Trust in Virtual Spaces

Is remote work slowing the accrual of trust?

Trust in Virtual Spaces
Photo by Giancarlo Revolledo / Unsplash

It’s probably too soon to draw sweeping conclusions about the long-term implications of remote work. It’s a mixed bag of flexibility, loneliness, convenience, and dysfunction. But from an organizational perspective, I’m curious about how we build high-trust organizational cultures that are also remote. It’s no secret that the interactions in virtual spaces like Twitter and Nextdoor have issues in this area, and I worry that remote work will slow the accrual of trust necessary for teams to do their most important work.

One of my friends is a university professor who teaches one fully-remote class and one hybrid class. He mentioned recently that the students in the fully-remote class are less connected to each other and less engaged in the material. When the learning experience happens exclusively online, he felt like he couldn't take the pedagogical risks necessary to challenge his students and push them out of their comfort zone, whereas there was a baseline of trust in the hybrid class that enabled for a richer educational experience.

If trust builds more slowly in remote-only spaces and if the absence of trust translates into a fragility between people, then I wonder about how that fragility will stand in the way of teams doing work that requires hard conversations, spirited dialectics, vulnerable introspection, and the reconciliation that is inevitable when imperfect humans join together to build something courageous and beautiful.