Virtual leadership – How to create relationships and build trust remote

by | Jan 13, 2021

If you are a new team or part of a virtual team, it is necessary to make an effort to get to know each other. The most successful virtual teams knows what is expected from them and they have social relations and not just working relations.

Trust and alignment of expectations

Trust, mutual agreements, clear goals, precise task- and function descriptions are crucial for a well-functioning team. To much space for different interpretations of what is expected in the virtual space is often the cause of problems, conflicts, failures and mistakes.

In the virtual space, there are not so many possibilities for clearification and understanding each others points through informal meetings or coffee breaks. If you work remote and you don’t know each other, interpretations often becomes negative instead of positive as a result. If there is no room for small unformal interactions, reading the body language or tone, employees often start to interpret or guess the managers intentions, which can be a big challenge in many leadership situations.

For example, if an employee doesn’t get an answer for an email in a few days, he/she might interpret it in the one or more of the following ways:

  • Is it because my boss is busy and have many meetings.
  • Or is it because he/she doesn’t know what to answer.
  • Is my boss interested at all in my work?
  • Or even worse – the employee can feel ignored or similar.

Therefore, it is crutial that virtual leaders are transparent, clear and maintain a dialouge about what is going on.

Besides mutual goals and clear roles, there are three areas where you need to have an agreement with the team in regards to virtual leadership. This agreement is usually called a Team Operation Agreement (TOA) and it is includes the following topics:

  • Trust
  • Decisions
  • Communication agreements

Make an agreement about:

Trust: Studies show that virtual collaboration needs a high level of trust, otherwise the team cannot succeed. The manager has to trust that the employees are doing their best to complete their tasks and the employees have to trust that the manager has good intentions and their colleagues are contributing to the work.

Therefore you need to talk clearly about trust: How do we create trust? Which actions and behavior do we see as trustworthy? What are the obstacles of trust in the team? What the leader has to do or not do to build trust?

Decisions: The virtual teams are usually rather autonomous. The manager is not there physically and they have to make most of the decisions themselves. When a meeting is carried out physically, it is easier to be on the same page, but in remote setting, you need to have agreements about decision making. Who can make what type of decisions in connection with clients, tasks, etc.? How do we handle disagreement?

Communication: It is a good idea to have an agreement about the frequency of communication, how fast is it expected to reply, what you should do if you don’t understand something. Talk also about: How do you execute good online meetings? How do you make sure that you have informal communication with colleagues? Which technologies would you like to use and how?

These are the basics of a well- functioning virtual team.

The informal and social part of virtual leadership

One of the most common challenges with virtual collaboration is that you often only talk when something negative is going on. The informal communication is very often absent as a counterweuight.

If employees only talk with their boss or colleagues if there are problems, the relationships are unbalanced.

Getting to know each other and knowing who our colleagues are, function as an important buffer when we face problems.

Therefore, it is important that there is space of informal communication regularly.

Online possibilities and informal communication

  1. It can be a phone call or Facetime, it does not matter. The most important thing is to ask “how are you doing?”
  2. It could be a start, that you make a “check in” and “check out” rounds on video conferences, where you use 5 minutes to have an informal talk about everyday life.
  3. Team building tools such as Knowie, are developed to help to get to know each other in an easy and entertaining way and gets some new interesting topics on the table.
  4. The same way you can use virtual coffee breaks to meet with your colleagues regularly one by one.
  5. Meet on videoconference for a virtual Friday Bar and play something together or have a drink.
  6. Use Google street view and show your colleagues where you live, tell about what you like about living there.
  7. Celebrate – When you finish a project, meet for a celebration. Make sure everyone has a drink and a snack and the team leader can facilitate some games.
  8. Everybody can make a short presentation of oneself, short introduction and show where and how one likes. You can show it to each other on an informal video meeting or similar.
  9. Online lunch – “meet” and talk with one or two colleagues
  10. Online games – use chat or communication. Use a simple game so everybody can be part of it.
  11. Work in pairs from different locations.

Continue the list and check other blog posts with more ideas and input for virtual team building.


What do you get out of these activities?

  • You will pay more attention to each other – Your colleagues are less “out of sight, out of mind”
  • You will get to know each other better
  • The shared experiences help to build relationships and trust
  • The informal will come more naturally
  • It makes the formal frames less rigid
  • It will create more possibility to be creative and share idea

To create good virtual leadership it is important that the virtual manager explains the team why they should use time and energy on building relationships and that they should think about when and how to use the different communication channels.

Mads Schramm


Schramm, Mads (Kort & Godt om virtuel ledelse). Udgives i første halvår 2021 på Dansk psykologisk forlag.

Schramm. M, & Diederichsen, S.: Virtuel ledelse – skab synlighed, resultater og nærvær på afstand, Dansk Psykologisk Forlag, 2011.

Schramm. M, & Lønsted, W: www.næ Netpsykologi, kommunikation og rådgivning. Dansk Psykologisk Forlag 2001.

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