By Amanda Cleary Eastep
I carry my three-year-old daughter into the ER. Her face swollen, her breathing rasping.
The security guard sees me, motions me to follow.
I am able to say, she can’t breathe.
In a whirlwind of white coats and tubes and fear, I watch them connect her small face to oxygen and administer epinephrine.
I provide the details of what happened just before I rushed her to the hospital as I witness the team diagnosing and treating the severe allergic reaction. In those needle points of time, I develop a swift trust in the people who hold my daughter’s life in their hands.
My daughter quickly recovered from the episode, and all these years later the incident serves as an analogy for the swift trust that forms within virtual teams whose members must quickly develop a working relationship to accomplish a common goal.
I wasn’t as integral a part in this situation as the nurses and doctors, and in my freelance writing business, lives aren’t at stake. Yet the initial formation of trust that develops between me and a new client in my predominantly virtual workplace is similar to the evolution of trust that day.
Although I may not have been conscious of it in the ER, I had measures for the members of that medical team. As I tick those off once again in my mind, I find they also apply to building trust within virtual teams:
Listening and communicating. The doctors asked concise questions that would elicit the most comprehensive answers from me under duress, then gave specific guidance for follow-up. As a writer working virtually with various marketing and sales teams, I best serve my clients when I understand their needs. Understanding begins with listening, asking the right questions, and communicating clearly and consistently.
Decisiveness. In a virtual work setting, you make decisions every day without a manager looking over your shoulder and nodding. Whether you’re a doctor, a business owner, or a freelance writer, you have to make decisions and own them. Fortunately, my decisions don’t involve life or death situations, but they can affect the health of my client’s business.
Expertise and knowledge. That white coat and stethoscope tell me the doctor has already passed through some rigorous training. Likewise, my online portfolio may speak for me if I haven’t been personally recommended. Even more so, the first project with a new client serves as the immediate testing ground for my skills and how they accomplish the job.
How they responded to each other. We quickly form judgments about a person based on how the people closest to that person interact. Not one nurse hesitated as the ER doctor diagnosed and prescribed. An important way customers initially develop a swift trust, especially with a remote vendor they may never meet face to face, is through the recommendations of people they already trust. One of my clients hired me solely based upon the recommendation of her colleague who was already my longtime client.
Immediate results. If my daughter’s condition hadn’t improved within those vital minutes, I would have been screaming for another doctor. In business, we may have a longer grace period for proving ourselves to clients. But whether through a first-time email or introductory phone call, we need to begin meeting the client’s needs in our very first interaction.
Longterm results. Because of my trust in the ER doctor, I felt confident in following his advice for my daughter’s continued care. Similarly, while a level of trust may be established quickly depending on your actions and the actions of clients or other virtual team members, the level of sustained trust will depend on each person’s continued actions. Ideally, that means the establishment and growth of a healthy and longterm business partnership.
Caring. In that curtained section of the ER, the patient received the doctor’s undivided attention and compassion. No matter how many clients we have or how many virtual teams we become part of, we must strive to make each client feel like the only client.