Building Trust in a Remote World

June 14, 2023
Building Trust in a Remote World

Trust builds over time, with repeated interactions. It is a critical part of all our engagements at the workplace. Imagine working with a boss whom you don’t trust. Or working with vendors you know will not deliver as per their commitments. Or having a team that misses deadlines.
How long will such engagements survive? Not long enough.

Need for Vitamin T

PWC’s 2016 Global CEO Survey revealed that 50% of CEOs worldwide consider lack of trust a significant threat to their organization’s growth. Other research suggests that a high level of trust creates a more positive employee experience and leads to a better productive workforce.

People who work at high trust companies experience..

  • 74% less stress
  • 50% higher productivity
  • 106% more energy at work
  • 13% fewer sick days
  • 76% more engagement
  • 29% more satisfaction
  • 40% less burnout

Src: The Neuroscience of Trust, HBR

Not having trust in relationships has always been a challenge. However, the challenge only magnifies in the current context. Of late, we have worked with people we’ve never met. Multiple people have joined organisations through virtual onboarding and connect with colleagues only digitally each day. In addition, recent research posits that work from home during the pandemic has started to erode our trust in colleagues. Some of us have resumed work for a few days a week, but others aren’t yet back in the offices. Some others may probably not go back at all. In such an environment, how do we build trust? How do we then develop stronger bonds and connections?

The Trust Framework

Trust can be classified into two major aspects, cognitive trust and affective trust.

These three sub-components are the ABC of trust, i.e., Ability, Benevolence and Credibility. While ability falls under cognitive trust and benevolence under affective trust, credibility is a critical component of both.

Cognitive trust

focuses on a person’s reliability and competence. You earn this trust by working hard. Without this trust, managers tend to micromanage you. If you’ve earned this trust, people believe you can deliver because you have the skills and knowledge to do so.

Affective trust

focuses on creating meaningful bonds. When you do beyond expectations, you earn this trust. As a result, people believe you are concerned about them and their well-being. Without this trust, colleagues may not collaborate with you or help you.

Coming to the components of cognitive and affective trust –

Ability is delivering on commitments come what may. Your reputation is that of a person who fulfills expectations. There is no gap between what you say and what you do. People perceive you as dependable, reliable, and predictable.

Benevolence is the trust that you care. You are concerned about the other person, and you can express that to them. As Stephen Covey puts it, ‘Many leaders care, but if their people don’t feel it, the perception gap reduces trust.’

Credibility is repeatedly working on ‘ability’ and ‘benevolence.’ Credibility is the reputation you build based on your constant demonstration of competence and care. Since it is a function of both ability and benevolence, credibility forms a part of cognitive and affective trust.

Learning about the trust perspectives is the first step in building trust. Implementing it in workplaces is the next crucial step.

Implementing the Trust Framework

Learning how to build trust is essential for long-term relationships. Trust takes a while to build, but the result is worth every effort. So, whether the goal is building trust between individuals or teams, the steps you can take include:

Assess the Trust Quotient in your organization – Design questionnaires and conduct surveys to understand the individual’s/ team’s/ organisation’s cognitive and affective trust levels.

Segment the results – Break down the results according to different demographics/target audiences to understand the needs of the various segments. This segmentation will enable appropriate customization of efforts in bridging the gap.

Benchmark the results – Compare the results obtained with either industry benchmarks (national or global) or against your organization’s defined standard/metric for trust. Determine the gap between desired and actual cognitive/affective trust for each team/individual across the organization.

Bridge the gap – Based on the developmental needs identified in the previous step, design learning paths for each individual and team, leveraging the expertise of SMEs. Conduct behavioral simulations, learning programs, coaching sessions to narrow the gap. Consider conducting these simulations, programs, interventions digitally for ease of delivery in the remote environment.
Maintain/ improve/ track the trust quotient – Periodically keep a tab on the trust levels as an organization. Course correct where needed, celebrate where due, and focus on the journey towards trustworthiness.

Building a culture of trust is not an overnight job

Successful teams and teamwork make successful organizations. And for that, trust is essential. Moreover, in a remote/hybrid world, the importance of trust only increases. Building a culture of trust won’t happen overnight, so a long-term approach is essential. Whether building it for the first time or rebuilding it, the best strategy is to take proactive steps to build the culture of trust with the help of SMEs and then sustain it through processes and systems.


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