8 Ways to Keep Your Employees Accountable in a Virtual Environment

Remote work is the new normal. In fact, remote work was gaining ground even before the pandemic hit, and with the start of 2021, many IT companies have permanently taken this route.

However, there are many managers and business owners who are still skeptical. It is not that they don’t trust their employees; they just lack a framework that drives accountability.

We all have struggled with accountability at some point in time, and it is up to the leaders to provide a structure that helps employees overcome stress, overwhelm, burnout, and frustration.

How do you keep your employees accountable when they’re working remotely, and you don’t see them at their desk anymore during office hours like you used to?

We asked our TAB members to share their thoughts on how to drive accountability for remote teams. You can use some of these best practises in your business right away, but remember that accountability comes from trusting and appreciating your employees, so that’s a great place to start. Next, give them structure, have clear expectations, set and track KPIs, and keep all communication channels open.

1. Use technology to drive accountability in a virtual environment.

More than ever, business owners need to trust that their employees are working on the right things and accomplishing what needs to be done.

But how does a business owner do this when the staff is working from home or other remote locations?

The keyword here is trust. But not blind trust. Business owners have learned to trust but verify to ensure things stay on track.

At the office, you would meet with employees and request documents showing progress or status reports of the efforts or tasks of interest.

The same thing should continue to apply. You can now meet via Zoom or have a phone call. Ideally, this would be a weekly, recurring meeting on the same day and time each week. Have your employees keep the critical status/progress reports on DropBox, Google Drive, or any mainstream file-sharing service. This way, you can check on the status any time you want. Random spot-checks followed up with a question or two for the employee will demonstrate you are engaged and drive accountability from your staff.

If no document exists for specific jobs, projects, or tasks, consider making one. It’s not hard. Every job has some measurable output, often called the Key Performance Indicator (KPI), even if it’s just one step in a longer process. The KPI and report could be as simple as a count of those steps.

Lastly, incentivise your employees to perform by providing recognition and valuable incentives for exceeding their KPI goals. This helps keep your staff focused and motivated between reviews. Again, a publicly available shared tracking spreadsheet of each employee’s progress towards the goals is very motivational. Everyone wants to be at the top. Even more so, every employee wants to avoid being at the bottom of such a list.

So, to simplify and summarise:

  1. Ensure you have at least one KPI for every employee, project, or task.
  2. Request/ require regular progress/status reports (documents, not just verbal) from every employee due on regular, standing dates.
  3. Schedule brief, regular, standing Zoom meetings or phone calls for you to meet with each employee to review the reports.
  4. Track progress toward all KPI objectives.
  5. Recognise and reward the top performers.
  6. Repeat the steps. This process can break down if not revisited at least once a year and refreshed. Maintain the process and the importance of it to the business.

The above steps are simply a collection of timeless business best practises applied using modern technology in today’s business environment. Don’t let the current business reality of virtual environments derail you or your company from progress and success.

Joe Palmer, Owner at TAB North Texas

2. Empower your team by allowing them to make their own individual commitments.

Have each employee make individual commitments for the week and then have a short weekly roundup to review their progress. When employees drive their commitments, they feel empowered and accountable for the goals they set for themselves, and they look forward to an opportunity to share their achievements with others. Employee-generated commitments also allow managers and leaders to see how well individual employees understand overall organisational goals and their contributions to achieving those goals.

Bob Haines, Owner at TAB Boise Idaho

3. Follow three simple steps to drive accountability.

Leaders need to inspect what they expect to ensure accountability, but some preliminary steps are necessary to do this effectively. The steps outlined below are a good practise whether your team is remote or not.

  1. WHY – Align the goals – what is good for the company and the employee? Agree that it is in our mutual best interest to improve effectiveness and efficiency. Make sure there are positive or negative consequences for compliance or lack thereof.
  2. WHAT – Collaboratively discuss what we need to inspect, either with the individual or with a team of employees. Make sure you discover why they may not comply. For instance, they do not have the required skills, or there’s too much on their plate, or they are receiving mixed messages and conflicting directions, or they do not have the right tools for the job, etc. Then, work to eliminate those legitimate barriers.
  3. HOW – Jointly decide on the means to check-in (via dashboard, reports or verbal, the metrics, the frequency, and the parties involved). Ensure they understand the purpose of reporting, which is to help make things better, not to place blame.

We need to shift the message from “I am going to check up on you,” to “We want to find a way to help you achieve our mutual goals.”

Bob Dodge, Partner at TAB Denver West

4. Check in with them regularly to show your team you value them.

The most crucial factor in keeping remote employees accountable is human contact. The most successful businesses I know require that every manager speaks to each direct report every day. It doesn’t have to be for any measurable objective. It’s just to let the employee know that they are front and center, and their work matters.

John Dini, Owner at TAB San Antonio Texas

5. Have frequent, regular virtual meetings and keep communication channels open.

One easy way to hold people accountable and keep up communications is to have a brief 5-15 minute virtual check-in meeting every day, if possible, or at least once a week, as appropriate. This meeting should take place at the same time. It allows people to greet one another and check-in personally and professionally. If you have a daily meeting, ask them what they will get done on that day, or what they accomplished yesterday. You can apply the same logic if you are meeting weekly, etc. The idea here is to hold people accountable and make it a team effort to hold each other responsible for tasks and offer a helping hand when needed. If you have many employees, you can have multiple “team” or “group” meetings so that the content of the meeting is hyper-focused.

Blair Koch, Partner at TAB Denver West

6. Get weekly activity reports as they relate to their individual job descriptions.

Employees can be held accountable by submitting their weekly activities that directly correlate to their job description. Every employee should have a copy of their job description. Everyone has been hired for a reason, and productive activities that contribute to those reasons as detailed on their job description need to be known and transparent. This method will allow for positive recognition and constructive criticism or even additional help where warranted. A virtual environment doesn’t mean productivity should be in question any more than in a real work environment. Leaders should make it their job to know how individual employee contributions move the organisation towards established goals.

Jim Morris, Owner at TAB Tennessee Valley Region

7. Make results visible.

Bring visibility to the accomplishments of your team, and compare performance against their target or goal. Use your team collaboration software or share the results visually during team meetings. Showing everyone’s results against the plan will create competition on your team, as well as the opportunity to lead helpful conversations on how to support even better results. Everyone wants to be seen as valuable, and creating visible measures adds energy and motivation. Give your team something to shoot for and celebrate along the way. This is even more important with a virtual team.

Laura Drury, CEO/Owner at TAB Denver DTC

8. Develop an online dashboard.

One of the best ways to develop self-accountability on your team is to create dashboards to fill in with their daily, weekly, or monthly Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). A dashboard to start could be as simple as a shared Google sheet where your team members go in and input their critical data every week. To do this, the leader needs to create three to four measurable goals an employee can own. Hitting or exceeding targets should be celebrated as a group, and you should discuss any missed targets one-on-one.

Jodie Shaw, CMO at The Alternative Board (Worldwide)