Without team accountability at work, a remote organization can't succeed. Team accountability calls for employees, regardless of position and hierarchy within the organization, to take ownership of assigned tasks and projects. It also calls for them to consider it their responsibility to complete project deliverables with the highest quality and the organization’s best interests in mind. 

In today's evolving workplace, and after a sudden shift to remote work for many due to COVID-19, leaders and project managers are asking how they can improve team accountability in the workplace when working remotely

The need for remote worker accountability is typically greater than in-office team accountability. The lack of face-to-face interactions, office drop-ins, and watercooler conversations greatly reduces the extrinsic motivation factor that drives accountability at work for most employees. 

This article dives deep into the subject of team accountability at work. We explain why it matters for remote productivity and share guidelines to improve team accountability in your remote teams and organizations. 

What is accountability at work?

Accountability at work means that leaders, managers, and employees take responsibility for their work, keep their word, complete projects in good time and quality, and proactively own their roles and duties in the organization.

Team accountability also means that employees, managers, and the organization itself are held responsible for their actions, behaviors, and performance. 

Employee accountability centers on the specific tasks or functions they're expected to perform. Managers' accountability centers around their team's success, and the organization's accountability centers on stakeholder needs and the community it serves.

When an organization maintains good team accountability, it leads to increased employee commitment, higher employee morale, and better project outcomes.

Organizations with strong team accountability teach their employees to do more than the bare minimum on every project and align their personal goals with the organization's goals for the best possible results. 

Improved team accountability ensures that everyone, whether remote or in-office, can be counted on to complete their tasks and projects on time. It also means that teammates trust each other to do what is right and speak up when they notice that things aren't in order. 

Why Team Accountability Matters for Remote Productivity 2

Why accountability is the key to productivity in remote teams

Remote teams rely primarily on virtual communication software and collaborative workspaces as their daily work stations. In some cases, teammates never meet each other in person at all. 

This makes trust between teammates crucial. A key way to achieve this is for team accountability to be baked into fundamental business processes. Regular team interactions should maintain transparency, a sense of shared purpose, camaraderie, and good standards for project and task delivery.

Business leaders and project managers must take the lead to create a good remote work culture and show accountability at work by living out the behaviors and values they'd like employees to exemplify. This will hopefully incentivize employees to do the same.

It is important to note that creating a culture of team accountability in remote work settings is not a one-and-done task. Instead, it is an ongoing mission.

Without team accountability in a remote organization, there will be gaps between project expectations and outcomes, leading to loss of morale or direction within the team, blame-shifting, lowered quality of output, and unnecessary tension when executing projects. 

How do you create a culture of accountability in remote environments?

To create a culture of accountability in remote teams, leaders and project managers must start by leading by example and optimizing their work environment to reward teammates who proactively embrace accountability at work. More experienced employees and managers can teach recruits how to be accountable and produce the best results, even while working remotely. 

Using accountability tools is another great way to create this remote culture of accountability. One such example is Wrike's remote team collaboration software. Wrike synchronizes work across remote teams, enabling each worker to see what is a priority and how their work impacts other teammates' tasks and the organization's goals.

When employees understand that a delay in completing their tasks causes delays in other teammates' work and deliverables, they are easily motivated to carry out their duties. Little mishaps like running late for meetings, missing deadlines, and delivering subpar work must be addressed early to create a culture of team accountability. 

Why accountability matters in project management

Accountability matters in project management because without it, the project manager cannot predict project success, estimate timelines, or deconstruct projects into tasks using a work breakdown structure (WBS)

For a project manager to successfully manage projects, they must be able to predict team members' availability, estimate how long it takes to finish a task, and communicate the big picture to teammates and stakeholders during the project planning stage. 

Without this knowledge, the project manager may allocate too little or too much time to tasks within projects, thereby underutilizing or stretching the team thin. 

How to show accountability when it matters most

If you're a leader or project manager struggling to show and maintain team accountability in your remote organization, our four-pronged framework below can help you build a system that works.

Showing and maintaining team accountability starts with the top. If a leader or project manager is dependable, action-oriented, communicates clearly, gives good feedback, and owns up to mistakes when they make them, they are well on their way to building a team that upholds a culture of team accountability without being prodded. 

Team accountability framework

  1. Define roles to increase team accountability at work
    The first step is to publicly establish each person's role. In remote organizations where employees can't stop by each other's offices to ask for clarifications, there must be clarity about who does what. 

    When people know their role, they are more likely to take ownership of their tasks. Like a coach assigning people their positions on the field, defining clear roles allows your team members to say: "This is my responsibility. I will take charge of it."
  2. Own your work and your team's results to increase accountability at work
    Once everyone owns their tasks, a natural extension of that is owning the team's projects and results. As a remote project manager, you can help this by celebrating small wins within the team. 

    Successful tasks and projects should be communicated and celebrated with the key contributors acknowledged. This builds team spirit and an eagerness to do more, reinforcing the bond between your remote employees and the fact that you're all in shared purpose together.
  3. Make tasks visible to improve team accountability
    The third step is to use a project management system that lists and tracks everyone's tasks and to-dos. This is where a solution like Wrike comes in handy. With Wrike, 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. Wrike tasks are transparent to all, allowing people working on similar tasks to collaborate easily and ensure that no task is forgotten. 

    It also makes it easier for remote workers to solicit feedback, support their team members, and consolidate all communications on one platform.
  4. Create a workflow to increase team accountability
    Once the technology is in place, the final step is to ensure there's a process attached to your team's tasks. How do you know when a task or project is complete? How do you measure the quality of a deliverable? How do you communicate outcomes to project owners? Will you follow the "backlog/in progress/review/done" workflow? Or will it look more like "planned/doing/done?" 

    Whatever your workflow process, ensure to involve the team in mapping it out. This will cultivate a sense of ownership within them. With an efficient workflow, every employee can see where their work stands and how the organization is moving forward on projects.

Leveraging accountability tools for success

When it comes to managing accountability in remote teams, your success may very well depend on the tools you use. You should ensure that your chosen tools are easy to use by all employees, not just you. 

You should keep in mind your team and organization's goals when it comes to the accountability tools you add to your work stack. Not all trending accountability tools will fit with your employees' style and organization's goals. You can try several before settling on the best fit. 

We, of course, recommend Wrike's remote team collaborative workspace. Apart from providing a central platform for your teammates, Wrike helps you transparently plan projects and communicate priorities to remote teams.  

Building accountability is not micromanagement

Just a reminder that holding staff accountable is not about hovering over your teammates' shoulders or micromanaging them until they complete their tasks. 

Instead, building team accountability is about setting up a healthy environment where every employee understands their role, has channels to communicate, and gives their best because they understand the larger organizational picture. 

To improve your team's accountability, you can start a two-week free trial of Wrike's collaborative solution for remote workers and organizations.