Radical Honesty: How To Build Trust In A Dispersed Workforce

The rise of a distributed workforce has created new challenges for leaders seeking to build effective teams. Meetings must span multiple time zones, and colleagues from varying backgrounds must align on approaches that work for all.

These new scenarios require a mind shift for managers, says Manisha Arora, a director in ServiceNow’s strategy and transformation team. They should embrace flexibility, for example, and adopt digital platforms that foster trust and transparency.

“This is the key for me: figuring out the best way to communicate honestly and openly when you can’t meet face to face,” she says. “All of this remote work, all of this distributed work is only possible if you trust the people you work with.”

Embrace Digital Workflows

At companies that didn’t allow remote work and flexible schedules before the pandemic, managers faced a steep learning curve. They could no longer casually check in with direct reports at the water cooler or gather the team in a conference room. Making matters worse, workflows and processes were often manual or siloed across departments. 

“A lot of people fear a remote workforce because they can no longer walk around and see how everyone’s doing,” Arora says. “But they don’t have to if those formal and informal interactions are digitized.” 

Automating every workflow—from task execution to employee requests—within a single platform ensures that all team members are on the same page and have access to consistent, accurate information, she says.

That added efficiency and support then generates more trust among employees, Arora says. That trust can then free them up to focus on creativity and relationship building.

“In this hypercompetitive world, the companies that embrace the mentality of ‘just workflow it’ will have a competitive advantage,” says Arora, whose team relies on ServiceNow’s IT Business Management functionality to manage their work. They also interact with other teams that use ServiceNow’s Case and Knowledge Management solution, along with its employee service center.

Level The Playing Field

Systems that measure employee performance can also level the playing field in a working world where a manager’s golf buddy might have received preferential treatment in the past.

Automated, data-driven platforms can equip managers with metrics to assess employee performance. Relying on those objective analytics can eliminate systemic biases and engender trust across a distributed team that everybody is treated fairly.

“You can see who’s engaged; you can see who’s contributed,” says Michael Hamilton, senior director, international strategy for Walmart. “And it’s easy to call on someone who’s been quiet and say, ‘What are your thoughts and opinions?’ A lot of that has come to bear with the technology we use.” 

Radical Honesty 

Technology is only part of the solution; organizations also need the right leadership strategies and organizational culture. For both technical and nontechnical tasks, Arora’s team relies on Agile scrum methodology, which builds in processes for regular communication and keeps her informed when workers need help unblocking an issue.

“We’ve really embraced this notion of radical honesty,” she says. “If we approach everything we do with that honest and clear communication, we find that it’s much easier to identify where we need help or where things are not going how we wanted. If we identify them really early on, they never rise to the definition of a problem, and no one’s feelings get hurt.” 

Nurturing personal connections is key too. Arora’s team has regular cooking challenges, while Hamilton makes sure birthdays or the births of children are celebrated. 

“You’ve got to just find ways to make people feel that they’re part of a group and a team,” Hamilton says. “What you don’t want to have is somebody working remotely who feels ostracized, because that’s when morale goes way down.” 

Rewarding Challenges

The best collaborations and outcomes are possible when workflows remove the usual frustrations and annoyances of working life and let team members focus on what matters most—for their careers and the organization.

“Everyone wants to be challenged at work for the right reasons,” Arora says. “Continually having to fight with the red tape and fight for information or resources—that wasn’t the kind of challenge that most of us signed up for. Rewarding challenges allow you to have the right resources and information, so you can synthesize it and come up with creative solutions to interesting problems that actually help your customers.”

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