When teams made the switch to remote work overnight in 2020, many managers panicked. How could they hold employees accountable when they couldn't see them? Some resorted to the detrimental approach of micromanaging their remote employees. What these managers failed to realize is that, in the office, it's all too easy to confuse long hours with responsibility.

When teams work remotely, outcomes become the true gauge of accountability. While this may be an adjustment for some, it represents an opportunity for the business. Leaders can leverage remote work to make accountability ironclad by establishing clear ownership and inviting team members to take more active roles in company goals.

It starts with ownership

The process of shifting accountability from something that's measured by the amount of time spent at your desk to real business outcomes starts with ownership.

First, make sure that each remote team member has clearly outlined responsibilities and KPIs. We include key goals and metrics in the role documents we provide new hires to set expectations on day one.

When reviewing or setting goals, we make sure to give team members the chance to weigh in. This is an opportunity for managers and individuals to ensure that KPIs are realistic and address roadblocks up front.

Give remote employees control over what they need to be accountable for

Setting KPIs and defining responsibilities is an important first step. But to create true accountability, team members have to be responsible for more than just their goals and KPIs. Otherwise, too many factors are out of their control. Instead, team members should own all of the processes, software tools, budgets, and other activities required to achieve their goals.

For instance, on our team, content marketers own SOPs for SEO optimization and social media. Operations managers own SOPs that govern how our services are delivered and customer feedback is processed. Each individual is responsible for making sure our business runs smoothly in the area defined by their role.

Building process and documentation into your culture invites employees to take greater ownership. Recently, Darren Murph, CEO of GitLab, shared during his talk at Running Remote how this ownership gives his team the freedom to make decisions about the best way to meet their goals. This sense of autonomy builds trust and accountability, which are vital to the team's cohesion and the business's overall success.  

Once you've built accountability, maintain it with communication

If ownership is the bedrock of your team's accountability, communication is what strengthens this foundation and allows you to build on it. Because of this, communication needs structure--especially for remote teams that can't rely on bumping into each other in the hall to share information.

Working remotely forces managers to create a process for communicating with their distributed team members on a variety of topics--from project updates and roadblocks to professional development and personal concerns. The advantage? Vital communication is never left to chance.

While which communication methods you choose will be up to your team, you'll need to make sure that communication is easy, happens often, and encourages trust and openness to maintain accountability.

Our team uses project management software called Podio as our single point of truth for project updates and internal collaboration (there are several tools available to fit your needs). A space is created for each project, and the project owner is responsible for keeping this area up-to-date with what's in progress, roadblocks, accomplishments, and results. Team members make it a habit to share information proactively, which saves managers from having to request updates or wonder if the work is getting done.

Weekly one-on-one meetings between team members and their managers serve an equally vital role in building the type of trust and rapport that maintains remote work accountability. These sessions give team members the opportunity to talk to their managers about priorities, voice concerns, get advice, and speak frankly about their needs--both professional and personal.

Use remote work to elevate your team's understanding of accountability

If you've made the switch to remote work, now is the perfect time to implement a strategy that solidifies accountability on your team. Now that you've removed the illusion that time in the office equates to a job well done, you can elevate your team's understanding of accountability to focus only on the outcomes that matter most to your business.