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How To Build Trust When Working With Remote Teams

Lisette Sutherland has been doing interviews with people that are working in or managing remote teams. She talked about building trust on remote teams at the No Pants Festival 2015.

Trust has come up in every single interview that Sutherland did. When working with people remotely the question arises often how you can trust that they will be working for you. "Work is a thing you do, not a place you go" says Sutherland. You have to build trust for remote working to work.

The building blocks of trust are reliability, consistency and responsiveness. People must be able to rely on each other that the work will be done, that other people will do the things they agreed to do. Working and communication with each other in consistent ways helps to build relationships and to know what to expect from each other. It often works best to do things iteratively, to do work in short chucks and to often check the status with each other and give frequent feedback.

When working remotely you shouldn’t try to simulate the office. Instead Sutherland suggests to simulate "human-ness". People should feel that they are working with other people, even if they can’t meet face to face regularly. Tools can help to create humanness when working remote. Earlier InfoQ interviewed Lisette Sutherland and Elinor Slomba in stories of collaboration in remote teams. In this interview Lisette mentioned tools that people can use to work together remotely:

From simple tools like instant messaging to entire collaboration platforms like Yammer, there are hundreds of tools that exist to make remote working possible. We are experimenting with and trying out many different tools: e.g., Sqwiggle, Trello, Boardthing, Hangouts, Sococo, Second Life. They all have their advantages and drawbacks, but in a way, the technology part is easy.

Sutherland suggests to use video in call with Skype or hangout as much as possible to get richer communication. Even a simple webcam where people can see each other and wave to each other can help to stay in touch when teams are working in different locations

Robots can be used to join meetings or conferences from remote. Some examples are the Kubi telepresence robot and the BeamPro.

Sutherland provided tips for working remotely:

  • Hire a remote office manager who helps you to arrange things and makes sure that things keep working.
  • Create a team agreement to discuss and decide how to work together. Review it regularly.
  • Work out load, by making visible what you are doing, where you are working today, etc.
  • Use tools that supports group chats, like Slack.
  • Make sure that you have unstructured time where you can meet virtually and chat with people on anything.
  • Do small iterations, change in small steps. If you want to increase remote working, start for instance with one day every week and then build it up.
  • Have continuous feedback, for example by using written feedback, retrospectives, or merit money.

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