How to build trusting relationships in a virtual workforce

5 Jul 2017 By Nigel Purse

The techniques needed are not so different to those used in a traditional office and will ensure your team is doing more than just mouse jiggling

Whether it has been directed at you or a colleague, or you have been the one saying it, we have all heard someone remark: ‘Oh yeah, working from home today?’

It doesn’t take too much research to come across apps, such as Mouse Jiggler, that restrict your PC or laptop from going into sleep mode to keep up an appearance of working while employees have a cup of tea or put the washing on.

Such apps were in fact designed to stop laptops shutting down when you’re trying to watch your favourite TV programme – and comments made questioning an employee’s motives are often made in jest – but with more companies moving to virtual working models, how do you encourage managers to trust their team to do more than simply mouse jiggling?

The Oxford Group recently conducted a survey on global workforce attitudes, and one of the questions was whether employees feel that having a virtual workforce affects trust levels within the company. It revealed some interesting results. Sixteen per cent of workers believe that the existence of a virtual workforce directly leads to a lack of trust and solid relationships between the team. When split between genders, 20 per cent of men feel this is true, while only 14 per cent of women agree.

The survey also found that most people believe that the traditional workplace environment is more suited to building close friendships and relationships with peers. This highlights a pressing challenge for businesses looking to move to a virtual base – how do you build and maintain trust and relationships within the workforce?

In fact, the principles behind forming these trusting relationships in a virtual environment aren’t too different from the techniques used within a traditional office. The key lies with establishing space and time for managers to better understand members of staff, who they are and what they want, and how they can achieve these goals. This involves holding open, honest conversations about career aspirations, discussing mutual expectations and challenging any unhelpful behaviours that are currently displayed.

If an employee feels valued through their managers taking a direct interest in their wants and needs, they are a lot less likely to take sneaky breaks when working virtually.

Part of these conversations will include listening to each team member as well as sharing insights and stories about your previous experience, with the hope that the team can build on this knowledge to become stronger and more efficient as a whole. It is important for each employee to understand why these conversations are taking place, allowing them to feel comfortable discussing the factors that drive them to success.

The only difference between having these conversations in a virtual working environment is when, where and how you have these conversations. Whether you arrange to meet over coffee or organise a Skype conference, the aim is the same: each member of staff needs to be involved and it needs to be clear from the outset what you are trying to achieve.

So, if your company is looking to move to a virtual working environment, or has already made the move but is afraid of having too many mouse jigglers, look at how you can support managers at all levels to develop the skills to have open, honest conversations with their team – wherever they work – and build that trust.

Nigel Purse is director at The Oxford Group

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