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14 Ways to Counter Your Boss’s Mistrust as You Work Remotely

Rules to build trust and get ahead as you work form home.

Key points

  • Many managers have trust concerns about remote work. Managers and employees largely differ on the virtues of working from home.
  • Proactive communications, staying visible, strong EQ and asking for feedback can all help mitigate supervisor mistrust.
  • Remember that trust is a two-way street: Giving a boss the benefit of the doubt can only be positive.

We’ve all heard the proverb, “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” And like it or not, when it comes to remote work, that thought likely wafts through your boss’s mind several times a day. In fact, those suspicions have undoubtedly contributed to the “Zoom boom” and a 50 percent increase in employee surveillance software since lockdown. Consider the dichotomy of how remote work is viewed by your boss versus colleagues.

  • From the manager’s perspective: In an SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management) July 2021 survey, 72 percent of remote-worker supervisors said they would prefer that all their subordinates work in the office. And 62 percent felt that full-time remote work was detrimental to employees’ career objectives.
  • From the employee’s perspective: Online job searches for remote positions jumped 460 percent between June 2019 and June 2021, according to Glassdoor. And in an April 2021 FlexJobs survey, 58 percent of people said they would quit if their jobs required them to return to the office.

Trusting one’s employees when there’s no longer in-person facetime is a hurdle for many managers, even though they are being forced to accept the new reality. While many are getting more comfortable with the idea, some may feel that at any moment an employee could breach their trust and become lax.

This is enough to draw the ire of any hard-working remote worker, as many WFH employees know the extra hours and sacrifices they are making to deliver excellent results. If you’re working from home, it’s very possible that you’re more productive now than ever.

What can you do to mitigate the trust gap? The following "Remote Rules” can help you advance in your career — especially if you wish to stay engaged in remote work for the foreseeable future.

  1. Stay visible in meetings. It’s easy to slip into your inner introvert during a Zoom call; it’s the path of least resistance. But in Zoom meetings, if you have something to contribute, make an effort to share. This will remind your manager that they can rely on you to assume greater responsibility.
  2. Communicate frequently. If you’re concerned about job security, now is a good time to “overcommunicate.” Provide frequent reporting until your boss tells you that, basically, it’s enough. With remote work, employees can feel lost or as if they’ve faded into oblivion; this is a great way to counter it. “Under-communicating” never produces good results.
  3. Know how your boss likes to communicate. If you haven’t asked already, find out sooner versus later if video conferencing, email, text, instant messaging, or phone is preferred. Remote work makes it imperative to get this right because of limited touch points.
  4. When in doubt, check in. Communication in person alone can cause huge misunderstandings. Add the element of remote-only interface, and you have a potential world of misunderstanding. Your boss isn’t a mind reader, so don’t assume. When you are unsure or uncomfortable about the outcome of a conversation, make the outreach effort and get clarity. And don’t stew over something your boss may have no idea about.
  5. Smile for the camera. Something as simple as smiling during your videoconferences can put you and colleagues at ease. It helps engender a sense of warmth and trust. (Just make sure you’re being sincere.)
  6. Market yourself. There’s no need to start a full-on branding campaign about your virtues, but you can let people in your group or project team know about your applicable skills sets, for example. You can also volunteer to help your boss when a crunch is on. Your work need not be confined to Zoom agendas.
  7. Be prompt for calls, early if possible. Respect others by being punctual for videoconferences. When you’re early, that sends an even better message.
  8. Ask for feedback. Rather than wait and worry, ask your manager and even colleagues if they’re receiving what they expected. Everyone is feeling a little detached as we get more accustomed to the new normal; why not ask? Consider this: We’re all bombarded with customer care surveys, so why not apply the approach to work, at least informally? It takes the worry out of “how am I doing?” — as long as you don’t ask too frequently.
  9. Turn up your EQ. Now that digital communications have taken center stage, there has never been a better time to take your emotional intelligence up a notch. Being sensitive to others and being a positive problem-solver are especially coveted now, and will be in the future.
  10. Ask questions. So much can fall between the cracks with the frenzied pace of work getting done over video calls and group meetings. The rule that the dumbest question is the one never asked holds true, especially now, and particularly if you’re noticing a pattern of multiple false starts.
  11. Stay aware of projects and progress. This is a good time to stay in the loop, despite remote work challenges. Working from home will put your resourcefulness to the test. For example, find out who in your group can help you move projects forward with possible shortcuts, and see if you can reciprocate by helping them.
  12. Show up in the office when you can. There may be occasional staff, project, or social meetings you can attend. Or you may be able to schedule your own with your managers. Making an effort to stay visible is a good idea to show your enthusiasm for your job, build trust, and advance your career.
  13. Be accountable and reliable. When you’re working from home, there is already a degree of mistrust, so delivering projects on time and on budget becomes even more imperative. Deliver on promises, and more challenging work will come your way.
  14. Give your boss the benefit of the doubt, too. Trust is a two-way street. Sometimes it can be difficult to think your boss has your best interests at heart when you’re not in the office to catch all the nuances of in-person communication. But think positively, as doing so can in itself trigger better outcomes — and relationships.

As you and your manager navigate the remote-work landscape, you can help engender trust through proactive steps that support your career advancement. And when the “cats are away,” they’ll already know you’re being diligent.

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