Card’s Rebecca Hathaway outlined how the company is looking to provide their workforce as much flexibility as possible around this decision.

WATCH: How to Build Trust with Remote Teams

“The first thing we decided to do was roll out a choice first program,” Hathaway said. “That is the first step in building trust, is asking what do they want? It shows that you’re not just listening to your executive team or a board, you’re listening to all of the people that actually make your company happen.”

The choice first program allows employees to establish a “primary” desk, the location of which you choose, be it at home or in the office. That doesn’t mean that employees are chained to that location, however, as they can create a hybrid approach that works for them and serves their role within the organization most effectively.

Hathaway noted that around 2% of the roles at the company do require the employee to be in the office, but for 98% of them, the choice is there. Of the 185 employees at Tango Card, only around 30 are interested in being in the office on a regular basis. For the most part, employees view the office as a “touch down space” where they can meet and collaborate when required.

“We’re saying ‘we trust you to make the right choice for you’,” said Hathaway. “We as an employer have to lead with that trust. We can’t expect employees to believe in that trust if we don’t first give it to them.”

Tools for Engagement Programs

In the session, Hathaway polled an audience of more than 200 people to ask how many of them were using reward or incentives for employee engagement programs. Less 40% indicated that they were, a number that didn’t surprise Hathaway.

“As your building trust with teams, some sort of reward or incentive builds engagement and that is necessary to build that trust,” Hathaway said. “There’s a lot of questions around how do I manage my output, how do I do this or that and the answer is technology.”

WATCH: Distributing Rewards for the Distributed Workforce

Hathaway outlined how Tango Card has integrated itself into a variety of tools including their HRIS, Slack and Namely. Employees can then send things like a gift card to say thank you to another team through these systems. In a 187 person organization, 125 people a month on average now send public kudos or thank you messages that include rewards. That goes across teams, functions, departments and the organization as a whole and is publicly visible to everyone.

“When people see that, we see more engagement,” Hathaway said. “Using your chat function is a great way to get people talking. A lot of these channels are public and fun. It keeps people looking forward to something in there day.”

Hathaway also outlined the use of a tool called Donut. It’s a Slack integration that creates a Slack watercooler topic that poses a random question three times a week. Its intent is to create a dialogue that would normally occur organically in a random setting such as a break room or happy hour and gives people a chance to express themselves and interact with people and teams they normally wouldn’t.

The app then goes beyond that to set up coffee dates with a randomly assigned colleague from another department. It’s linked to the calendars of those involved and removes some of the awkwardness of asking someone you don’t know to have coffee with you.

“Of our 187 person company, there are 34 donut meetings every month, that’s 68 people each month meeting people they wouldn’t otherwise meet,” Hathaway said. “And as we’ve reviewed what we want to keep doing, what isn’t working, we’ve had the majority of our employees say, don’t take donut away, it’s so much fun! And it’s really a great tool for geographically dispersed teams, it gives our teams in Idaho a chance to meet with our teams in Washington.”

The Issue of Trust

One of the biggest issues of trust is around productivity. Many a manager struggles to meet the challenge of trusting employees if they can’t see their productivity with their own eyes. For this, Hathaway recommends the “OKR model,” short for objectives and key results.

At the end of the day, people need to be engaged in more than a fun way, so it’s important that your tools and the best practices around them suit managers establishing trust with their teams. Having established metrics that establish key results that have to occur and objectives that need to be met, managers can measure their teams output and establish the value of the work being done.

“Creating some sort of weekly measuring stick and one-on-ones that are never canceled is important,” Hathaway said. “A lot of managers when they have a busy week, cancel their one-on-ones before anything else. Truthfully, it should be the last thing. We use a tool called 15Five, which allows you to see what your team member wants to talk with you about before you set up the meeting. This allows managers to be more prepared to speak to the employees concerns and make the most of that meeting time.”

Photo Courtesy of Stock Photo Secrets

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