In one of my past companies, we hired a virtual intern using one of the larger remote work services. She was based in Texas, while we were in the San Francisco Bay Area. This led to coordination via email and phone in order to assign and clarify work. But despite the constant communication and our added ability to "peek over her shoulder" via screenshots of her computer desktop, there always seemed to be a disconnect between the instructions and the final deliverable. Things would fall through the cracks.
The issue was partly miscommunication. And added to that was the lack of public accountability that would have helped her work more efficiently, with every task and deadline made crystal clear.
The thing is: in order for accountability to exist, you need to optimize your work environment. It's not so much "if you build it, they will come" as it is "if the system supports it, people will follow when you lead."
If you're struggling to make remote work work in your organization, this post offers you a framework for nurturing accountability in your team and business as a whole.
Building a Framework for Accountability
A. Define Roles
The first step is to publicly establish each person's role. When there is clarity about who does what, people are much more likely to take ownership of their individual tasks. Like a coach assigning people their positions on the field, this allows your team members to say: "This is my responsibility. I will take charge of it."
B. Own Your Work & Your Team's Results
Once everyone owns their individual tasks, a natural extension of that is owning the team's projects and results. You can help this along by celebrating every small win during team meetings. Every successful project should be announced and publicly celebrated, with key contributors acknowledged. It builds team spirit, reinforcing the fact that you're all in this effort together.
C. Make Tasks Visible
The third step is to use a project management system that lists and tracks everyone's tasks and to-dos. This is where a tool like Wrike comes in handy, where all tasks and work-related information are brought under one roof and visible to anyone you choose.
Remember the maxim, "Out of sight, out of mind"? This is the opposite. Your tasks are transparent to all, allowing people working on similar tasks to collaborate easily and ensure that no work is forgotten. It makes it easier for remote workers to solicit feedback and support their team members — and it doesn't rely on email or instant messaging tools, which both frequently become a confusing mess of pings and replies.
D. Create the Workflow
Once the technology is in place, the final step is to ensure there's a process attached to your team's tasks. Will you follow the "backlog/in progress/review/done" workflow? Or will it look more like "planned/doing/done?" Whatever your preferred process, get the team involved in mapping it out (for more ownership) and get everyone to agree to use the system. With a planned workflow, everyone sees where their work stands and how the entire team is moving forward on projects.
Public Accountability is Not Micromanagement
Just a reminder: accountability is not about hovering over your teammates' shoulders and micromanaging them until they get their tasks done. Rather, it's about setting up a healthy environment where every resource — including teammates — is at the worker's disposal.
Everything You Need to Successfully Manage a Remote Team (checklist)
5 Sentences to Ruin a Remote Worker's Day
The Past, Present and Future of Remote Collaboration: Where Does Your Team Stand? (infographic)