Learn how to build trust and psychological safety in remote teams

Updated: Oct 25, 2021

A buzzword of the post-pandemic global workforce isn't remote, it's resignation! Remote work is here to stay, and everyone is aware of that. Now the focus is shifted to the sky-high numbers of people that need a break or who have decided to quit all together. Nearly half of the workforce is either actively or passively searching for their next opportunity. This movement is called The great resignation and most people are baffled by the motivation behind it.


It's not what you think it is - it's not the work conditions, lousy parking, benefits package, or their job description. It's about culture, work environment, an intangible feeling of weariness or enthusiasm upon Monday morning, and very often, about the boss. People thrive under masterful leadership. People survive under a decent one. And people quit in bulk under subpar one.


This is actually great news! Perhaps you and your startup don't have the budget for luxurious work retreats, Christmas bonuses, and the latest equipment. What you do have is the capacity to offer your team members the best possible people to manage them. To lead, inspire, build a team, and drive everyone to perform superbly. Anyone can provide these kind of conditions to their team members. And, as it turns out, that carries the biggest importance. So, how do you go about it?


One of the first things on your management to-do list is to create trust and psychological safety. This is a task primarily for leaders, but it should also be an unspoken part of anyone's job description.


Why? Because trust is built between two people, both of them believing that the other has their best interest at heart. When that is the case with a group of people, psychological safety is established. Everyone in your company participates in creating this, and your leaders are in the front lines.


An HBR did a study that revealed that 58% of people trust strangers more than their own boss. It's about time this changes! Here are three ways for you to build trust and psychological safety in remote teams:

  1. Improving two dimensions of trust (warmth and competence)

  2. Leveraging belonging cues

  3. Focusing on time together and finding common interests


Two dimensions of trust


The first one is competence - clear intent and follow through. The other one is warmth - vulnerability, benevolence, and honesty. These two dimensions determine how people perceive us, in any setting.


Which one you should start with? Research indicates that, before leading your people, you should connect with them. Projecting warmth can be crucial to establishing yourself as a leader. Start by smiling and making a lot of eye contact. Give your colleague your full attention. Say affirming, sympathetic, kind words. Look for ways of supporting them and make sure you are not assigning the blame, but rather finding the solution together.


Belonging cues


Your next step will be to leverage belonging cues. In a remote setting, everything that makes you feel close to your team, should be part of your everyday activities. Your first step is to turn the camera on. A study demonstrates that the more familiar people are with a person's face, the more comfortable they are.


In addition to this, behavioral mimicking can further help you establish a better relationship. Look for cues while you talk to someone, and repeat their movements back. Non-verbal communication is crucial to any leader, remote or not.


Time together and common interests


And last but not least, what will help you create a strong bond with your teammates is to spend time together and search for common interests. Start by reaching out to them in regards to their interests. Make sure you dedicate time for chit-chat, that there is a space for social interaction, and get creative with icebreakers.


Establishing trust, and by extension psychological safety, requires consistent and deliberate action. What’s so great about this effort is that trust is the foundation upon which great leadership is built.


In order to become a more effective leader, building trust and psychological safety is a great place to start.

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