The pandemic ushered in a new era of hybrid office environments. While the dust is still settling on what the modern workplace is going to look like, one thing is for sure: remote work is here to stay. The IT tools companies use to support this work will become more important than ever going forward. A 2021 Flex Jobs survey found that 70% of employers indicated they would shift to a hybrid model full-time. 58% of employees surveyed said they wanted to continue working remotely full time, while 39% expressed interest in a remote team model.
So, what does this mean for organizations and specifically, the managers overseeing many of these remote workers? It means they must adapt the way they work and manage their teams. Remote work will remain going forward – it’s inevitable. But to experience continued success, companies will need to evolve the way they manage their team members.
While remote work may have a lot of benefits for employees and companies alike, there is also the potential for a lack of accountability to arise. Let’s take a closer look at defining what accountability means for remote teams, why it’s so challenging, and what steps you can take (and communication tools you can use) to ensure it’s a part of your team’s standard operating procedure.
What Is Accountability?
The general concept of accountability is simple, whether it’s in a professional or non-professional setting. Accountability means doing what you’ve agreed to do. In a work environment, each member of your team has agreed to take on a set of roles and responsibilities. They’ve also agreed to work in a way consistent with the rest of the team. Here’s one example. Let’s say your core operating hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. If you make this clear to your team, they are then expected to be accountable between those hours of the day. That’s not to say they can’t take PTO or a lunch break, but they would have to communicate to the rest of the team (or their manager) that they plan to do so.
But the idea of accountability in a remote setting can be a bit more complex than that. According to CEO Peter Bregman, it’s about more than just accepting fault when a project doesn’t work out or work doesn’t get done. Bregman wrote that “accountability is not simply about taking the blame when something goes wrong. It’s not a confession. Accountability is about delivering on a commitment. It’s responsibility to an outcome, not just a set of tasks.”
Everyone on your team should be held accountable to perform their jobs and adhere to the standards set by your team. This is equally true of the most junior employee all the way up to the senior leadership.
The Need for Building Accountability in the Organization
You may be wondering why the need for accountability exists. There are numerous reasons why you should strive to promote an atmosphere of accountability, embracing it as an organization-wide value held by all:
It Ensures Work Gets Done
Imagine you manage a team. Employee A is tasked with completing a deliverable by the end of the week. Once complete, Employee B will use that deliverable to complete their project. From there, Employee B will turn their deliverable over to you, who will share the result with senior leadership.
What happens if Employee A misses their deadline? What about Employee B? Are there consequences for missing those deadlines that impact the work of others? Do they understand why they need to complete the work they do?
A team is only as strong as its weakest link. By encouraging accountability, you’re ensuring everyone can succeed and get projects to the finish line. Without accountability, timelines continually get shifted and it’s harder to make progress.
It Promotes Equality by Holding Everyone to the Same Standard
Let’s say you have two team members who do equally excellent work. The challenge is that one always meets their deadlines, while the other habitually misses. By holding both to the same standard, you’re focusing on results while also being fair to all. Accountability doesn’t mean you’re inflexible, but it does mean you always clearly tell everyone what you expect. If they can’t meet those expectations, they need to talk about that with you.
It Establishes an Expectation for Clear Communication
Accountability means accepting responsibility for work being done or even being present in the remote office. That’s where communication plays a big role. If you have an employee who plans to take a day of personal leave, they’re technically still accountable for working that day until they communicate that to you. If your team has a process set up to notify their manager about leave dates, they need to go through that process. That way, they’re remaining accountable and communicating their availability to all.
Why Is It Difficult to Keep a Remote Team Accountable?
Maintaining accountability with any kind of team is an ongoing challenge. It’s a particularly daunting task for remote teams. The bottom line is that when your team is distributed, it’s just harder to keep track of everyone’s progress, whereabouts, and general accountability.
Here are a few reasons why accountability is harder for a remote team:
Information Gathering Is Harder
When a team sits in an office together, it becomes a lot easier to communicate. A manager can tap a team member’s shoulder for a status update. They can ask questions. Also, they can standup meetings more easily. They can make other observations, like an employee’s body language, that can help them ascertain how a person is doing or feeling.
In-person teams provide a manager with more observational cues for information gathering. In turn, this makes it easier for managers to hold team members accountable – or prove that they too are holding themselves accountable.
Looking for Updates Can Be Easily Misinterpreted
Non-verbal communication plays a major role in professional interactions. When a manager asks for an update or “nudges” their team members for information, doing it in person is much easier. They can soften their message through the tone of their voice or other body language cues.
Written requests for information can be misinterpreted. Team members can worry about their status on the team or wonder if the manager is upset or angry.
Lack of Commitment Documentation
When major decisions are made or tasks are assigned, it’s critical for teams to get these written down. In the remote work environment, with teams distributed and communication sometimes disjointed, it’s easy for commitments to fall through the cracks or remain vague.
How to Increase Accountability Among Your Remote Team
With so many challenges evident in managing a remote team and keeping them accountable, what are some best practices for doing it? Below are a few ways you can help your team maintain a more accountable posture:
- Create a policy. Put your team’s remote work policy in writing. Create boundaries and expectations for when they need to be available via email, IM, or other communication channels.
- Document all processes. Document, document, document. Whether it’s how your team meets, completes deliverables, or anything else they do on a regular basis, write it down and store it. Refer to your documentation often to help educate your team when they stray from your approved processes. Use mistakes as teachable moments.
- Don’t forget to keep your team happy. Always balance your adherence to the rules with your team’s overall happiness, health, and wellbeing. For example, let’s say you ask your team to be responsive through an instant messenger tool. You may also want to allow them to have dedicated “deep work” hours when they can catch up on deliverables or trainings where they don’t have to be accountable. Accountability demands flexibility.
- Enact a communications strategy. How do you expect your team to communicate with you? If you don’t tell them – and put it in writing – they won’t know. By doing this you leave no room for doubt later and make it easier for them to stay accountable in how they connect with you.
- Take advantage of remote work technology. The great part about this new era of a hybrid, distributed workforce? There have never been more tools to help remote teams function effectively.
Tools That Can Help You Hold Your Remote Team Accountable
If you want to enable consistency across your teams, it makes sense to hold them all accountable using the same platform. Microsoft 365 offers the most utility for this across the board. Here are just a few of the ways in which it can foster better cohesion and accountability:
- Communication. Whether it’s an urgent task or a standing meeting, you need your team members to be able to check in with each other. They’ll want to talk, which becomes a lot harder in a remote environment. Luckily, Microsoft Teams offers multiple ways for your team members to stay engaged and accountable. Whether it’s through instant messaging, calling, or videoconferencing, you can stay in touch with your team.
- Collaboration. With its cloud computing capabilities, 365 allows your team members to collaborate on projects. They can do so via a videoconference, whiteboarding, or even asynchronously via SharePoint. They can maintain version control of all documents to ensure there aren’t conflicting edits made.
- Security. It’s much harder for your organization to track how secure your remote workers’ systems are. With Microsoft’s comprehensive security services, your team can rest easy knowing that even when they’re working from home, they can stay protected.
Learn More About Building a Culture of Accountability in Your Remote Team
Maintaining accountability is an essential part of a remote team’s success. Empowering yourself with the tools needed to set expectations and maintain these accountability standards is also critical. If you want to get the most out of Microsoft 365 for your remote team, you’ll want to have a partner who can help you optimize your engagement with the platform. Agile IT is that partner. We’re experts in navigating Microsoft 365. For more on how we can help, contact us today!