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Blog Post

Building Trust During COVID-19

By Jami Dix, Senior Client Engagement Leader
Sara Hannah, Managing Partner

In a span of mere weeks, companies and organizations around the globe are facing a slate of decisions they’ve never faced before. Brand-new work from home policies, the agonizing decision to stay open or close doors, how to balance care for people in an environment where working from home isn’t possible, and, for some, how to scale up in the face of unprecedented demand.

As we navigate so much uncertainty, one thing is clear: how we react, what we decide and the communications we send will either build or erode trust. It won’t be neutral.

The need to build trust in an organization isn’t new, but current demands make it more pronounced. Trust defined is: a belief in someone or something. If I asked you to think about the person you trust the most, you could likely make a list of behaviors pretty quickly. Perhaps you would say: they listened, they had my back, they told the truth even when it was difficult, they showed up in a predictable way, they challenged me, they were transparent in their thoughts and actions, they were vulnerable, they admitted when they didn’t know something, they gave the team credit instead of taking it all. Trust, after all is not a behavior in and of itself, but there are a whole host of behaviors that lead to the belief of trust.

If we grouped the behaviors described above, they would fall in four categories:

  • Competence: Doing something right.
  • Consistency: Doing things right over time.
  • Character: Doing the right thing.
  • Compassion: Doing the right thing for people.

Which begs the question, how do we start building or strengthening trust in the workplace with the current COVID-19 environment? Display behaviors in all four categories.


  • Really listen.
    • Normally, we would suggest that you turn off technology to stay fully present. However, technology is the way you’re probably communicating. Keep the video on so you can both listen and pick-up on nonverbal communication.
  • Connect with your people in a way that works for them.
    • For those that are more expressive, working from home might be particularly challenging. Make the effort to schedule even a 10-minute check-in.
    • For those who are less expressive, send an email or text to check-in.
    • Not sure which way is best? Just ask.
  • Send a hand-written note in the mail. They’re rare and memorable.
  • Consider the difference between empathetic and non-empathetic responses:

empathetic response examples


  • Be transparent with what you know and what you don’t know. Even when the news is not good. Saying, “I don’t know,” builds more trust than attempting to talk around an answer.
  • Tell your team what your concerns are. This humanizes you as their leader.
  • Be willing to accept your mistakes. Share what you learned with your team and how you will do it different next time.


  • Identify trusted sources for information, both for your company and relative to COVID-19 procedures.
  • Ensure all team members know what the procedure is if they begin to feel symptoms.
  • Break-down work your team needs to accomplish into shorter milestones. Celebrate each accomplishment.


  • Consider which of your team norms don’t have to change, but rather evolve. If you have a regular Friday afternoon touch base to close out the week, maintain the same schedule and do so virtually.
  • Increase the amount you are communicating. Consider a daily (virtual if necessary) huddle to make sure each person is aligned to what needs to be accomplished and by when. Building trust and respect in a team can continue even while separated.
  • While your team may not be able to take cues from your nonverbal communications as much anymore, they are certainly observing your tone, how messages are being communicated and where you display empathy. While we all flex to new ways of working, showing up as a consistent version of you allows your team to feel more secure as they navigate a considerable amount of change.

If you want to assess how you’re doing in building trust in any of these areas, the simplest way is to ask. Request feedback from your team on what’s going well and what could be going better. Listen. Implement the suggestions that make sense for your team. In doing so, you’ll begin to build or strengthen the belief of trust within your team.

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