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Encouraging Trust and Empathy in a Virtual Workplace

By Tim Ryan | GETTY IMAGES/DANIJELALA | June 2021

Encouraging Trust and Empathy in a Virtual Workplace

How many managers out there have been stressed out over the past year trying to manage remote teams? It doesn’t help when you catch someone on Zoom in their pajamas or with kids and pets running around in the background. You can’t help but wonder if anything is getting done.

This pandemic caught many organizations with their proverbial pants down. Even though we’ve had the technology for years to work from home, most shy away because of a traditional command and control management culture. We are just more comfortable walking over to verify what the team is working on and help address problems directly. While that is not a bad thing, this culture can sometimes produce unpleasant by-products, such as greater competition and distrust … which can be exacerbated by a remote work scenario.

At the Spitzer Center, we’ve observed that those who are responding well to the circumstances are those who had made an intentional effort before COVID to work on a constructive culture characterized by trust and empathy, which results in greater collaboration and teamwork.

But do not dismay if this doesn’t describe your organization: St. Francis of Assisi reminds us of some simple things we can do right now to encourage a movement toward greater trust, empathy and, ultimately, productivity in our teams:

  1. Seek first to understand. Instead of getting upset when a team member isn’t delivering, find out if there are extenuating circumstances.  
  2. Seek first to console. Others, like you, might be dealing with tough personal circumstances during this pandemic. Be open to helping others with a work issue rather than automatically expecting them to drop everything to help you.

One tool that seems to help is regular virtual huddles. Let everyone update each other as to what they’re working on and where they might need some help, and, if they are so inclined, let them share personal challenges.