How to build trust in a virtual environment

The modern world means we’re meeting in a very different way but we haven’t evolved that quickly and human beings still have the need for real human interaction. The way we do things is often complex and in a face-to-face environment you can create trust and commitment much more quickly than you can in a virtual environment.

In order to build trust, humans assess a number of factors in other people including their ability, integrity and benevolence. The first two factors play a big part in early working relationships while the assessment of the latter comes later.

Being able to judge someone’s ability and integrity can often take more time in a virtual environment as there’s often not as much interaction as there is in face-to-face meetings. However, trust can still be built at a slower pace but it’s also quicker to deteriorate too.

I’ve seen working relationships break apart quickly because a conflict has been dealt with over email when it warranted more interaction to rebuild the trust.

In a face-to-face environment there’s less façade and if someone isn’t really engaged, the rest of the meeting attendees will be able to tell. Virtual meetings allow people to be more transparent about how they feel and if they’re not interested in a meeting they simply won’t engage.

In a virtual meeting some participants can hide behind their computer screens without paying full attention to the task at hand. Social loafing is a well documented phenomena that can be applied to working in a team in this way.  Much of this is down to team size and what individuals can get away with but the correct kind of communication plays a huge part in this.

This can be combated in the virtual environment by breaking down complex tasks and making everyone accountable for a small part.

This is why a blend of virtual working and face-to-face meetings is so important. While it might cost money to bring a team together the pay off is a team that works better together and gets more done.

Virtual working is not a bad thing, in fact it’s integral to the modern work environment. Here are some tips for getting it right.

Set ground rules

Research shows that most people multi-task during a conference call. In order for their attention to be focused on the meeting at hand, it’s important to set ground rules for your team.

Meet face-to-face

This is especially important if you’re a leader working with a new team. In order to establish trust from the outset make your first meeting with the team in person as this can help set the stage for future collaboration.

Technology is important but so are skills

With all conference call and collaborative software you’ll be able to learn the basics but there’s another element of training needed for leaders working with virtual teams. You need to know how to build trust, use the software effectively, and structure your meetings based on the work that needs to be done.

Virtual meetings are so important but a blended approach is needed to help build trust and encourage teams to work in the most efficient way possible.