With the coronavirus pandemic having a long lasting impact on the way companies do business, it will be more important than ever to keep connected with teams, maintain trust and foster a positive company culture.
Over the last few months there has been a massive shift in how and where we work. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), prior to the pandemic less than 30% of the UK workforce worked occasionally from home – with just 5% mainly doing so. Now, UK organisations are operating frameworks that enable remote working post-pandemic. Not only have companies realised the many benefits to working remotely, but a recent IBM survey found that 54% of employees would actually prefer to primarily work from home moving forward.
Trust is a critical component of a successful organisation, but with the increased need for remote working, maintaining mutual confidence across distributed teams can be a challenge. This is particularly true for organisations that span geographies.
Indeed, any business that views remote working as a bigger part of their future will need to grapple with these important issues. For instance, research suggests remote teams struggle with inclusion – in particular, they can miss out on the positive feelings associated with connectedness and belonging. This can easily lead to lower levels of trust, which has a direct negative correlation on productivity, teamwork and the quality of communication across the organisation.
Part of the solution lies in finding ways to make employees feel valued and heard, as well as making sure they feel connected to the organisation. But, how can we ensure a strong and inclusive culture now that we are facing a more remote environment?
Here are some fundamental tips for fostering trust throughout an international remote workforce:
First and foremost, it is important for companies to build and nurture their local teams with a culture founded on trust. Many companies talk about their belief in the benefits of mutual trust, but for it to endure, actions must accompany words and businesses must make a long-term commitment to their teams.
The process must be holistic and should start even before prospective new employees join the organisation, because an absence of transparency and trust in a business can raise questions in the mind of people as to whether their values match those of their potential employer. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, for example, detailed some of the top considerations people have when contemplating an organisation as a potential place of employment. The data found that management always telling the truth is high on their list of importance with a total expectation of 79 percent (38 said they have strong expectations and 41 percent said it is a deal breaker). The report also said that 78 percent of respondents believe that how a company treats its employees is one of the best indicators of its level of trustworthiness.
On a day-to-day basis, global teams can struggle with inclusion - a study revealed that 62 percent of companies say their company HQ holds the most influence, which is not surprising, but a pervasive “headquarters mentality” can have a negative trickle-down effect that results in a lack of trust amplified by inherently different cultures and expectations.
The study also demonstrated that feelings of connectedness, belonging, and inclusion were the only variables that diverged dramatically for global teams versus the organisation as a whole—with 15% less likely to report high or very high levels of feeling unified with the rest of the company. This is significant since we know these feelings typically translate to lower levels of trust if they are overlooked.
Establish effective communication practices
To overcome these issues, you need strong processes and if possible, the assistance of culture experts to optimise the employee experience for every team, no matter where they are based. This means providing them up with compliant, equitable systems that also demonstrate an understanding of local culture. Also, establishing communications practices that make them feel valued and heard, across time zones and on par with employees at headquarters, is equally important.
Companies with global teams need to make a point of having regular check-ins so employees know how they are doing and where they fall into the overall mission of the organisation. Also, remember to put on the same sort of celebrations you would if your team worked in-house. Finding ways to commemorate company or department milestones, individual awards, and globally relevant holidays might take a little more creativity, yet the effort pays off in creating a community and fostering borderless team rapport.
Trust is a Two-Way Street
Besides building employee trust in the employer, organisational leadership also needs to trust that its employees are working effectively. In the current circumstances, a lot of managers are struggling with this challenge, and some organisations are using software to track the activities of remote workers. While this might be effective for some situations, it’s not an option which is suitable for the culture of every business out there and can imply a serious lack of faith in employees who have never had their productivity or commitment brought into question before.
A useful alternative is to use a very clear set of metrics to determine whether someone is doing their job effectively and efficiently. For example, customer satisfaction surveys can determine how well customer service teams are performing. Engineers can be assessed based on lines of code written, and how many mistakes are made, and similarly, accountants can be given feedback based on the level of clerical errors compared to their norm, alongside their productivity rates.
Connectivity is key
Managers should also be having regular check-ins with their team members by video call, so that they can understand the nuances of what might be affecting the wellbeing and effectiveness of their colleagues. And as a regular point of record, using weekly summary reports gives employees the opportunity to highlight their accomplishments for the week and what they’re working on.
Managers should always call on their intuition, which often can be spot-on. As a manager, if you think someone is doing their job and delivering well, they usually are. If you think someone is unable to do their job, they are likely struggling. Put together, these tools can help build, maintain a strong level of employer trust that, despite very challenging circumstances, work is still getting done.
Trust can be difficult to achieve - it requires genuine effort, commitment and hard work by all the stakeholders. But the impact can be transformational, with international teams pulling together for a common goal that is also fully compatible with growth, profitability and consistent business success. In a future shaped by a shared international crisis, trust will become a much more valuable commodity in the years ahead.
Nicole Sahin, CEO and Founder at Globalization Partners
Nicole Sahin’s mission is to eliminate barriers to doing business internationally and building global teams. As founder and CEO of Globalization Partners, she is recognised for having created an innovative solution that enables companies to hire great talent anywhere in the world, without the complexity of setting up foreign branch offices or subsidiaries. Businesses are able to leapfrog over the legal, HR and tax complexities without having to figure out “how” to do business in a foreign country, while getting all the benefits of a global team.