Project ManagementRisk Management

Leading Virtual Projects: How Do You Build Trust from a Distance?

It’s common knowledge that individuals respond positively to the physical presence of other human beings. But when geography and business requirements prohibit coffee break conversations and impromptu meetings, all team cohesion rests solely on the notion of trust. Quoting a book by Thomas Wise called Trust in Virtual Teams, Penny Pulan pulls out three of the essential elements of trust in a post for the Association for Project Management:

  • Personality-based trust: made up of trustworthiness, relationships, and consistency
  • Cognitive-based trust: made up of expectation, knowledge, and experience
  • Institutional-trust: made up of consistency, expectation, and equity

Another tidbit selected from a recent book on trust-building breaks it down into the equation: Trust = credibility + reliability + intimacy / self-orientation.

Disembodied Together

First, the bit about intimacy: if the perception is that you’re on a conference call with a disembodied voice (or head, in case of Skype), try adding some context to the equation by talking about certain non-work related information (maybe you’re both dog lovers / cat lovers / chili cheesesteak lovers). You could even have non-work related meetings – conference call lunch anyone?

Centralized Knowing

On the knowledge front, wouldn’t it be nice for each team member to get exactly what information they need to complete the project? By building a virtual collaborative space, it’s possible to have all team documents in one place for easy access at a moment’s notice. Part of that shared space might include profiles and information about the individual team members.

Unfair Advantages

When collaborating across organizations, it’s sometimes tempting to offer unfair advantages to some while depriving or isolating others. Pulan cites the hybrid meeting:

Some people are present in a meeting room face-to-face and others join remotely by speaker phone. I’ve seen the results: far too often, the conversation in the room becomes animated and the people on the end of the phone are all but forgotten. 

Instead of a divided experience, where some gain access to crucial information (on a white board or projector screen), it would be wiser to keep everyone on the same, virtual level.

Read the original post at:

Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is a staff writer for CAI's Accelerating IT Success. He is an intern at Computer Aid Inc., pursuing his master's degree in communications at Penn State University.

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