A large proportion of the UK’s workforce has recently entered the unique world of remote work. For many, this is a new and unusual situation as a lot of teams have never worked from home before - and the change came rather quickly for some. Remote working presents many new challenges, but also opens up great opportunities. What do you need to consider to leverage these opportunities and ensure your remote team thrives?

The foundation for success: Communication and trust in virtual teams

We believe that there are two vital pillars for successful remote work: trust and communication. 

Trust is essential for remote accountability – how can you know your team is working hard, and how can the team show that they got work done? Trust. In order to avoid overwork and micromanagement, you need a culture of mutual trust. 

The second pillar is good communication. But clearly, remote communication is different to being physically present at work. In order to keep your remote team informed, empowered and motivated, clear and transparent communication is a must. There also needs to be space for socialising as occasional meetings at the coffee machine or water cooler are not possible. 

Whatever your remote work set up is, the two pillars of trust and communication should form the foundation for building a remote company culture that allows your team to flourish. Here are four basic tips for building communication and trust in virtual teams.


1. Build and manage successful virtual teams with trust as a core value

A Gartner study identified a breakdown in trust as the greatest threat to a virtual team. Virtual communication holds a greater potential for misunderstandings due to the lack of face-to-face personal interaction. This can quickly erode the team culture in a remote environment. However, trust is clearly crucial for engaging and supporting your remote workforce.

At Salesforce, trust is a core value of our company culture. Also our customers recognise the value of trust. As Jasper Martens, CMO of PensionBee explains “building trust amongst remote teams is making sure they bought into your company values in the first place. Two out of our 5 company values are Love and Honesty. Showing love to each other and fostering a culture of honest and open communication on each other's work and behaviour is at the heart of a happy and trusted team.” 

We at Salesforce, also firmly believe in these principles and establish trust by empowering our people to voice ideas, opinions, and feedback. For this purpose, the following factors form the basis:  

  • Communicate transparently - This helps avoid the feeling that decisions are made behind closed doors. Try to communicate out in the open as much as possible. Use channels that are public to the whole team rather than emails or direct messages that only include part of the team.
  • Foster empowerment - Enable employees to think and act with courage and compassion, and challenge the status quo.
  • Win as a team - Winning as a team means everyone is working towards a common goal. Set goals, celebrate wins and discuss areas for improvement as a team.
  • Provide honest feedback - Be prepared to not only give honest feedback but also to receive it. Creating an atmosphere where team members can voice their feedback will help foster trust.
  • Show empathy - Chloe Lasserre, UK Sales Development Manager for Small Businesses at Salesforce reveals in an interview that "having a lot of empathy with your team will allow you to create a really truthful and transparent relationship with the people that you work with even if remotely". This is one of the keys to leading and working in successful virtual teams.
  • Focus on output, not time in seat - This principle helps build trust because it communicates that your team members are free to organise times, schedules and workflows at their discretion, as long as the agreed deadlines are met.


2. Establish routines and workflows

When working remotely, it’s important that your team members know what they are doing and how to do it. That is much easier to achieve if you establish clear goals and roles as well as easy-to-follow workflows, which greatly simplifies tasks. This is especially true when it comes to bigger projects – establishing the specifics upfront can save a lot of headaches later on. 

Once you have defined clear guidelines, the following tips can help your team stay on track:

  • Schedule daily and/or weekly calls - Check in regularly with the team to identify any obstacles or barriers to them completing their tasks. It’s easier for stumbling blocks to fall through the cracks in a remote environment, so add calls to the calendar and invite team members to share what is holding them back.
  • Use the right tools - From project management to CRM systems, there are plenty essential small business tools for working remotely. Use reliable tools to save your team time by simplifying communication, automating tedious tasks, and offer transparency and insights into team progress. 
  • Promote shared leadership - Assign joint leadership roles for tasks to split responsibility and foster trust in the team, rotate the lead on team meetings or try to create mentoring or coaching roles. This distributes the workload across the team members while also encouraging collaboration. 
  • Maintain an open feedback loop - At the end of each sprint, project or quarter, make time to get feedback on the current workflows from your team: What worked well and what needs improving? Take this information into the next sprint or project. Continuous improvement not only empowers teams to contribute, it also keeps them motivated. 


3. Boost community spirit with virtual team building ideas 

Team building is a great way to develop a sense of community and trust – especially if your team is working remotely. The more you get to know your team members, the more you are able to trust them. Lack of social contact and working in isolation can diminish team spirit, so it helps to actively plan in some socialising and virtual team building activities.  

  • Create joint tasks - Plan a fun and engaging task that everyone can contribute to. For example, you could create a joint social media account for the team to manage. 
  • Combine calendars - Ask your co-workers to share personal events in their work calendar. From birthdays to anniversaries, it offers something for your team to chat about.
  • Send gifts or cards - Gifts can make team members feel special and valued. So whether for birthdays or work anniversaries, make sure you send something.
  • Plan for virtual social gatherings - A casual get-together promotes the exchange between colleagues - the occasion can be anything from a coffee round to a fun team game, such as a virtual scavenger hunt


4. Have fun with team icebreakers for virtual meetings

Constant online meetings can be pretty draining. Working remotely can also feel a little isolated. So, a great way to boost motivation is to add a little fun into your daily communication. While encouraging your teams to reach out to each other socially helps them bond, it’s also a great idea to build in some chances to have a laugh together into your meetings. This can help organically improve communication. So, why not start your meeting with a quick game every so often? 

Some fun icebreaker ideas for virtual meetings: 

  • Gif mood poll - Everyone in the team sends an animated gif that represents their mood at the beginning and/or the end of a meeting.
  • Two truths one lie - Name three personal facts, one of which should be untrue. Let the others guess. 
  • Gratitude exercise - Name 1 or 2 things that everyone is grateful for at the beginning of a meeting.
  • Image charades - This game is exactly like the classic charades, but it has a virtual twist to it. Each teammate will only be allowed to use a limited amount of images to explain whatever famous person, movie or book.
  • Company quiz - Why not organise a virtual quiz? Delegate a quiz master, form teams and jump on a Zoom call. 
  • Sell your space - This one is great for marketing or sales teams. Get a team member to grab a random item from their home office and come up with the name, slogan and marketing ad to sell their product.

With a little creativity, it’s totally possible to create a compelling virtual event for your internal teams, say goodbye to boring meetings!. 


Create an atmosphere for your remote team to thrive

Taking the leap to remote working is challenging. But by following the tips above it is possible to not only work effectively in a remote setting, but to go from strength to strength. The two pillars for a thriving remote team are trust and communication. So plan activities and realise virtual team building ideas that help boost these two key areas – and your remote team will feel empowered and motivated to achieve their goals.

This is only a small selection of the practices that have helped us navigate the world of remote working. Since we couldn’t fit them all into one blog post, we’re sharing comprehensive guidance, tips and tangible steps on how to get started in our on-demand webinar: ‘How Salesforce is Engaging a Remote Workforce’.