How to Build Trust in Virtual Teams from a Distance

Stop micromanaging and learn to put your trust in virtual teams

It’s time to be honest with yourself: are you a micromanager?

Many supervisors are quick to dismiss the label because of the negative connotations but think about your habits as a manager. Do you:

  • Ask for frequent updates on projects?
  • Tell your employees to cc you on most e-mails?
  • Touch base with team members throughout the day to find out what they’re working on?
  • Get extremely detail-oriented and like to zero in on corrections that need to be made?
  • Feel frustrated when spreadsheets or presentations aren’t formatted the way you like?

Some of these things are necessary to some degree, but if you want to build trust in virtual teams that you’re managing, you need to step back and reassess your approach.

According to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, people who believe they are being watched perform at a lower level. That means in your effort to have full control over your remote workers, you’re actually pushing them away, and they’re probably underperforming. And when employees feel their boss doesn’t trust them, they can feel disrespected, demoralized, and not valued.

If you were a micromanager when you were working with people in-person, chances are, you’re even worse now. How are you supposed to have trust in virtual teams when you can’t see them? How can you know when they’re getting work done versus when they’re binge-watching a show on Netflix?

Take a deep breath—it’s completely possible to loosen up, end your reign as a micromanager, trust your team, and see even better results.


Still having trouble trusting your virtual team? Learn to lead conference calls with your virtual team that produce results and gets work done efficiently. Sign up for our course, Supercharge Your Conference Calls with Virtual Teams.


5 ways to start putting your trust in virtual teams

Virtual teams need structure and guidelines—you are paying them, after all—but the goal is to put those processes into place, and then step back and let your workers show you what they’re made of. Remember, you hired them for a reason. They’re not children—they’re professionals, and deserve to be treated as such until you’re given reasons to intervene.

1. Set expectations upfront: If you want your virtual team to run like a well-oiled machine, you have to set ground rules and be clear what you expect of them. If you don’t set expectations, you can’t be upset when they don’t meet them.

One big piece of establishing trust in virtual teams is being clear about work hours. Do you expect all of your team members to be available and working from nine to five? Are you flexible for the most part, but want everyone available during specific chunks or time during the day? There is no right or wrong answer, but there needs to be one, and it must be communicated to your team.

2. Be predictable in communication: In a study of globally distributed teams, it was found that teams lacking in trust tended to have unpredictable communication patterns; usually, one or two team members dominated the communications. High-trust teams were regular and predictable, and team members communicated more equally and were conscientious about letting others know when they wouldn’t be available.

Be clear with your team about how often they should be communicating, and which channels are appropriate. For example, you might say that all group chats must be video calls on GoToMeeting, while individual questions should be e-mailed. If you need someone to explain something in more detail, get on a quick phone call to avoid any miscommunication.

3. Manage with goals and deadlines: As you try to overcome your micromanaging tendencies, it’s going to be hard to calm that voice in your head that’s saying “How do I know if they’re really working?!” It’s impossible to know what your virtual team members are doing every second of the work day, so you need to let that go. Instead, virtual teams should be given goals and deadlines.

Schedule weekly team check-ins and request progress reports on individual projects. If your remote workers are attending check-ins, submitting progress reports, and meeting deadlines, it shouldn’t matter to you how they’re managing their time. They’re doing what works for them—and in the end, that works for you, too.

4. Practice what you preach: You’re not just learning to increase your trust in virtual teams, they’re learning to trust you as well. As you set these rules and guidelines, be sure you’re also following them. Communication to your team when you will be available, and when you will not be available. Tell them what you’re working on, beyond group projects.

When your team begins to trust you, they will open up more and possibly even want to do a better job for you—which will help you trust them more as well. It’s a win-win situation.

5. Encourage personal connections: It’s so important for your team to talk on a regular basis and get to know each other. Set up a water cooler chat room in Slack for casual hang-outs, start meetings by asking your team to share any exciting personal news, and celebrate personal milestones like birthdays and new babies. Team-building activities are for you, too. As you get to know your employees better and learn their little quirks and preferences, you’ll be able to trust them more.

You don’t have to see your employees every day to build trust in virtual teams. By adjusting your management style to the remote working environment, you’ll likely see better results and calm any previous anxieties that were weighing you down on the job.

How did you learn to let go and trust your virtual team? Share your advice in the comments below!


Still having trouble trusting your virtual team? Learn to lead conference calls with your virtual team that produce results and gets work done efficiently. Sign up for our course, Supercharge Your Conference Calls with Virtual Teams.


Photo by CoWomen