How to Build Trust on Virtual Teams

Original Post by Chelsea Mize


Remember the trust falls you used to do as a team-building exercise at summer camp? Now imagine the people catching you in a trust fall are people you’ve never met in real life. You probably wouldn’t feel too safe stepping off that ledge. When it comes to virtual relationships, establishing trust can be incredibly difficult, but for remote workers, building trust on a virtual team is a crucial element to ensuring your team’s success. So how do you build trust amongst virtual colleagues?

Though fostering trust between your virtual team members might seem like a near-impossibility, if managers are proactive at the outset, virtual teams can build professional relationships founded on trust and a common goal. These tips on building trust between remote team members will give you all the information you need to guarantee that your virtual team works in harmony from the start.

1.) Rely on the Swift Trust Theory

Swift trust is a type of trust that occurs in temporary organization structures where teams are, by nature, forced to assume trust right off the bat and then verify and re-adjust their trust beliefs as time progresses. Swift trust is commonly utilized in industries like the entertainment industry where crew members are thrown together and expected to work cohesively as a unit from the outset with little to no introduction.

When people are assembled and asked to work as a team, there is a strong proclivity to give others the benefit of the doubt. Utilize swift trust on your remote teams; challenge your virtual team members and give them the opportunity to problem-solve together. When team members are united by a singular purpose, swift trust rapidly transforms into a deeper, more meaningful bond.

2.) Make Trust-Building a Point from the Start

When your team is already established and settled into comfortable patterns of behavior and interaction, it can be difficult to build trust. Make a point of encouraging team members to build social capital early on, even if it’s a brief ten minute chat at the start of a project kick-off meeting where team members can swap personal stories.

lan3.) Set Aside Time for Storytelling

When you remove team members from the close physical proximity of the office, the natural social bonding that occurs in the workplace falls by the wayside. Encourage your team members to build social capital in a virtual setting. With strong social bonds come more trust and, as a result, a more harmonious team effort.

4.) Emphasize Similarities between Team Members

We are naturally inclined to trust people with whom we share similar interests and opinions. Virtual teams don’t organically provide much opportunity for unearthing interpersonal commonalities so, to help your team build trust, make time for those similarities to come to light.

Start your virtual meetings with a personal question for the team to answer, like the best movie they’ve seen recently or their biggest pet peeve. With more opportunity to share personal details, interpersonal connections (and trust) will abound.

5.) Communicate Regularly

In a global study conducted focusing on communication and trust in virtual teams, researchers demonstrated that, when it comes to dispersed teams, the ones that were lacking in trust were also the same teams where communication was neither predictable nor regular.

The study revealed that, on high trust teams, communication was regular and predictable and all team members participated equally in said communication. Make sure your virtual team members communicate often (and in equal measure), and trust will grow over time.

There’s simply no way around it — successful teams are teams that share unequivocal trust. Though virtual teams might experience some added obstacles when building trust, with the proper attitude and a conscious effort, virtual team members can foster a sense of trust and unity that rivals the best of their non-remote counterparts.

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