How to manage remote IT teams: 3 tips to build trust

How can you foster more trust in a remote IT team? Try these three tips, IT leaders
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Trust is a vital cornerstone for IT teams as they work to maintain key systems and develop, iterate, and launch the latest innovations. However, the ability to build - and maintain - trust is now more crucial and more difficult to attain: IT teams have become more dispersed, cyberattacks continue to climb, and the value of intellectual property is at a premium.

Leaders managing remote IT teams need more than traditional trust-building activities.

As someone who has founded multiple companies and led IT teams for more than 20 years and who now manages employees across two continents, I’ve found that when employees operate in environments that have a higher degree of trust and stability, they are more likely to be invested in their work. That leads to increases in productivity, quality of work, and profitability. But cultivating a high-trust environment among remote co-workers is more challenging in today’s evolving workplace. With more than 70 percent of people globally working remotely at least once a week, go-to strategies like team-building events, face-to-face meetings, and ad hoc one-on-one chats are becoming irrelevant or even nonexistent.

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In these circumstances, it’s the CIO’s role to work doubly hard to outline intentional frameworks to help foster trust. Here are three tips to get you started:

1. Promote transparency

An environment of clear and transparent communication proves crucial.

One of the tricky things about managing a remote team is the lack of shared space. Typically shared spaces organically foster communication and collaboration (this was, in fact, the whole idea behind open-plan offices). When you have teams that work separately from each other, it’s crucial to compensate for the distance by establishing an environment of clear and transparent communication.

However, this does not necessarily mean more communication. A lot can be lost in translation during the shuffle of everyday work and sending a billion messages to an employee is not likely to help provide clarity.

Instead, delineate clear goals as well as processes for workflows and feedback. You can achieve this by setting aside time to provide your team with ample one-on-one feedback and briefs, facilitating open discussion between team members, providing team members with clear project pathways, and (when appropriate) sharing big-picture views of how projects fit into the success of the company.

At Wire, we found that implementing OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) are useful for guiding the whole team and fostering transparency across departments. OKRs are done quarterly and then shared throughout the organization, starting with the CEO and trickling down through management all the way to individual employees. This is our way of making sure everyone feels empowered in their role and has a clear path to successfully deliver against overall company goals, with full transparency.

2. Get personal

Trust is built on reliability and familiarity. CIOs can make great progress on both of these by simply leading by example. To show reliability, make sure you are consistent and responsive in your communications. Days can get busy and priorities can shift: This is particularly hard for remote teams as you can’t simply walk over to someone’s desk for a quick discussion.

One of the biggest solutions for this type of issue is also the simplest. If you are busy and cannot immediately respond in-depth, a simple acknowledgment (“I’m doing xyz right now but will respond to your message in an hour”) can often make a huge difference.

Do you have a messaging channel that is a casual “water-cooler” style space?

When cultivating a sense of familiarity among remote teams, it’s also important to encourage non-work related conversations. This could mean doing a weekly all-hands meeting where employees are encouraged to share about their lives, or perhaps opening an email chain or messaging channel that is a casual “water-cooler” style space for employees to joke around and chat about shared interests.

3. Empower your team

Focus on measurable ways to improve instead of conceding failure.

Trust is, of course, a two-way street. Showing your team you trust them – in their decision making and industry knowledge – is a powerful way to build a mutually responsible and confident bond. A good leader is focused on supporting their team.

Listen to your team members’ perspectives, and give them a stake in decision-making. Trust that they know what they’re doing and are just as invested in being successful as you are. And if things don’t work out as planned, don’t immediately place blame. Instead, look at each event as a learning opportunity and help guide your team towards focusing on measurable ways to improve instead of conceding failure.

When Wire was founded, we faced the common dilemma of hiring for raw talent or having a centralized team. Ultimately, we felt that the complex work we do required us to prioritize raw talent (I think many would do the same). In the end, managing and building trust in remote teams is not necessarily harder, but it does require CIOs to be more hands-on and create intentional channels for communication and collaboration.

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Alan Duric is the co-founder and CTO/COO of Wire, a secure collaboration platform. He is an experienced entrepreneur with a strong background in real-time communications. He’s the co-founder and CTO of Telio Holding ASA that is now listed on the Oslo stock exchange, and Camino Networks, which was acquired by Skype/eBay.