Trust in Remote Teams

Published July 15, 2019

We are six months into running a distributed team. When we were originally making the decision between local vs. distributed, I wrote this blog post which outlined my reservations.

To date, no one has been able to conclusively prove to me that it’s better in regards to output. For now, all I can say is that it’s different.

Trust & Performance

I have recently purchased a research report from the Journal of Applied Pscyhology, written in 2016, asking if trust matters more in virtual teams.1 Anyone who has experience managing any team understands the general finding of the report, “team trust is overall, positively related to team effectiveness.” Not surprising, I’m sure.

My interest lay in the findings below:

with respect to team performance data, team trust was significantly related with both task and contextual performance of teams, in line with our theoretical rationale that team trust leads to higher risk-taking behaviors of team members

the meta-analysis showed significantly stronger correlations between team trust and team performance in virtual as compared to face-to-face teams

In short: Trust levels are specifically more important on remote teams and impact their ability to perform at higher levels.

Carefully Placed Water Coolers

There’s a couple of ways our team is trying and/or has brainstormed to help replace the lack of IRL water coolers. We take these for granted in the face-to-face world and it’s far too easy to simply forget people exist when they’re not in front of you.

These activities run in addition to what I consider to be general ‘good practice’ management:

The full list seems like a lot however it only takes about two to three hours weekly with five team members. We’re adding a mandatory fun week in a few months for… mandatory fun.

How I feel when I plan events at work

Explicit Language and Documentation

It can be easy to talk over people or miss people wanting to talk through video. It also can be easy for people to perceive that they are missing out on something because they are remote. Being deliberate about our language and adding documentation helps with this:

There’s more to this than what I’ve listed however we’re still testing out new things as team members join. There is no one size fits all when it comes to personalities.

The results of remote work don’t appear to be any better so it’s a nice benefit to be able to offer candidates who are looking for more flexible working environments. From a management and leadership perspective it is, so far, only a slight adjustment.

The general tenet of good management remains the same: being deliberate will go far. Everything else is just a whole lotta faith and a whole lotta trust.

1 Breuer, Christina & Hüffmeier, Joachim & Hertel, Guido. (2016). Does Trust Matter More in Virtual Teams? A Meta-Analysis of Trust and Team Effectiveness Considering Virtuality and Documentation as Moderators. The Journal of applied psychology. 101. 10.1037/apl0000113.

2 I try to encourage everyone to life full lives outside of work and I wonder if this update on Monday creates a sort of urgency to do so in order to update a team. It is a curiousity I'm tracking here.

3 This likely calls for it's own blog post. We have a new routine called Leader Week, which rotates leadership responsibilities between team members. It's pretty cool.