Debra Dinnocenzo discusses the key elements of trust and how to build trust from a distance. Leaders of remote and hybrid teams must help their team members understand the elements of familiarity, integrity, and reliability in building trust and, thereby, building a strong and committed team. This episode also highlights some important learnings from pandemic times relative to connecting more authentically, listening with empathy, and strengthening trust. 

Debra offers a free resource with additional information on this topic at


About the Host:

Debra A. Dinnocenzo is president and founder of VirtualWorks!, a consulting and training firm that specializes in virtual work issues. Debra is a co-author of the recently released book, REMOTE LEADERSHIP – Successfully Leading Work-from-Anywhere and Hybrid Teams, as well as several other books on remote and virtual teams. 

Since publishing her first book on telecommuting in 1999, Debra has been a pioneer in the shift to virtual work and remote leadership. Few practitioners in the field have the depth of knowledge and hands-on experience Debra brings to her work. As a nationally recognized expert on the virtual workplace, has spoken widely on related topics, and developed and taught “Leadership in the Virtual Workplace,” an online graduate-level course offered by Duquesne University. Previously, Debra was a teleworking executive and has worked from her home office for more than two decades.

Connect with Debra at:


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Debra Dinnocenzo:e insights and expertise that:Debra Dinnocenzo:

Hello, and welcome to this episode of the remote leadership podcast on building trust from a distance. This is a continuing issue, and one that I hear from leaders and from teams, that remains an issue an even greater challenge, as the remote and hybrid workplace expands. Trust is a critical issue in any relationship. And it is increasingly important. As we expand the virtual workplace, people work more remotely from each other, they are not going to see each other as often. And it's important critical actually, that there be a basis of trust, in relationships in team relationships, and certainly in relationships between the leader and members of the team. So because this is a continuing issue, and a critical one, I'd like to talk about what the elements are of trust and how to build trust from a distance.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

We're hearing more about the importance of really connecting with team members and having people who work remotely feel more connected to not only the organization, but to members of their team. And an important way that leaders can build trust is through empathy. And there's a lot more discussion in the media right now and among leaders that I talk with, about the importance of really conveying empathy. And I believe the pandemic gave us an opportunity to exercise our empathy muscles a little bit more when we all went into lockdown, and were distant from each other in a very unexpected way. And as a result of that, people more naturally started expressing concern for each other because we weren't concerned, we were concerned about how people were doing, how their health was how they were coping with the challenges of working remotely from each other not being on the in the traditional workplace, not having all the resources available. And all the other dynamics and stress of having children at home, and partners and spouses working at home in situations that were not really conducive to working well, from a distance. And doing that so unexpectedly. So some natural things occurred relative to really expressing care and concern, which is in a large measure what empathy is about. And so I think we made some progress on that.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

But it's also important to really be more conscious about what it means to build trust from a distance. So we look at three components primarily in the discussion around trust, and what's involved in building trust for remote and hybrid teams. And even when teams are hybrid and they see each other occasionally they're not seeing everyone occasionally and and multinational organizations and geo dispersed teams. Trust is important because distance is an ever present element. the way that they work. So the three elements are familiarity, integrity, and reliability. So let me talk about each one of those just a bit. And then we'll talk about some ways to, to build in each of those areas. So Familiarity is, I think, really the most critical element, it is really getting to know people. And again, I think the whole pandemic experience really helped us with that, because we got to know each other in ways that hadn't happened before. And happened just because of circumstances. So you know, we've traditionally thought about familiarity as getting to know people and asking about their personal lives and, and just really getting to know them as people. And during the pandemic, of course, we got to know a whole lot about them as people, because we were thrust into their home environments. And because we have all the great technology now that allows us to connect visually, and in many cases, we got to know each other's children, and we got to meet each other's pets. And sometimes we got to see spouses and partners wandering through. And we just learned more about each other. Because we were connecting innately more at a human level, and not our traditional way of being more present. In the workplace, we were connecting with each other from our personal space. So familiarity, I think, made some great advances during the pandemic. And some of it was inherent and unconscious, it just happened. And yet some of it was very conscious.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

There was one leader and we talked about this leader in the remote leadership book. And we highlighted this, this leader had a stand up, a stand up meeting every day with his team, I believe it was four o'clock in the afternoon. And as is typical with a stand up meeting, we review typically what's going on what problems we're having, what issues people might need help with what what we need to prepare for, for the next day, or the remainder of the week, or status on issues or problems or projects with this leader did. And again, this was during the pandemic, he designated two days of the week, where the discussion during the standup was, uh, not allowed to be about anything relative to work. It was only about the team members how they were doing, and just sharing with each other. So that's a really excellent example of clearing the deck and creating an opportunity for real familiarity building. So I don't know if that's continued. But it's important to think about what are those things that we did that happened that we thought were important to do during a more difficult and sometimes traumatic time of the pandemic?

Debra Dinnocenzo:

And what are those things that we can carry forward, and learn from the pandemic, and bring with us into the future and integrate more of that personal aspect, which does really enhance familiarity, because people really do want to feel connected as people. And not just as employees, not just as team members. So I think there was also a lot more reaching out. Because that was the only way to stay connected with people, we couldn't just bump into them in the office or the coffee room, or have meetings face to face. So we really did have to do a lot more reaching out both at the team level, and between leaders, team leaders and their teams, their team members. And that's a learning to bring forward and to continue is to reach out and use all the great technology tools that we have. Now there's that there's certainly a downside to all these technology tools. And I'm hearing about that as well, as we layer on top of all the traditional tools of a telephone and, and team meetings, whether it's through zoom or teams. And now we have different forms of chat and we have voice over IP tools, like WhatsApp and slack and other tools like that that we're using to to stay connected with each other, and for different processes or projects. So it does feel like a lot. On the other hand, these all give us great ways to, to reach out and to stay connected with each other.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So doing that, and from a leader perspective remembering to do that, and again, does it have to be the same for everyone? Absolutely not. Not everyone wants or needs to be connected with as often or in the same way as others. So it's important for a remote leader to be familiar enough with each team member to know what is the best way to connect. The risk, of course, when we're distant from each other, is that we kind of lose sight of that, because there's so much going on. And we're not connecting with people and not reaching out, we haven't had a meeting. And so scheduling yet another video conference just feels sometimes burdensome. So I always encourage leaders, if you haven't connected with someone, and you feel like you should reach out, you know that you need to be reaching out, sometimes just a phone call is sufficient. And just a touch base check in how goes it. And so, obviously, being face to face, or even if that's, you know, eyeball to eyeball, over zoom, we're still seeing each other, and there's some benefit to that. So making sure that we're connecting that way where we're seeing each other. But well, however, we're doing that, it's important for everyone to be really listening carefully. And listening for concerns, I call it listening between the lines of what people are saying, and listening for the emotion to hear how people are really doing. And that really builds more familiarity. Sometimes also, it really takes more conscious effort to particularly as new team members onboard and join the team, to really make sure that we're really understanding more about them, as individuals as people, you know, kind of what they like, what their preferences are, what's important to them in the way that they work and how they interact, and what their personal interests are. These are are really kind of new leadership skills in a an environment, that is a little bit different, because we're doing it through technology, in doing this not in the more traditional face to face way that leaders have always interacted with people.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So Familiarity is very important. And bringing the team together whenever it's possible. Face to face, obviously, which is not going to happen is often everything that I'm hearing, when I talk I'm talking to leaders and organizations is that that is not going to happen as often it's still going to happen. But not as often one leader that I've talked with recently, has just reduced the square footage of the office in one of their one of their offices in North America, they can't bring everyone together in the office even if they wanted to. So to have an you know, all team meeting is going to require going someplace else. And they might need to do that and want to do that. And when they do that leveraging that time to build familiarity, particularly ensuring that new members of the team or the organization have the opportunity to meet as many people that they haven't met, they don't know as possible. So it's a matter of reaching out, becoming familiar with people, giving people the opportunity to talk about non work related matters, how they're doing in their personal lives, asking what help they might need, and really conveying a sense of empathy and caring, which is vitally important right now for people to feel connected, to feel valued and appreciated, and to contribute to their their sense of belonging, which will contribute to their retention, which is a vitally important thing right now as well. Integrity as a part of trust is a matter of people being honest and forthright. And so I mean, honesty is obviously an important element in in our relationships and knowing that people are being forthright in the way that they communicate and that We're creating an environment for them where they feel like they can be forthright and, and speak with integrity and speak their their peace, their mind their truth. And that that's accepted. So. And of course, from an ethical perspective, ensuring that people understand the importance of integrity, and all of the ethical standards that may exist within an organization, and why those are important. So that's the second important element of building trust.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

And the third is reliability. And this takes on a different dynamic when we're distant from each other. Because there's always been as the virtual and remote workplaces has evolved over the last two decades, a sense of out of sight, a fear of out of sight, out of mind. And so in, particularly from leader and leaders perspective, the dynamic of you know, how do I know they're really working, although I think we're moving a bit beyond that. Not completely, but somewhat, because we've advanced our performance management systems and understand the importance of articulating expectations more clearly. Because we no longer can just assume that because we see people working, we know they're working. And that was a risky assumption, anyway. Because we have plenty of examples of knowing that just because people were sitting in the office and their eyes were open, and they appeared to have a blood pressure, that they were actually working on the right things or working on the right things in the right way. So there's a whole new set of dynamics relative to performance and performance management performance expectations. And that is then related to ensuring that we can count on people. Not only that from a performance perspective, but reliability in terms of building trust, also relates to this the the confidence in the sense that we can count on people that they will follow through that they will honor their commitments, that they will show up for meetings when they're expected to. So there's really nothing more disheartening for a team member who works remotely, who may feel like he or she's not getting enough airtime, FaceTime, with the leader, maybe needing more guidance, may need some coaching, and to have that leader not call when expected or not show up for a meeting, or not be fully engaged with the team when there is a meeting, those things really impact the sense of reliability that the team needs to have a need to have for each other.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So that's honoring commitments and following through. And these are really important skills, and behaviors that need to occur in remote teams, hybrid teams, so that people have a sense that they can count on each other, and trust each other. And all of this rolls up to the importance of trust, building trust from a distance. And so technology enables this in many ways. But of course, you know, we as people have to activate the technology and have to deploy the technology with the use of the human skills to to build that kind of trust and that human connection. One of the quotes that I've used in several of my books was from Adam Goodhart, who was a writer for USA Today. And he said that connectivity is not the same thing as connection. And I've always loved using that quote, because I think it really captures even more than when, when Goodheart first said it, what's going on in our world now, as we work with greater use of technology, which is connectivity, we have great connectivity, way better connectivity, and that so much capability in, in our smartphones that we carry with us that we're looking at five hours of the day, but that's not the same thing as connection. So trust is about really having meaningful human connection. And knowing that people can count on each other. They're reliable. They're familiar You're with each other, and they have integrity with each other.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So in wrapping up, I would just like to suggest that this is a challenge for both teams, and as well as leaders, and that these are important discussions for the team to have to discuss these these areas of trust, and to have expectations of each other, but to be able to articulate them to know what, what they're expecting of each other. So I would also like to offer a resource that goes into some of this in a little bit more depth. And it's available as a free download at our website, which is virtual works forward slash trust. Again, that's virtual works forward slash trust. And it's a just a short document that builds on some of what I've talked about, and can be shared with the team to help facilitate some of the discussions about the importance of trust, and the trust commitments that we might want to make to each other as a team, and how we can be a stronger team by having trust within the team. So I hope this is all been helpful to you. And I look forward to you joining us for our next podcast. Thank you.