Now that businesses have invested in technology and software designed to enhance remote working, it’s time to consider accountability implications.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, many firms were left scrambling to implement the proper infrastructure to facilitate home working.

Although this technology has been readily available for many years, businesses were reluctant to embrace this new way of working.

This was for a few different reasons:

  • Many feared that remote working wouldn’t be successful
  • Some didn’t trust their staff to work hard at home
  • Others were reluctant to embrace a new world of work that enabled their team to benefit from a better work-life balance

But a year down the line, more businesses than ever before are now considering a flexible approach to their business model.

For example, only one in ten companies expect all of their employees to return to the office in a pre-pandemic working arrangement. And according to Forbes.com, managers will ‘need to coordinate a hybrid model, in which some people are in the office and others at home. This hasn’t been done at scale yet and is charting new territory.

This tells us that more than ever, businesses need to adequately plan and strategize how they intend to ensure accountability amongst their remote workforces.

This may sound complex, but you can create a cohesive yet accountable working environment, regardless of whether your staff works within the office or from home.

What Is a Culture of Accountability?

First, it’s essential to understand what we mean when we talk about accountability within a working context.

Firms that have accountable employees:

  • Know what they are working towards and why
  • Have a shared ethos where all employees understand what needs to be done
  • Feel motivated and rewarded to achieve what they set out to do

In short, a culture of accountability is the creation of a positive working environment facilitated by solid leadership.

In these businesses, employees can work hard because they know that their hard work and positive attitude will be recognized.

They know that if they make a mistake or issues arise, there is no blame culture. Instead, colleagues will rally around without question to find solutions or ways to overcome the problem.

These types of businesses are more likely to flourish. Not only can they be more productive and efficient, but they are also more likely to have high staff retention, an excellent reputation and inspire their team (at all levels of seniority) to want to work to the best of their ability.

Why Is This So Important for Remote Working?

If your business has lots of remote staff, it can be challenging to achieve this level of cohesion. However, accountable workforces are built through respect, leadership, honesty and trust.

Many of us take for granted how easy office-based work can be. You do not need to wait for answers; you can walk to a co-worker’s desk to find out the information you need.

Similarly, you can also rely on adequate technology to assist you, along with support and guidance from your line manager or other departments.

If you are a remote worker, this is far more complicated. This can be for a variety of reasons:

  • Accountability is based upon clear and consistent communication, led directly from the top. If you’re working from home, it can be easy to only talk directly to your specific team.
  • You may not hear anything from your C-suite executives, leading to a lack of harmony and a misunderstanding of what you are trying to achieve.
  • Not knowing what others are working on can also lead to distrust or poor team building.
  • If an error occurs, it can be challenging to know how to fix it because you may not know what caused the situation in the first place.

Looking ahead to the future, accountability will become increasingly crucial for remote workforces. Many businesses may choose to work remotely for the foreseeable future, and they may begin to recruit new workers from all over the world.

This means that you may find yourself working with people whom you have never met. And if you haven’t met, you may not immediately have the trust and camaraderie you would usually find within a team.

Is Accountability the Same Throughout the Organization?

To incorporate an accountable workforce, you need to be clear about what this means for individual workers, team managers and the business as a whole.

Let’s see how this breaks down: 

  • Employee accountability. This is about understanding what tasks you are being asked to do. Can you promise that your tasks will be completed on time and within budget? You need to know what role you are playing in your team and how your job can impact other people’s ability to get their work done.
  • Manager accountability. Managers need to take responsibility for ensuring that projects are delivered on time. Again, it’s about knowing how to work with your team members to help them succeed. It’s also about implementing transparent man-management processes (often aligned with your HR teams) that facilitate clear communication, inspiration and motivation.
  • Business accountability. Are you delivering what you promise to customers or clients? Do you listen to what your stakeholders need and are you working well as a local business? Your accountability is about taking responsibility for the business’s entirety and finding the best ways to flourish.

How Can You Create a Culture of Accountability in a Remote Workplace?

To have a harmonious business, you need to build trust amongst your employees. To do this, you need to set clear boundaries from the very beginning.

These boundaries (a sign of clear leadership) will help establish a clear accountability framework amongst all employees, whether senior managers or just starting their careers.

Here are some valuable tips for how you can ensure accountability amongst your remote employees: 

Set Clearly Defined Roles and Expectations

When developing a remote working culture, your HR department needs to consider its onboarding processes. It needs to outline clearly defined roles and expectations and formulate ways to enhance communication across the business.

If you’re a new starter, your onboarding should clarify what is expected from you, who you report to and your core responsibilities. If you’re moving away from the office environment, although your job role may remain the same, you may need to clarify any expectations of how you are expected to work.

As we already mentioned, it can be easy to find out information when working in an office environment. However, when multiple people work remotely, fact-finding can become much more complicated.

Therefore, you need to have clear expectations for how you should work when you rely upon information from others.

Those businesses who set clear expectations are less likely to have to deal with workplace grievances or conflicts. Having specific work-from-home policies will also help reduce any stresses related to working hours, professionalism, security and compliance, and required standards.  

Set Clear Goals 

Managers find it hard to support remote teams due to the lack of physical supervision. This is where precise goal setting can help to ensure smooth progress.

For example, if a line manager has made it clear what they want you to work on, you can find it easier to focus your activities.

You may want to set yourself clear goals – perhaps it’s about allocating a specific amount of time to specific activities or using defined metrics to confirm that you are achieving the work that you have been assigned.

Then, at the start of each week, try to create an effective to-do list that will break down all of the tasks that you need to do. This can then be shared and communicated with your wider team so that everyone knows the status of specific projects or campaigns. 

Communication Is Vital

To ensure a thriving remote working environment, there must be strong communication throughout the business.

Senior management teams need to include all staff members in core communications. If they forget to include significant staff members (such as those in junior roles), it could quickly lead to disharmony or confusion.

Accountable workforces only succeed when everyone is fully aware of what they are working towards.

This means that HR teams need to devise new ways to encourage internal communications, whether through a dedicated intranet, daily video calls and updates, internal newsletters, emails, live chat, or messenger capabilities.

As you move down the corporate ladder, middle management needs to know how to communicate targets and updates to junior staff.

Unfortunately, poor communication can get lost in translation, and when individuals are working remotely, it can be harder to clarify misunderstandings.

Therefore, it’s more important than ever that managers take the time to confirm that their teams fully understand what is being asked of them.

On the ground, individual workers need to communicate upwards with their line managers about what work they are focusing on and any additional support.

Regular communication (along with their clear goals as detailed above) will help them update colleagues about work completed or extra work that still needs to be done.

The more communication that takes place, the easier it is for remote teams to be fully accountable. 

Use Project Management Tools

An easy and practical way to increase communication is to make the most of collaborative working tools.

For example, software solutions such as Asana, Trello and Basecamp can easily track what work is assigned to whom.

In addition, many businesses are making use of Microsoft 365 software. Within this, MS Teams and SharePoint have some highly intuitive collaborative working tools to streamline the transition between the office and remote workers. 

Don’t Let Issues Escalate

It’s essential that all remote workers feel empowered to highlight issues that may impact their work.

Businesses need to deal with minor problems as they arise, to prevent these concerns from escalating to formal grievances.

Minor issues that can occur through remote workforces can include:

  • Misreading the tone of voice within an email
  • Not knowing how to complete a specific task
  • Technical issues
  • Keeping track of what others are doing
  • Isolation and fear of missing out

Communication is critical here.

When working remotely, it can be easy to rely on emails or informal instant messaging to convey comments to others. However, intentions can be miscommunicated.

That is why many businesses believe that video calls are crucial to maintaining the cohesiveness and flexibility of remote workforces. 

Regular Updates Are Needed

To remain accountable for your work, you need to share regular updates with your colleagues.

This could be through ticking off a task on your project management software or sending an email, or calling team members to confirm any progress.

The more updates you can provide, the easier it is to remain accountable for your work.

At a mid-management level, you need to be able to communicate upwards with senior teams and downwards to other staff to confirm that everyone knows what the business is working towards. 

Make Sure You Share Your Successes

One of the best ways to empower individuals to take full accountability for their job role is to ensure that they receive praise and that their successes are rewarded.

If employees feel like they are recognized for their contribution to the company, they are more likely to go the extra mile to work as hard as they can.

For remote workers, this is vital because working independently at home can lead to feelings of isolation or seclusion. Therefore, any praise or recognition should be widespread – whether that’s through your internal communications, on a company-wide video call or through a company email.

If employees feel valued, they will be far more likely to push themselves to be positive role models for others.

Conclusion

This article has given you an insight into why it’s important to implement strategies to ensure your remote workforce remains accountable.

These practical suggestions provide a starting point for HR teams to establish a new, more modern way of working.

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