Building trust with remote workers and contractors

I just read a good article that building trust is one of the top 5 attributes of a good leader. But what about decentralized, offshore, remote teams. Do they count? Yes, actually building trust is even more important in the context of offshore development

To build trust with your new team of offshore workers, whether they are inherited, full time, sub-contractors, freelancers, etc involves a lot of meetings, discussions, opening of your heart, social media engagement, team building exercises and more …

Just kidding. Nobody cares about that.

The key concerns of your team are listed as follows

  1. Will I get paid?
  2. Will I get paid?
  3. Will I get paid?

Nothing you can do, say, coordinate will matter unless you have demonstrate that you can/will pay your people

  • On time,
  • in full
  • and accurately, with no mistakes, underages etc

You need to make paying people not only a priority, but the core value of your company


Unlike in the US, where people are generally paid on time and in full (although there are notable exceptions), in many developing companies payroll is a bit of a roll of the dice. You may get paid, you may not. You may get paid in full, you may not. This causes a lot of mistrust and uncertainty that you will inherit when you lead offshore teams

But onshore contractors like to get paid too and based on the temporary status of their work, they often run into trouble. You should make it your job, to make sure these guys get paid as well, even if they make more than you do! 😉

My principal job

I used to joke that my job at my old startup was to pay people. Anything I did above and beyond that was extra! But there is a lot of truth to that. If I could manage payroll efficiently and effectively, building trust with every completed pay-cycle, I was really making strides in building trust, which is a critical foundation that everything else is built on. If I couldn’t accomplish that, I really didn’t have a team.

One of my biggest sources of pride is that we ran an international payroll for approx. 15 years, of up to 100 people. Never once did I …

  • Fail to pay anyone
  • Pay anyone late
  • Make any mistakes in payment that weren’t immediately corrected, in the rare occasions that they did occur

I would occasionally offer to bet people $1,000 that they could find anyone to make claims to the contrary. Nobody ever did.

Full disclosure. My wife actually ran the books for my company, along with many other things, and gets most of the credit for this fast and efficient service!

By making payroll your top priority of your company, you are literally putting your money where your mouth is and, in doing so, establishing trust on your team


I never pay for work before it is done. But on the other hand, it isn’t fair to expect someone to not get paid anything for larger, fixed bid contracts until they are completed. We implemented a milestone system of payment for all of our sub-contractors where they would get paid based on, fully verified, milestone achievements.

Again, I can’t take the credit for this because my fine operations team in Serbia, managed all of these contracts, including all of these milestone payments. (1)

Lessons learned

  • Pay before the end of the month. We kept paying earlier and earlier, which the team appreciated. Bi-weekly would be even better, but we never got there
  • Follow a rigorous quality assurance process to make sure all payments are made accurately
  • Allow team members to escalate pay problems right to the CEO. I can’t remember more than 1-2 emails about pay, in these 15 years, as my HR team was so great. But just knowing people could reach out to me about pay put a lot of people at ease
  • Try to cover as many fees and expense as you can e.g. wire etc
  • Focus on payroll when you are doing it. Don’t allow it to be just another task that you juggle that day. You must commit a block of time and focus on it exclusively, until it is done, and don’t allow yourself to be interrupted or distracted
  • Pay expenses the following month. People shouldn’t have to wait 6 mos. to get reimbursed for expenses incurred on the job


By demonstrating to your people that paying them is your top priority you can eliminate worry, uncertainty, distraction and allow your team to fully focus on the job at hand. Seems simple, but I know a lot of managers don’t fully appreciate that, and their offshore team results suffer for it



(1) 60+ completed contracts