I lead a team that works remotely. This is how I feel when trust is betrayed.

Does it make sense to keep on working as if things haven’t changed?

October 1, 2021

So, you share the link to the meeting. Everyone joins, except one member. Probably late, or won’t show up at all. You’ll find out at the last minute. 

A colleague shares some bad news, the chat gets hectic, everyone comments and wishes for the best. Well, not everyone. Someone is missing. 

The team has just delivered a project, such a relief! They’re all cheering on the call. It all went perfectly, the client’s happy, @so-and-so even told us to congratulate you on your idea… @so-and-so? Ah, not here, right? 

Someone’s missing. 

And it’s always the same person.

So what happens when the invisible link between a remote worker and their team, boss, manager, or employer breaks? How do we feel on the other end? By “what happens” I mean what happens to the rest of the members from a human perspective, and not as if we all were just pieces in a hierarchical chess game. 

Well, let’s go further back to the moment when we decided to become followers of the Holy Church of Remote Working, a.k.a as WFH, telecommuting, digital nomad, etc. 

The source of trust

We have been leading a small remote team since 2015, that is, way before covid-19 forced everyone to work at home. This virus brought giants like Google or Amazon to their knees (to such an extent that today the workforce is calling the shots in deciding where and how to work), but our company had all bases covered!

In this new and terrifying scenario, we continued working as usual. The remote process was well-oiled, to the point that, in the early pandemic days, we helped friends and family with their own transformation. We even made a short WFH survival guide! 

We also shared a golden rule that we always repeat like a mantra: do not betray trust. Because as in all human relationships, it is a point of no return, or if you do return, there will be scars. 

Offering a remote job is giving the employee a vote of confidence. It is an act of pure trust, because it means believing in something we’re not able to see. It’s blind faith.

When you’re working remotely we don’t have an office where we can check on you, we can’ t tell if you’re out walking the dog or taking a power nap after lunch. We don’t see your slippers under your desk or the mess of clothes you hid behind those cute Ikea backgrounds. We have no idea if you’re working from the airport, your mom’s house or the coffee shop around the corner. But guess what? We don’t care either. We believe that wherever you are, you’ ll get the work done responsibly. We trust that. 🙏

The pursuit of well-being 

Before founding this company, I had worked as an intern, a freelancer and an employee. I lived through low-paid jobs with highly supportive teams, as well as multinational waged jobs with terrifying CEOs. Some places gave me good friends, others gave me stomach ulcers. I had compassionate and supportive bosses who trusted me enough to hang in there until I got over some bad times. Of course, there were some of the other kind, but they are not worth remembering.

All these experiences shape you in a way that -if your memory serves you well- prevents you from making decisions or setting rules without first considering the welfare of the people involved in your company. 

For example, although at the beginning I hated working remotely, in the long run, I learned that its great value is that it reconciles private life with work. It allows us to lead a professional life without neglecting our family, letting us study and even travel! 

Another thing I understood is that flextime is healthy: I can take time off to go to the dentist, exercise, or simply clear my mind without making a fuss about it. The flextime arrangement takes away the stress of asking for permission (there’s always a chance that they won’t approve my time off). It gives me a sense of control over my schedule and it reassures me that my personal life matters. 

As bosses, we consider that if you need a nap, want to help your child with homework or feel like having a nice cup of coffee, it’s okay for you to do so because we know those things will make you feel good. People who feel good and have a consistent way of life, work better. Your well-being benefits the company, so it’s a win-win situation! 

A commitment to transparency

That same physical distance makes us miss out on a few things, though. We have no idea what you’re dealing with if you don’t let us know. 

We are not close enough to perceive those little attitude nuances that indicate that something is going on. Nor do we have the ability that Professor X has to read minds, so if you don’t tell us, we won’t know that you are feeling down due to all those days of confinement, that you are scared because there is an imminent earthquake threat in your area or that it is the saddest day of your life because you left a loved one in the hospital without knowing if you will see him or her again (and these are not simple examples, they are real situations that I experienced first hand).

Speaking up is necessary. Because what is left unsaid, leads to trouble. 

Brother, you have sinned.

If our starting point is that remote work is based on trust, then why are you hiding? What is it that makes you lie day in and day out, sometimes about nonsense?

Wouldn’t it be better to tell your employer, boss or colleague – who already trusts you – so that they can understand what is happening to you and arrange the workflow, prevent errors or help and support you? This could be anything from an immediate salary advance to having a colleague assist you with the hardest tasks.

But we humans are curious creatures. As much as we love to think of ourselves as rational beings, it is often our well-organized army of habits, or the stabbing pain of fear, that end up making the decisions on our behalf. We believe we are doing the right thing, and we lie to ourselves to justify mistakes. We assume, we project, we plot, we deceive others and fool ourselves. And a slip-up that seemed harmless in the beginning, often ends up tearing it all apart.

Apocalypse now

Remote work is a new way of working. The idea is only a few decades old. And in the same way that organizations struggle to adapt to change, since they are nothing more than organized humans, people struggle adapting to this new way of working that requires a little less here but a little more there. 

The office no longer exists. You’re no longer “trapped” there, eager to go home. So if you want to take that power nap, let us know, relax your legs and come back invigorated. 

Your bosses aren’t doing things as usual either, because reality demands otherwise. They don’t want to let you down. And they know that if they don’t adapt, they’ll lose you. 

So come on, answer that chat quickly, let them know if you’re going out, actively share your day-to-day life. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in the office just because you’re hiding behind a monitor, such as ignoring someone who calls you by your name. It’s not honest and, in the long run, it won’t pay off. 

Or what’s even worse, you might end up hurting people who have fully trusted you even though they’ve never got to meet you in person, not even once. 💔😢