Building team trust while at home is possible

Building team trust while at home is possible
Elizabeth Schuster

Community Action Wayne/Medina participants share thoughts at a Building Trust Experience workshop, socially distanced and wearing protective masks.


Without trust it can be challenging to have highly effective teams, both within your job and also across volunteer work. Building trust can be harder while working from home and with many virtual meetings during the pandemic, but there are ways of doing it.

Human relations expert Rodd Welker has been advising on effective teams since 2001 and started Eagle Advisor Group in 2009. He has observed a change in the level of trust in teams since the pandemic.

“A lot of it boils down to the disconnect, and as advanced as some of our virtual apps are, there is no substitute to shoulder to shoulder, face to face. It creates disconnect, and with disconnect seeds of mistrust can grow,” Welker said.

Author of "The Building Trust 60-Day Workout" and CEO of Building Trust, Bruce Hendrick also has observed evolving trends in trust through the pandemic.

“What I see is that the lack of line of sight with people, that extra reassurance, starts to impact our security. Since our natural human tendency is to fill in the void with the negative, I advise my clients to overcome that with filling in the gaps with what is really going on,” Hendrick said. “Err on the side of transparency as much as possible. The more we know, the less we have to fill it in with conjecture and speculation.”

Hendrick said trust is not always worse during the pandemic, and it’s malleable. He pointed out examples of existing teams that already had high levels of trust before the pandemic, and because it is part of their “mojo and culture,” they have been able to maintain trust during the pandemic.

“But if you have done a lot of hiring during the pandemic, and a lot of these folks have only worked from home so you don't have the foundation, then your trust might not be as strong. So you have to work a little harder,” he said.

Welker also pointed out team dynamics that can impact trust. “As businesses are bringing some employees back, it's teams that have some team members in the office and some team members that are remote. There is potential for those that are remote, even if it was by choice, there can be a feeling of disconnect, of feeling left out,” Welker said. “I think the way we build trust is going to have to change.”

Hendrick called attention to the fact that even if specific trust-building activities change, the underlying principles for building trust remain the same.

“Trust always comes down to three simple things: open and honest communication, care and concern for the individual, and competence (are people able to do what they intend to do)," he said. "If those things exist, it can be as effective virtually.”

Surprisingly, it is possible to have virtual conversations with high levels of energy and trust. One example was a tourism meeting Hendrick attended recently. Tourism is an industry that has been hit hard by pandemic-related restrictions, but this team was energized about the potential of a positive upcoming tourism season.

“(Even) with almost 40 people on the call, the camaraderie with those people was almost tangible. They were so happy to be making it through the pandemic,” Hendrick said.

While there are examples of highly successful virtual meetings, Welker noted two key areas where lack of trust is playing out in the teams he works with. First is without the casual water-cooler conversations and spontaneous trips to the coffee shop with colleagues, people are not having the same opportunities to connect. Second is information flow can be harder.

“It's not just that we are missing opportunities to chat informally; we also miss casual times to get news and information informally. We know that any time people aren't informed, there is a chance for mistrust. Especially when it's around information, the loss of that flow of information can lead to lower trust,” Welker said.

Solutions do exist. “Get on the Zoom call and be face to face virtually and talk about how are you doing. What are the challenges you are facing? Let’s come up with moments where people can connect socially and relationally and not just functionally,” Welker said.

Welker also suggested scheduling smaller group meetings that serve as a time for questions and answers. “A lot of virtual meetings have people doing more listening. They might not be talking as much as they would if it were in person,” he said.

In the end trust boils down to do you feel safe?

"My job (leading a team) is to help people feel safer than they did yesterday," Hendrick said. "That usually opens a door that helps me conduct myself differently, which often gives me a chance to earn their trust.”

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