Remote work hinders the development of trust in remote teams
Overall, the development of long-term, deep trust may be difficult among remote workers who have not met in person and between in-office and remote employees. However, as in other potential problems associated with remote work, remote employees can avoid these pitfalls by engaging in certain behaviours that signal more trustworthiness to their colleagues.
On the one hand, research shows that development of trust is challenging in remote teams where team members have not met each other in person, because assessing trustworthiness of a colleague is difficult when there has not been any face-to-face interaction26. Development of trust in remote teams may also be hindered by poor information flow and misunderstandings resulting from a reliance on technology for team communication28, 40, 51, 54, 58. Generally, in-office employees have been shown to trust remote colleagues less52.
On the other hand, research shows that even if team members are not familiar with each other, they can quickly establish trust - called ‘swift trust’ - when they don’t have enough time to establish deeper trust, and assume their colleagues are trustworthy in order to be able to function effectively as a team61. Following swift trust, deeper trust may develop further down the line. Successful remote workers also engage in behaviours to encourage the development of trust and increase others’ trust in their own competence, by showing enthusiasm, engaging in informal communication, helping to deal with technological problems, communicating in a predictable manner, and showing initiative60. Generally, this finding is supported by other research which argues that remote workers put more effort into demonstrating their trustworthiness to managers62. Indeed, professional research conducted during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic found that 75% of survey respondents felt that their manager trusted them to work remotely15, and another professional study found that 75% of respondents felt that they were trusted more when working from home during the pandemic3.