In the current pandemic situation, several organisations are faced with the challenge of managing a remote team for the first time. This can include current employees who are used to an in-person office environment and new hires who were hired virtually and may have never interacted in-person with the rest of the team.
In either case, a remote team can be just as productive as an on-site team as long as your team members are accountable to the work. Before exploring how to promote accountability in a virtual office, let’s consider some common productivity dampeners for remote employees.
Top Remote Team Productivity Dampeners
From an employee’s point of view, there are many advantages of working remotely, like saving time and money that is otherwise spent on travel to and from office, getting more family time, contributing less to pollution, etc.
However, there are several factors that dampen the productivity of remote working teams that work away from the traditional office setting for a prolonged time. Listed below are a few of them:
- Digital distractions – Working remotely gives employees the freedom to use non-essential digital gadgets like smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, TV, etc. at will. This can be a killer for productivity.
- Long work hours lead to fatigue – Discussions that generally take a few minutes when the team is co-located can take much longer when discussed over voice and video calls, especially if the discussions are related to complex problems. This results in the team members spending more time at work, which leads to fatigue or burnout.
- Distraction from kids, family, and friends – Even though work from home allows you to spend more time with your family, sometimes, it becomes difficult to focus on work, especially when you do not have a proper workplace set-up. The distraction soars when family members or your kids are in the same room as you.
- Health issues – Often, employees working remotely do their tasks on laptops, sitting on couches meant for relaxing or on chairs and tables that are not ergonomically suitable for working for a longer duration. Over a period of time, this can lead to serious health issues.
What can Employers do to Ensure Accountability among Remote Workers?
For employers, having a majority of their workforce working remotely has good cost benefits, especially with regards to administration and workspace maintenance. However, it’s not easy to manage a remote team. As a leader, you are responsible for your team’s schedule adherence and sustained productivity levels. Therefore, it’s your job to know what’s going on.
When in office, it’s easy to rely on passive data points, observations, meetings, random coffee-break conversations to figure out what people are doing. Now that you have gone remote, there are relatively fewer data points and observational cues on hand. As a result, it’s normal for you to feel disconnected and out of touch with your team.
So, how can you know what your team is working on and ensure accountability in a way that’s respectful of their time and privacy, without coming across as a micro-manager?
Strategies like installing desk camera apps and other monitoring tools that track employee activity online may be counter-effective.
Below are some of the strategies that employers can successfully adopt to instil accountability in their team members and build a high performing remote team:
1. Encourage open communication.
Have frequent and open communication with your remote teams on the work ethics, and discuss how the increased output from individual team members has a collective benefit on the entire team and the organisation. Educate and encourage the team to avoid digital distractions during work, clearly draw a line between family time and work time, and motivate them to take care of their health. More importantly, ask for feedback from your employees about the challenges they face on a daily basis and what support they need you to provide.
2. Leverage technology for improved team collaboration.
Having a good online collaboration tool is far more critical for a remote team than for a co-located team. The collaboration tool should enable seamless group-level interactions through chats, video and audio calls. It should also have secure sharing features so that all the common working documents can be made available to every member of the team on a 24X7 basis. Some commonly used tools are Slack, Google Drive, Orgzit, Zoom, Dropbox, and more.
3. Set clear expectations and outcome-oriented goals.
As an employer, it becomes imperative to set clear performance goals and milestones for all the remote employees at the onset of the project itself.
Have a detailed discussion at the beginning itself so that there is a clear understanding of the expectations. Mandate the team members to give you an estimate of the time required for every task and come up with a clear delivery plan so they do not end up overworking.
4. Set clear productivity measurement metrics.
Depending on the nature of the project, outline clear quality and productivity measurement metrics for the entire team as well as for every individual in the team and make sure everybody is aware of the metrics.
5. Provide frequent organisational updates to the team.
Send frequent communications related to the organisation level updates through official emails, videos, podcasts etc. Conduct town halls, HR connects, etc., at least once a month so that team members can interact with the senior management and understand the organisational level view on various topics. This will instil a sense of belonging in the remote employees and will help them align towards the organisational goals.
6. Encourage continuous upskilling.
Encourage team members to continuously upgrade their knowledge related to work and set aside time for regular knowledge-sharing sessions. Encourage team participation in these sessions as it’s always easier to learn as a team regardless of whether the participants are remote or co-located!
7. Work is fun and fun is work!
Well, everybody who works hard deserves to have fun! Set aside a few minutes every week or fortnight to have fun activities as a team. This is a good opportunity for the team members to display their talents and foster team spirit. It also acts as a way to improve interpersonal communication between team members.
8. Reward top performers.
Finally, review progress related to project goals at least once in two weeks. Let everybody in the team express their views on what went well, what can be done better, and offer the management’s support. In these retrospection meetings, reward the top performer of the fortnight or the month. This is a big motivation factor for the team to perform and deliver consistently.
Remember, accountability doesn’t happen automatically. Employees are more accountable in an environment where they feel trusted, appreciated, and engaged. Implement the approaches you find the most useful and make them a part of your team culture.