The Element of Trust in Remote Work

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  • January 31, 2023

I was with my previous company before and after the pandemic shutdowns. We had the usual nine-to-five, Monday-through-Friday office structure, with an hour lunch in the middle of the day and two fifteen-minute breaks. It was pretty standard.

Once the pandemic hit and it was clear we had to consider sending everyone to work from home, there was a huge trust issue. Management (myself included) was worried that if we weren’t there making the employees do their jobs, they just wouldn’t do them. I had this vision of everyone on their couch in their underwear playing video games all day while the phone was on “do not disturb.”

You know what we did? We made everyone stay on Zoom for the full eight-hour workday so we could be sure they were at their computers. Hello! It’s 1984 calling! These were grown adults and here we were acting like Big Brother. There was zero trust from our end. It makes me laugh just thinking about it now. How absurd!

Office Shock Book Cover (1)Moving a company to a hybrid or remote work model requires a huge leap of faith from business owners and managers. But trust in your employees is a mandatory component of running a successful remote team. You can’t run a successful remote office if you don’t have trust in your team. 

Bob Johansen, Joseph Press, and Christine Bullen, authors of Office Shock say, “While technology is important for office connectivity, the most essential social technology is trust. The need for trust will be acute in a future with more online interaction and less physical interaction.”

Studies show that employees in a remote or hybrid office are more productive and work over forty hours a week more often but are happier, have a better work-life balance, are less stressed, and have greater loyalty to the company. So essentially, remote/hybrid work results in happy employees who work harder. I know, it sounds like an oxymoron.


The Long-Distance Team Book Cover (1)According to Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel, authors of the bestselling series The Long-Distance Leader, The Long-Distance Teammate, and the upcoming The Long-Distance Team, say that there are three essential components of trust on a team:

  • Common Purpose—Is everyone aligned around what the work is and why they are there?
  • Competence—Can everyone demonstrate they are competent to do the job expected of them at an acceptable level?
  • Motivation—Are people motivated to do the best they can? Are they honest? Do they have the team’s best interest at heart? Are they (or will they be) good teammates?

When designing a remote/hybrid team, the answer to these questions can make or break a team. Business owners need to build a team where the answer to each question is a resounding “yes.”

In The Long-Distance Team, the author duo says, “If you start talking about the trust behaviors you will need to exhibit, many people will feel like they are exhibiting them—and they may be—part of the time! Culture isn’t when we are all our best selves but what our everyday selves do. To overcome any possible defensiveness, talk about it up front. The truth is, if we model the behaviors we want, even some of the time, it gives us hope we can achieve the culture we want.”

Remote Works Book Cover (1)Remote work professionals and digital nomads Ali Greene and Tamara Sanderson talk about the manager’s job of letting go when it comes to remote employees in their upcoming book Remote Works: “You have to trust the people you’ve hired. That’s when the magic of remote work happens. You start believing in one another’s autonomy to get the work done, and then you witness the results when you give people the freedom to truly act upon their abilities, their creative capacity, and their ideas. Fundamentally, remote work only works when you release control.”

Now, years later, working entirely remotely for a company based in California when I’m in North Carolina, I have a whole new understanding of what remote work is and should be. Greene and Sanderson make a statement in the introduction of Remote Works that really struck home. They say that this is where work has been heading all along, even without the brutal nudge from the pandemic. Technology has been slowly moving us toward remote and hybrid work to make our lives better while we’re chasing our professional goals and ambitions. We no longer have to choose between happiness and work. We can have both, as long as there is trust.

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