The level of trust your colleagues have in you is the kind of thing you only really discover when you really need it. The importance of trust within a working relationship can’t be overstated, but how do you instill trust within a workplace? You can’t walk around the office all day asking people to catch you as you fall backward.
And what if that workplace is of the remote, online variety? How do you gain the trust of people you may never have met in person? Luckily for the growing number of telecommuters, a recent study has found video conferencing is second only to in-person meetings for generating trust among professionals in the U.S.
Which is very handy, considering video conferencing already sits at the heart of the most advanced virtual companies.
Trust Among Telecommuters
A study by the University of Michigan into the most effective forms of communication for building trust placed in-person contact, video calling, audio calling, and text/email in an order you could pretty much guess from your own experiences.
In-person collaboration came out on top, presenting as it does the most natural and familiar way of addressing another human. Video calling came in second. That wasn’t a a surprise, given its driving purpose is to recreate the in-person experience across distance.
That left audio calling third, and text/email communication last–which probably says more about the horrors of static email than it does the virtues of a phone call. In the world of remote workplaces, where there’s no option to undertake regular in-person meetings, those study results clearly mark out video calling as the best way to build trust.
So, just how do you do it?
Building Trust in the Virtual Workplace
Another study, this one with a neurological focus by researchers at Claremont Graduate University in California, found there were eight key ways to generate trust at work.
- Recognize excellence
- Provide a challenge
- Give staff choice in their tasks
- Provide employees freedom to work their own way
- Share information
- Build social bonds
- Show vulnerability
- Encourage professional development
All of those initiatives can be incorporated into a video conferencing-based working relationship. Some, like personalized work techniques, are built into a system where there’s little room for constant supervision. Others, such as developing social bonds and sharing top-level information, require a step outside the usual pattern of video calling.
As we’ve discussed previously, if remote meetings between staff aren’t a daily or at least frequent occurrence it is hard not to view them as all working, no-play occasions where the group must get through a bunch of important items before disappearing back to their respective corners.
However, if it is going to build trust–and trust in turn enables peers to better express themselves and openly share ideas–then it is worth scheduling these meetings a little earlier just to get in some social chatter.
Getting Personal Online
Despite all the wizardry that today’s video calling apps are capable of–the instant face-to-face meetings, the file, image, and screen sharing, and the group chats of up to 50 people–it seems the key to building trust online is nothing more than being predictable and being available.
Regularity breeds familiarity, which makes all that praise, freedom, and personal conversation the Clermont team recommend far easier to achieve. So leave your chat window open just a little longer and ask that remote colleague in Boston if they like the Red Sox’s chance this year; hold off on the congratulatory email and instead point out the best efforts publicly in a group video call; and be bold enough to contact an employee just to ask them if you’re doing enough to support them.
As for the remote communication alternatives, why make an audio call when your smartphone is capable of adding real-time visuals to the conversation? And why would you ever resort to an email, when a personal chat allows instant clarification, instant collaboration, and instant personal connection?
Ask yourself, what do I trust more; a human face or plain text and a winking emoji?