Virtual Teams

Remote Management – Balancing trust and control

Since we developed the world’s first remote and virtual teams training over 25 years ago, one of the consistent themes participants have raised has been finding the right balance between control and trust.

People working from home recently have become very sensitized to this, some managers have worked through empowerment and trust and given their people flexibility to manage a difficult situation, others have tried to micromanage remote activity and have experienced resistance. Both groups will have left a legacy with their people which will have an impact long after the return to work!

Balancing trust and control is a challenge for managers new to remote management who often feel outside of their comfort zone in managing the performance and outputs of people they can’t see.

This is despite the fact that, in normal times when we don’t have so many distractions, research has shown that people who work from home are consistently more productive than people who work in an office.

As a higher level of remote working is likely to be part of all of our lives for the foreseeable future it’s worth spending the time to adapt our management techniques to cope with this important dilemma.

In our remote management training we start by showing managers how to make active virtual trust building a part of their leadership agenda.

In a traditional face-to-face team we usually build trust as a free by-product of being in the same location, it’s just easier to get to know people‘s character and capability.

When we work virtually we need to organize and create explicit opportunities for people to demonstrate and maintain trust – and this is different virtually.

This is an important first step because we won’t empower people if we don’t trust them. If we lack trust, we increase control, and then we risk a vicious circle of increasing micromanagement and decreasing trust.

Once basic trust is in place, managers need a strategy and toolkit for moving people from being new to a role into being fully autonomous and empowered.

Some organizations are proud that they hire good people and leave them to “sink or swim”. This is not a development strategy, it is an abandonment strategy and is unfair on the individual and the organization.

We train people in a three stage process for managing the empowerment journey.

  1. Ensuring that people have the capability to do the job
  2. Building the mutual confidence needed for people to take on more empowerment. First does the manager have the confidence to let them go? Then does the individual have the confidence to take on more responsibility? This usually involves use of remote coaching techniques.
  3. Once we have done that, we can take the opportunity to further relax our controls and give people successively higher levels of empowerment.
    It is important to do this in a managed way. We observe that many great companies empower people too much in the early stages, when they’re not clear about how to do the job. They then often empower people too little in the later stages where they are competent, trusted and could be left to get on with things, only involving their managers if they need them.

Finding the right balance of control and trust is a challenge in remote management situations, it’s easy to say that trust is the right answer (and it usually is) but we need a systematic process for leading people on that journey – so the organization gets the results it needs and individuals feel supported when they need it and empowered whenever possible.

See more about our remote and virtual teams learning path with more information on our modules on virtual trust and empowerment

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