6 Tips For Creating A High-Trust Remote Work Culture

Claire Hastwell

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Managing successful remote teams requires trust, open communication and patience. By applying six actionable tips, you can ensure that your teams are fully engaged and functioning smoothly.

Teams all over the world have been getting accustomed to working remotely as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change how businesses operate.

Kerry Wekelo manages a remote team distributed across the U.S., Canada and the U.K. at her Great Place to Work-Certified™ company Actualize Consulting.

We spoke to Kerry to discover what she’s learned over her 15 years of experience successfully working and leading from home. Here’s what has worked for her:

1. Get radically transparent

No matter what you have to do to keep your business afloat, it’s important to make sure your employees are aware of and understand how the company is doing and the decisions leadership is making. Whether the news is good or bad, it is better that your team hears it from leaders rather than allowing rumors and assumptions to damage employee trust.

In light of the pandemic and for the peace of mind of their employees, Actualize send out an internal newsletter. A typical issue of the newsletter includes:

  • How the company is doing financially and operationally
  • New project wins
  • Team members’ birthdays and personal celebration milestones
  • Kudos from team members and clients
  • Picture “show and tell” in video calls — for example, in one issue team members shared pictures from childhood

The newsletter reassures the team that Actualize is financially stable and has maintained a steady pipeline of work. It also helps connect team members and strengthen the company culture.

The success and popularity of the newsletter has led Actualize to increase its frequency from monthly to semi-monthly.

2. Create a playbook for handling conflicts

It’s critical to set a protocol for resolving challenges openly, directly and in a way that immediately eliminates stress and frees up time.

Kerry shared the following strategy for handling conflict — one she says has had a 100% success rate in her team interactions:

  • Facilitate a meeting with the parties involved in a conflict
  • Before the meeting, go to each person asking if they are willing to conduct an exercise for bringing resolution
  • Explain to them that each person will start with stating why they are grateful for the other person in the conflict
  • Next, ask them to use self-reflection to see what their contribution to the conflict is and one thing they could have done differently
  • Finally, express how the conflict is making you feel

When asked what makes this strategy work, Kerry says, “Starting with gratitude and self-reflection automatically diffuses the conflict. Many times, the source of the conflict is a misunderstanding rather than any actual malice between team members.”

At the end of each meeting, participants move forward with an agreed solution.

3. Co-create and set guidelines

When working with remote teams, according to Kerry, “By establishing guidelines with individuals and teams, you improve your workflow. And when you invite your team to help design them, it sends a message that you care about their employee experience.”

Ways you can do this include:

  • Create a work schedule for core hoursHave calendars blocked so your team can see your availability. If there are changes in the plan, communicate the change to the team.
  • Determine communication strategies with each teamWork with each team on the best way to utilize technology to work remotely. For example, video conferencing is an effective way to conduct meetings remotely with a more personal touch. For others, however, video calls might be distracting and cause fatigue. Ask your teams what works for them!
  • Ask each team member for their preferred methods of communicationFor example, for quick questions, Kerry prefers that someone ask if it’s okay to call or have a quick conversation over instant message. If the ask is complicated, she prefers to receive an email with all the pertinent details so that she can process the question.

4. Establish an open-door policy

According to Kerry, Actualize has doubled down on transparency and openness:

“Our leadership team has always had an open-door policy, but now it’s more important than ever. With the new struggles we are facing, everyone needs to be reminded that leadership is approachable and available.

“No matter the issue at hand, we want our employees to know that we are patient and willing to brainstorm and work with them to ensure it gets resolved.

“As an example, we know that this time isn’t easy for our employees. Some have sick family members, children home from school, or newborns. We are encouraging them to come to us with their issues – perhaps they need more flexibility in their schedules, or ideas for tackling a current challenge.”

Kerry ensures her team knows they can come to her with their challenges by:

  • Taking monthly calls with new hires to build a 1:1 relationship
  • Reminding employees that their personal concerns are also her concerns
  • Asking employees, “What is your biggest challenge and how can we assist?” in their mid-year performance reviews

5. Stay connected – on more than just deadlines

To increase trust and help their people feel like a team, leaders at Actualize are intentional with their day-to-day communications.

For example, they dedicate part of each meeting to simply listening to each other – any moments from the day to share and current struggles. They consider these interactions to be about more than just getting down to business — they aim to genuinely connect.

They also carve out time in meetings for more than just project timelines, such as

  • Icebreakers
  • Birthday announcements
  • Personal milestones
  • Introduce new team members

6. Have fun

Kerry says she has been focusing her energy on fostering a fun virtual team connection:

“Each week, we have a Zoom call with various themes. At first, these calls were internally led, but we have since expanded by bringing on guests to lead our events. It has been a way for us to get to know each other better outside of our “work personalities” and form stronger bonds.”

Some ideas she shared:

  • Try a fitness class (Yoga/Bootcamp)
  • Share a childhood photo or story
  • Hire comedians for a contest
  • Conduct an improv class
  • Share your favorite quote and why
  • Show and Tell
  • Share a meme

 

What do these practices lead to?

Ten years ago, Actualize made the decision to focus on its people and culture through practices like the ones above.

The result? A dramatic drop in turnover rates. They dropped to under 1% and are currently at just 4% over the last 4 years, with an average employee tenure of 5 years.

Even with the shift to working remotely Actualize continues to apply the same principles and embrace open communication, and have found that their teams are even more engaged and productive when they have flexibility and freedom. It’s no wonder that they are a Great Place to Work-Certified company.

Kerry Wekelo, MBA, is the Chief Operating Officer at Actualize Consulting, a financial services firm. Her book, Culture Infusion: 9 Principles for Creating and Maintaining a Thriving Organizational Culture and latest book Gratitude Infusion, are the impetus behind Actualize Consulting being named Great Place to Work-Certified™. Kerry has been featured on ABC, NBC, NPR, The New York Times, Thrive Global, SHRM, Inc., and Forbes.

Claire Hastwell

Author

Great Place To Work identifies Best Workplaces™ in Asia by surveying over 1 million employees in Asia and the Middle East about the key factors that create great workplaces for all and analyzing company workplace programs impacting over 4.7 million employees in the region.

To be considered, companies must first be identified as outstanding in their local region by appearing on one or more of our Best Workplaces lists in Greater China (including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, UAE, Vietnam during 2021 or early 2022.

Companies rank in three size categories: Small and Medium (10-499 employees); Large (500+); and Multinational. Multinational organizations are also assessed on their efforts to create great workplaces across multiple countries in the region. They must appear on at least two national lists in Asia and the Middle East and have at least 1,000 employees worldwide with at least 40% (or 5,000) of those employees located outside the headquarters country.

Great Place To Work identifies Best Workplaces in Asia™ by surveying 2.1 million employees in Asia and the Middle East about the key factors that create great workplaces for all and analyzing company workplace programs impacting 5.9 million employees in the region.

To be considered, companies must first be identified as outstanding in their local region by appearing on one or more of our Best Workplaces lists in Bahrain, Greater China (including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, UAE, Vietnam during 2022 or early 2023.

Companies rank in three size categories: Small and Medium (10-499 employees); Large (500+); and Multinational. Multinational organizations are also assessed on their efforts to create great workplaces across multiple countries in the region. They must appear on at least two national lists in Asia and the Middle East and have at least 1,000 employees worldwide with at least 40% (or 5,000+) of those employees located outside the headquarters country.

For All™ Methodology

Great Place To Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2023 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of over 450,000 employees across the Philippines.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyze these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce makeup, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organization to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news, and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

For All™ Methodology

Great Place to Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2022 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of over 130,000 employees across the Philippines.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyze these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce makeup, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organization to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news, and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

Categories:
These organizations’ assessment is based 100% on employee responses to the Trust Index survey.

  • Small 10-99 Employees

For larger organizations with more than 100 employees, we also use our Culture Audit™ tool, asking organizations to share with us their practices, policies, and programs to create a great workplace For All™ and evaluate the approach they take.

  • Medium 100-999 Employees
  • Large 1000+ Employees

Why do you say in one place your national list scoring is based on 85%/15% and in another place that it is 75%/25%?

We are explaining two different things:
1.  The criteria we evaluate

  •  85% concerned with Trust and Maximizing Human Potential and
  • 15% concerned with everything else

2.  Where the data comes from

  • 100% Trust Index for organizations with less than 100 employees
  • 75% based on the Trust Index survey analytics and 25% based on responses to the Culture Audit for organizations with more than 100 employees.
For All™ Methodology

Great Place To Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2023 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of over 450,000 employees across the Philippines.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyze these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce makeup, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organization to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news, and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

Categories:
These organizations’ assessment is based 100% on employee responses to the Trust Index survey.

  • Small 10-99 Employees

For larger organizations with more than 100 employees, we also use our Culture Audit™ tool, asking organizations to share with us their practices, policies, and programs to create a great workplace For All™ and evaluate the approach they take.

  • Medium 100-999 Employees
  • Large 1000+ Employees