Remote and flexible working - working on trust more deeply

Following last week's blog about some of my experiences from a recent assignment about remote and flexible working I have put together more detailed ideas and thoughts about working on trust.

In my experience, trust is the primary issue people talk about when managing change and, in this context, moving to working in remote and flexible settings.   This includes home working, flexible hours, annualised hours, mobile working, agile working and hot desking, inter alia.  In a results orientated work environment performance isn't measured and assessed on presence.  People are supported through ongoing performance and development conversations, appropriate communications and collaboration, and trusted to do their work, focused on outcomes.  This requires trust all round - upwards, downwards, sideways.

Addressing and dealing with trust is paramount.  It needs working on consciously and collectively until everyone is on board.  It is on going and requires integrity, good emotional self management, engagement in the process and caring behaviours. 

People earn the trust of others when they demonstrate three forms of transactional trust.  The term "transactional trust" is used because it is reciprocal in nature - "you have to give trust to get trust."  The three pillars of trust are contractual, communication and competence.

Contractual trust sets the tone and direction of the team. If you have ever been disappointed by someone who did not do what he/she promised, then you've experienced a betrayal of contractual trust. Maybe you schedule a team meeting, notify people well in advance and get to the meeting on time, yet find yourself waiting for the same people who are consistently late. Or perhaps someone made an unreasonable request of you, putting you in a bind.

To strengthen contractual trust among team members:

- Set and manage expectations

- Establish boundaries

- Delegate appropriately – remember there are six degrees of delegation

- Encourage mutually serving intentions

- Keep agreements

- Be consistent

Communication trust establishes information flow and how team members talk with one another. How willing are you to share information with others in your team and in your own team you lead? How do you decide what to share and what to hold back? What happens when someone questions the truthfulness of others?

How team members communicate with each other and how they speak about each other are clues to the level of communication trust. Guidelines for fostering communication trust include:

·         Share information and knowledge

·         Tell the truth

·         Admit mistakes

·         Provide and receive helpful and effective feedback

·         Maintain confidentiality

·         Speak with good purpose (mindfulness)

Competence trust allows the team to leverage and further develop skills and knowledge. Micromanaging is a sign that competence trust is lacking.  Maybe you've felt micromanaged or under utilised, or perhaps you rarely allow others to make decisions, assuming that no one can make decisions as good as yours.

To build competence trust it is important to:

·         Acknowledge people's skills and abilities

·         Allow people to make decisions - empowerment

·         Involve others and seek their input (consult and involve supports autonomy, well being and increased motivation)

·         Help people learn skills

A starting point for building trust within your team is to ask yourself, "Which of the three types of trust am I best at cultivating? Which of the three types of trust is my weakest area?" Think of specific examples that show your capacity for building trust and those that reveal ways you diminish trust.

Trust based relationships – the manager’s role

Building trust based relationships requires personal competence, integrity and care.

No matter how impeccable someone’s character is, if they cannot demonstrate competence, it is difficult to trust them. Similarly, it is hard to trust a competent person with confidential information if they show no interest in your wellbeing. Finally, without integrity, competence and caring would ring hollow.


People who are good at what they do and are able to relate that experience to others emanate trustworthiness. In a working relationship, accomplishments and professional merit aren’t the only important things.  Competence is also demonstrated through the ability to share experiences with others, mentor and coach. It is competence that enables someone to guide an employee to develop talent, skills or knowledge.


People who do what they say they are going to do inspire trust. So do people who speak truthfully about their thoughts and experiences, and whose actions mirror their values. People also demonstrate their integrity by the way they maintain confidentiality.


It is important that concern and regard for peoples’ work, development needs and wellbeing are thought about and attended to through appropriate support and action. Practise active listening and recognise achievements.  Make room to discuss issues and talk through challenging situations.

Key principles in building trust

1 Know your people

Make time to talk to them and understand what they think and why. Value their viewpoint even if it is different from your own. Listen well.

2 Do what you say you’re going to do

Agree what you are aiming to achieve through 1-2-1s, remote and flexible support and supervision. Be reliable and always do what you say you are going to do.

3 Communicate openly and honestly

Discuss issues as soon as they arise. Ask for and provide feedback.

4 Ensure that you maintain your competence

Regularly review your development needs and undertake continuous professional development (CPD).

5 Show empathy and don’t be afraid to challenge

An open, honest relationship means you can maintain trust even when you don’t see the other person all the time.

Building better teams through trust is the right frame to make remote and flexible working, work.