Even though technology has made working remotely possible, it was still a luxury for most employees. In fact, under 5 million worked at home before 2020. And, as you know, a global pandemic changed all that.
Since then, 62% of employed Americans have reported that they have worked from home during the crisis. And, no matter what happens, a majority of them would prefer to do so.
Because of this, leaders have had to step up their game. They’ve had to get used to communicating and collaborating virtually. And, even more challenging, they’ve had to learn to trust their team members.
How to Build Accountable Work from Home Teams
Unlike being in an office where you would expect to see your people working, you’ve had to believe that they’re doing the same thing at home. You’ve also had to learn that they need flexibility in order to meet both their professional and personal demands.
The good news? You can still build an accountable work from home team. When you do, you’ll still meet deadlines, while earning the trust of your team members.
Create a team-facing work-from-home policy.
“You need a solid work-from-home policy that plainly lays out how your remote team operates,” writes Jeremy Elder for Hubstaff.” It should also cover “what you ask of your teams when they’re working away from the office.”
Why? That’s easy. “Employees can’t deliver what you want unless they understand what you expect of them,” explains Elder.
When developing this policy, however, make sure that’s just not a list of procedural steps. It should be something that “inspires and educates on why your strong remote work culture is a reflection of the larger mission and values of your business.”
Elder adds that a solid remote work policy will answer the following questions:
- Who can work from home?
- When and how often can they work from home?
- Who approves remote work requests?
- What equipment and amenities are required?
- What security and privacy measures must be taken?
- Is remote work completed on a flexible schedule, or must the team member complete work during specific hours?
- What meeting standards must be met while working from home?
You may also want to address things like dress codes and meeting availability. And, you may also want to be flexible with deadlines. Even though your team is working remotely, they will still have to deal handle personal issues that may pop-up.
Not only will this keep your current team members productive, but you can also use this to attract talent. Why? Because 72% of talent professionals have stated that “flexible working and remote options are very important” when attracting new workers.
Get to know your team members.
Not everyone is cut out for remote work. Knowing this, you would bring on those who are. Unfortunately, that’s not how the cookie crumbles — just look at how the coronavirus made WFH a necessity.
As such, you should spend time with each of your team members. Find out where they’re struggling so that you can mentor or help them. For example, maybe they never had a proper workspace at home. If not, you could send them a standing desk or share resources on how to create a home office.
Additionally, this lets you know when they’re most productive. Let’s say you a team member who is a morning bird. You should anticipate that they need the AM to focus on work, so you might want to have a one-on-one with them in the afternoon. Also, you shouldn’t be frustrated if they’re not available at night.
And, this can also help you know the challenges that they’re facing. If bandwidth is an issue at a certain time, you may want to recommend other locations where they can work. Or, you could be flexible with their availability.
Don’t complicate communication and collaboration.
Try to streamline your communication and collaboration by limiting the number of tools that you use. It can get confusing switching back and forth with platforms. Even worse, your team members may misplace a piece of information because it was located in an Outlook email when Gmail is preferred.
At the minimum, you should create and manage a shared team calendar. It’s a simple way to remind everyone of due dates, map out projects, track progress, and schedule meetings. Other suggestions are:
- Messaging platforms like Slack. Create both channels for work and non-work topics.
- Project management software like Basecamp, Trello, or Monday.com. These can help you assign tasks, share files, and track progress.
- Google Apps like Gmail and Docs for easier communication and collaboration.
- Web conferencing tools like Zoom or Go2Meeting. These can aid in brainstorming, check-ins, and combat the loneliness of remote working. Just be aware of Zoom fatigue so that you and your team don’t get exhausted.
Set hard deadlines, but trust they’ll be met.
You don’t want to be a nuisance. However, you should frequently check-in with your team members to see how they’re progressing. Some leaders prefer a daily check-in, while others are cool with doing this weekly.
The reason? Just to make sure that there aren’t any hiccups. If so, you can either jump in and lend a hand or push back a deadline.
At the same time, if you’re set goals with hard deadlines, you won’t have to communicate with them as often. Why? Because deadlines make us feel the pressure of accountability and can counter procrastination.
Focus on output, not time-in-seat.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced more people to work from home. While some thrived, others had to adjust — particularly employers and managers. “One of the biggest holdbacks of remote work is trust — managers simply don’t trust their people to work untethered,” said Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics. “They’re used to managing by counting butts in seats rather than by results. ”
As a consequence, employers embraced tools to monitor and track everything from keystrokes, email, app usage, and file transfers. They also used time tracking tools and screenshots.
The thing is, working remotely doesn’t mean you’re sticking to a traditional 8-hour workday. You might put in an hour or two, but then do laundry or homeschool your kids. Or, you may be more of a night owl and get most of your work done in the evening.
“I think there’s an opportunity here to learn how to be a manager that values output, not time-in-seat,” Natalie Nagele, cofounder of Wildbit, told Fast Company. “To me, the value of remote work is that trust and that ability to empower every person to manage their time, to manage their days and their responsibilities around an output.”
“We make a promise to each other,” adds Natalie. “I’m gonna deliver on this thing, and if I can’t deliver it to you, I’m going to communicate why.”
Provide (and solicit) feedback.
What happens if a project has been delivered and it’s not exactly what you wanted? Don’t belittle the person responsible. Instead, go over with them what they did wrong and how to improve.
On the flip side, ask them where you can improve. Maybe your instructions weren’t crystal clear. Now that you’re aware of this, you’ll set clear project expectations and guidelines going forward.
Know when it’s time to micromanage.
Make no mistake about it. Micromanagement drives employees crazy. That’s why you should grant autonomy and let them do their thing.
However, there will be times when this is necessary. Examples include:
- Employee engagement has become stagnant.
- Your company is going through a period of uncertainty.
- Your business is changing direction.
- You want to unleash the full potential of a team member.
- The results have been disappointing.
- There’s a new leader, employee, or unit.
- You want to build a culture of collaboration.
- Your business is venturing into new territory.
- A project requires very specific results.
- Your team is struggling with time management.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you should interrupt your team when you know that they’re working or off-the-clock. Instead, it’s al about balancing micro and macro-management.