I hate to admit. As, what I consider to be, a pretty progressive leader of a fully remote, multiple time-zone start-up I've had the thought one too many times, "I wonder if they're actually working." But perhaps I'm really wondering, "How does trust function in an environment when everyone is at home?"
Trust is extremely important in any environment. Just like romantic relationships, employees in high-trust teams perform exponentially better than employees in low-trust environments.
What constitutes a "high-trust" team? One Harvard study, dove deep to find that high-trust teams are those with more empathy, collaboration, recognition of employees, vulnerability, and personal growth for all.
Here some quick facts of a high-trust organization experience:
But the one fact that stood out to me was "nearly half of the employees surveyed would give up a 20 percent raise for greater control over how they work including flexible work schedules and options like working from home."
When people, especially developers, are given control and are trusted to figure it out - overall performance, quality, and retention improves.
At Staat, not only are we fully remote but we're operating in multiple timezones, have varying communication styles and varying conventions around time, giving feedback, and how to disagree.
Here are 5 ways I've approached building trust as a founder that you're welcome to grab and adapt for your team:
Transparency can be a tricky subject but I've learned that the more transparent you are, the more your team feels like they can rely on you. Building trust is a two-way street, you're wanting to trust that they're getting work done and they're wanting to trust that you have their best interest at hand.
I'm very open and transparent about what's happening at Staat. Not only do I share financial models with salaries visible, we make sure to inform our development team of marketing projects and our marketing team of development projects. We share performance metrics and progress reports to both teams so that everyone has a good grasp at what's happening, where, and with who. That way, everyone gets a good view at how work ethic, passion, and creativity is spread across the business and one side doesn't feel like their outworking the other.
Being vulnerable is a simple (and terrifying) as admitting to needing help or owning up to a mistake. It's not easy, and something I've had to actively work on especially as a black woman who feels like they need to constantly go above and beyond. But the more I am able to say, "I don't know how to do this" or "I'm not feeling well and going to take a day." The more my team follows suit.
The more comfortable the team feels with showing their weaknesses, the more we can rely on each other for our strengths.
Connecting on things outside of work is powerful at creating trust. I know what my team mates are into, and have worked to find shared interests that we can banter about throughout the week.
There are several ways I would go about this:
Virtual meeting spaces: spaces where people can meet/banter virtually, for instance our #dopeshit Slack channel or in a weekly watercooler chat via video.
Meeting in person: our founding team has set a defined number of times that we need to meet in-person and spend time with each other. There are other fully remote companies that get together once or twice a year on a company retreat. Look to do this at a team level as well.
Encourage personal sharing: send out updates, photos, and facts about teammates. Do fun things like team quizzes to see how much you all know about each other or virtual movie nights that give you something in common to talk about later.
Give small gifts: I'm a big proponent of this. When we first started Staat, I gave out a book and wrote a personalized letter on the cover to each of my team members. I learned later that that note was the finalizing factor to my CTO joining the team. To this day, if I'm reading something that I feel one of my team mates can benefit from, I don't hesitate to get it for them. A small gesture can go a long way.
In the Harvard study, there's a fantastic section on self-improvement which we're big fans of at Staat.
"High-trust teams help people develop personally as well as professionally. Numerous studies show that acquiring new work skills isn't enough; if you'r not growing as a human being, your performance will suffer. High-trust companies adopt a growth mindset when developing talent."
In 1:1s this is a great time to learn about personal insecurities or fears, and create development pathways to help your team breakthrough. For example, as my co-founder transitioned from agency life to the start up world there was a bit of imposter syndrome around having an authoritative voice in a new space.
I've made it my mission to double down on acknowledgement in the areas where he feel's like an imposter and then observe to see if his same fears rear their head again and at the same intensity level. Of course it takes time, but I'm already seeing improvement.
Again, helping your team improve as people without connection to the work shows that you can be trusted outside of the work. Go for getting personal!
To get back to the question that sparked the idea for this post, yes - people at Staat are definitely working. It's about delivering on goals based on specific team needs. We're an output based organization and consistent output increases trust with me and everyone else.
Our weekly strategic meetings where we discuss the output helps us to see just how much each team member is contributing.
By doing the work above, we've created an environment where if contributions decline we can have healthy conflict and get it resolved quickly. But all of this is a nod to the work we put in in building trusted relationships outside of the tasks at hand.
It is a privilege to be able to work remotely, but it can be a disaster without the benefit of trust. I suggest it's something that you actively work towards so that you can reap all of the benefits of a high-trust organization. Would love to hear from you:
Drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll share with the community.