How to build trust with your manager while working remotely

This post is part of an ongoing series, "Navigating the future of hybrid work," where we explore challenges and share lessons learned about work in this new era. In the evolving work landscape, businesses are adopting hybrid or remote models, with differing preferences between leadership and employees. Employers largely favor office presence, but most employees seek flexibility. Managers' reluctance towards remote work stems from concerns over transparency and control. Employees can bridge this gap by setting clear availability expectations, maintaining regular check-ins, and over-communicating to build trust and demonstrate commitment in a remote or hybrid environment.

November 28, 2023 5 MINUTE READ
How to build trust with your manager while working remotely

As businesses continue to navigate the future of work, most are adopting either a hybrid or remote working model. However, perspectives between employees and leadership diverge as to which option is preferable. 

Employers, for example, want to see employees in the office at least part time. A survey of 3,500 managers in the US found that 33 percent of respondents wanted employees in the office full time while 42 percent preferred a hybrid model. In contrast, a 2022 survey from Grant Thornton found that 80 percent of respondents "want flexibility in when and where they work," and "38% of respondents were looking forward to physically returning to work, though not necessarily on a full-time basis." 

Managers' hesitancy to embrace remote or hybrid work likely stems from a lack of day-to-day transparency, a perceived lack of control over distributed teams, and concerns about remote communication protocols. Ultimately, these concerns can make it harder for managers to trust their employees. 

While remote and hybrid models require both parties to re-evaluate their working style, employees can make a few changes to their work style, improving their relationship with and garnering their manager's trust. 

Set clear availability expectations 

One of the significant benefits of remote work as an employee is that you can run errands mid-day or take a walk during lunch. While flexibility does wonders for employees' overall wellbeing, too many mid-day trips away from the desk can mean managers struggle to reach employees or get radio silence on an urgent question during office hours. 

Employees can avoid this scenario by talking to their managers and setting expectations around availability norms during working hours. For example, if the expectation is you are available from 8:30 am to 5 pm, and you need to step away from your desk, mark your calendar as "unavailable" during that time, or set up an "Away" status on Slack, or other message channels. 

You shouldn't be available 24/7 (more on boundaries in a future post), but you should generally be responsive to emails and direct messages. It can also be helpful to have clear expectations about response times for different communication forms (phone call, email, direct message).  

If you are on a high-priority project or one with a condensed timeline that requires extra hours, establish what an extended working hour arrangement might look like ahead of time. For instance, say something like, "I will sign off at 5 pm to be with my family, but I can be available from 7 pm to 9 pm should anything urgent arise." 

In other cases, employees might be in different time zones from their manager or other team members. Workers should ensure there are clear guidelines about response times in these cases. One approach is to include a disclaimer at the bottom of the email signature clarifying working hours or time zones so that clients and leadership are aware and won't assume the employee is ignoring their messages. 

Here are some questions to help employees contemplate availability challenges and how to address them: 

  • How will you let your team know you're stepping out if you need to go offline to run an errand or deal with a personal matter? Are you expected to let them know? 
  • What is the agreed-upon response time for an email or a direct message? Does that vary depending on the kind of message or channel?
  • What are the expectations for distributed teams working across time zones? 

Establish regular check-in meetings  

Before the pandemic, teams likely had regular check-in meetings or 1:1s with their managers. These meetings are even more critical during hybrid and remote work. Having a standing meeting on the calendar, weekly, biweekly, or monthly, can help managers understand how their team members are doing and address any potential issues before they become more significant. For example, if an engineering team member doesn't remember to submit their JIRA tickets for a project, these meetings are a great forum to address that issue privately. 

While managers are responsible for overseeing their team's work, employees can and should manage from the bottom up, making sure that leadership doesn't consistently reschedule or cancel these check-ins. To make these check-ins most effective, come with a clear agenda. Sharing recent wins, discussing future project concerns, or discussing sticky team dynamics are all great discussion points. By bringing up problems with your manager before someone else does, you're taking the initiative and proving that you take your role seriously and are engaged. Regular check-in meetings can also help employees avoid the effects of "distance bias," or "out of sight, out of mind," whereby managers can forget to check in with or ask the opinion of employees they don't see regularly. 

Of course, communication is always essential, but in a remote world, over-communication is the name of the game. Leave nothing up to chance or to be misunderstood. It may seem like overkill, but only 7 percent of communication is verbal, with the remainder coming down to voice tone (38 percent) and body language (55 percent). As such, we recommend having check-ins either in person (if your office is hybrid) or over a video call so that fewer things get lost in translation, and it's easier to pick up on verbal and body language cues. 

Want some guidance on how to set a good 1:1 agenda? Here are some ideas to consider: 

  • Think about projects you are currently working on. Is there anything you are unclear about, such as expectations, expected outcomes, or process? 
  • Did you recently complete a project? Talk through wins and lessons learned. These insights can help your manager get transparency into your work they may not otherwise have. 
  • Are there any problematic team dynamics that you can't crack? 
  • Discuss your long-term and short-term career goals. Where do you see yourself six months from now? A year? This kind of thinking shows your manager that you want to invest in yourself and your role. 

Building manager trust is paramount as most work continues to take place outside the office. Employees can be proactive by setting and managing employer expectations and clearly, succinctly, and regularly communicating about projects and goals. In doing so, team members can reinforce their dedication to their colleagues and work—remote or hybrid.