You trust your team. Obviously, or you wouldn’t have hired them.

Stress, boredom, burnout, and lots of external factors can affect even your top performers. It’s hard to stay productive and accountable when you’re frustrated with your job for some reason, isn’t it?

The truth is this:

Everyone struggles with accountability sometimes. As a leader, it’s your job to help.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, all types of businesses are encouraging employees to work from home. Workers increasingly expect access to work-from-home arrangements, with 83% saying that remote opportunities make them happier on the job.

Managing a remote team comes with a long list of benefits, but it also has its own common challenges.

Basic tasks like communication and scheduling may be more complex for a remote team. It can be harder to manage conflict, develop trust, and build your remote culture.

Managing a remote team is different than managing a team in your own office, even if you’re working with the exact same people.

How do you keep your employees accountable when they’re working from home?

As a fully distributed company, we have a lot of first-hand experience managing remote teams. Our culture reflects that. We learned the way most companies learn — from our triumphs and mistakes.

We’ll discuss the five steps you should take to make it easy for your team to stay accountable.

Before you take that first step, you need to have the right mindset.

Accountability doesn’t happen automatically. Employees are more accountable when they feel trusted, appreciated, and engaged.

Here are the tried and true strategies we recommend:

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5 steps to keep work-from-home employees accountable

Communication and alignment are absolutely crucial for remote teams. That communication starts with you.

Just as you expect your employees to be accountable to you, you must be accountable to them. Trust goes both ways.

These five steps are part of your foundation to earn accountability from your team. The rest is up to you.

1. 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 and what you ask of your teams when they’re working away from the office.

Employees can’t deliver what you want unless they understand what you expect of them.

Woman working from home

This counts for recruitment as well. 72% of talent professionals say flexible working and remote options are very important to attract new workers. A clear work-from-home policy is a benefit you can use to help recruit top talent.

Be sure that your work-from-home policy isn’t just a list of procedural steps, but inspires and educates on why your strong remote work culture is a reflection of the larger mission and values of your business.

A good remote work policy answers all of these 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 might also want to consider whether things like dress code and meeting availability need to be addressed.

In cases where remote work is an alternative to an absence, such as working from home when a child is sick, discuss productivity expectations. In these cases, your team member will need time and focus to handle personal issues. You may feel that it is appropriate to adjust some deadlines.

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2. Document every process in every department

With no physical day-to-day interaction, you’ll have less line-of-sight to how your teams do their work than you might like.

Create crystal-clear process documentation and checklisted workflows for every task, no matter how big or small.

This not only gives you a view of the total responsibilities each team member takes on, but it also makes it easier to switch tasks nimbly between workers or maintain business continuity if someone leaves the company unexpectedly.

  • Fully documenting your processes makes you a better manager. You know exactly what your employees are responsible for, so you can easily balance workloads.
  • When someone is responsible for multiple tasks, they’ll find it easier and faster to switch to something new
  • Onboarding is much easier. If someone leaves unexpectedly, you have the tools you need to get a new team member up to speed

Blueprinting everything you do to create process maps and flowcharts is an effective way to share documentation remotely, and get new hired remote workers up to speed quickly and easily.

To get started, explain what you want to accomplish. Ask your team members to take notes while they work. Once they have a list of things they’re responsible for, you can take it a step deeper with these 5 questions:

  • Why are they doing this task?
  • How do they complete this task?
  • What do you want them to do with the end result?
  • How frequently do they need to perform this task?
  • What is a sample of a well-executed task for reference?

Keep your process documents in a shared folder so that you can find and update them as needed. Reference them often.

Working from the same checklist will help keep everyone on the same page and make communication and trust easier.

3. Earn accountability by focusing on your team’s happiness

Working from home inherently lends itself to offering more independence and freedom for teams to manage their day how they choose.

Though this can feel counterintuitive at first, particularly for those who are more used to stricter in-office environments, accountability can be a natural result of simply keeping your teams happy.

Granting autonomy so that your team can get remote work done on their schedule has been proven to raise productivity and increase job satisfaction.

Accountability based on team satisfaction

When your teams are authentically motivated to take ownership, they’re more accountable to themselves, to their team members, and to the business.

Trust your team to crush it on their own time,  and put the right processes and structures in place to support them.

However, don’t just assume that your team is satisfied. Actively get their feedback and ask them how they’re doing so you know what’s working and can improve what isn’t.

Reach out often, and not just when you think there might be a problem. Working from home can leave some people feeling isolated.

Building your remote culture helps everyone feel more connected. Even if this is a temporary situation for your team, invest some time and effort to keep that community spirit alive.

4. Create a communications strategy

Remote communication is a whole new ball game. You can’t rely on previous habits.

Plan your new approach and get your team on the same page.

Too often, remote teams talk less than they should. At first, some managers mistakenly believe this is a good thing. Instead of chatting, everyone is working. Right?

Those friendly chats aren’t just a distraction, though. They form bonds between coworkers and keep the lines of communication open for work discussions.

While working from home, teams must make an effort to communicate regularly. Here’s how you can help spark more conversations, both planned and unplanned.

  • Make the most of video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Skype and OneMeeting. Seeing each other face-to-face is good for building relationships.
  • Create Slack channels for both work and non-work related topics. You should participate, too. Remember that you set the tone for the team.
  • Use remote team building activities to break the ice and build some rapport. Having fun together is important.

Make sure you use the right tool for the job.

Email is great for things that aren’t time-sensitive and don’t need to be referenced again. For ongoing tasks that need to be referenced later, project management software is a much better choice.

For efficient work communication, Agile project management tools like Hubstaff Tasks keep everyone on the same page. Its visual interface lets you quickly assign work, create Sprints, and comment within the task. Everyone stays in the loop and projects move forward.

5. Take advantage of technology designed for remote work

Accountability is much easier to encourage when all the right tools are in place. Trying to force the wrong tool to work is as frustrating as it is inefficient.

Good remote work technology lets you focus on getting things done.

Hubstaff’s employee monitoring software is one of these tools. It integrates with more than 30 project management, bookkeeping, and business apps, and runs in the background so you can focus solely on your work. You’ll see the exact tasks your team is working on and the time it’s taking to get them done.

hubstaff employee monitoring example screen

You can track time, activity levels, see screenshots (optional), and invoice clients with one tool.

Remote work tech can also help make your work-from-home environment more secure and private.

There are many great software options to help remote teams work better together. Here’s a roundup of 49+ of the best collaboration tools for distributed teams.

You might be tempted to install employee monitoring software and call it a day. As experts in this field, we’re here to tell you that monitoring alone isn’t going to keep your team accountable.

Give your team the tools to succeed.

Trust them. Help them. Then, you can use productivity monitoring as a way to identify improvement opportunities and better processes.

What does accountability look like for your business?

Take the approaches you find the most useful and try them out with your team.

Building trust and accountability requires an investment of time, but the pay off will be worth it.