While some companies are attempting to push people back to the office, millions will continue working from home. That means enterprise professionals are struggling to build trust in remote teams to help maintain loyalty, productivity, and employee health.

Digital solutions for the WFH challenge

We’ve already learned some of the approaches to help enterprises boost remote work, but there is also a need to nurture trust in order to build effective remote teams.

Digital technologies are boosting performance but also increasing the risk of burnout as employees work longer hours at home. This is particularly essential as managers work attempt to consolidate team performance around project targets and goals, while simultaneously working to prevent their own tendency toward loyalty-destroying micromanagement of their teams.

“Accurate expectation-setting and transparency of data are key to build mutual trust and lead successful remote teams,” wrote Gartner’s Laurence Goasduff.

“Employers that get this right will have a more engaged workforce, greater employee retention and better ability to attract top talent,” said Gartner analyst Brian Kropp.

Here are three approaches that might help enterprises build trust within remote teams.

Start with the equipment: Employee choice

Empowering employees to choose their own equipment may help build employee engagement. IBM CIO Fletcher Previn has made numerous claims concerning employee choice schemes across the years, including that Mac users are 17% less likely to leave the company and that they achieve better results.

“I don’t know if better employees want Macs, or giving Macs to employees makes them better. You got to be careful about cause and effect — but there seems to be a lot of corroborating evidence that says you want to have a choice program,” he said in 2019.

Numerous statistics suggest that employee choice schemes help increase employee engagement. According to a 2019 Jamf survey, for example, 97% of Mac users say they feel more productive when switching from Windows.

That’s not to say that Apple’s solutions are the right tools for every employee or that everyone wants to use them, but it does suggest those companies that offer workers — even remote workers — the opportunity to use these solutions may help build employee engagement. We also know that many enterprises are already diving into Apple’s pool as the pandemic continues.

Use apps to support digital oversight

Trello, Slack, and project management apps such as Omni Plan, Merlin, MeisterTask, and others don’t just provide you useful insight into your goals, they may also help build transparency within the management process.

Individual team members and the teams themselves may benefit from access to their own performance insights. Use apps like these to include your teams within goal-based project insight. Doing so gives your teams a window into their overall place within a project, and it also helps manage expectations and becomes useful data with which to guide future decisions. Alternatively, you could explore tools such as Factorial, Employment Hero, Zoho, and others, though many of these are, strictly speaking, HR solutions.

There has been some movement toward highly invasive electronic performance monitoring, but the research suggests these tools to be counterproductive. Not only does this approach raise stress, but it reduces trust, creativity, and motivation — and may actually damage the quality of work produced, according to Microsoft’s New Future of Work report. To build a positive employee experience, performance insights should be gathered on a macro basis, not on a micro basis.

Introduce outside-the-box comms

Team and individual performance meetings aren’t always enough; informal contact is sometimes required.

To that end, some firms organize one-to-one Zoom/video calls between all tiers of management and staff to help break down hierarchies and boost direct connection.

Many managers are anxious to build bonds with employees not just to foster productivity, but also to create supportive digital spaces within which teams can share challenges and ask for help with work and personal stress. Informal one-to-ones help.

They help because human contact is important for well-being. We know mental health problems and feelings of isolation have become endemic in the pandemic, so even something as prosaic as sending pizzas around to team members and organizing happy hours using Houseparty may lift battered spirits and enable better personal connections.

We also know that teams who share traumatic experiences, such as the current pandemic, may end up becoming more tightly connected, but for this to happen it’s essential to encourage them to use digital collaboration tools in a social way. Orange Business Services, for example, lets staff use the enterprise collaboration tools it provides for social contact, not just business. It’s important to nurture a goal-driven culture of trust and mutual support, while maintaining an open connection within flexible, agile teams.

That’s a lot to think about for today, and while it may be true to say the biggest challenges of the move to hybrid workplaces lie ahead of us, rather than behind us, it is useful to consider that Apple’s platforms will play a critical role in the emerging hybrid enterprise.

All the same, as business (we hope) returns to normal, many enterprises will seek to exploit the opportunity of remote working to reduce overall operational costs. For companies struggling to manage heavy financial losses during the pandemic, reducing real estate rental costs may provide a lifeline — which in itself suggests a valid business reason that, despite some resistance, the remote enterprise will remain post-pandemic.

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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