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Ensuring Accountability in Virtual Teams

4 Mins read

Many managers who supervise remote team members struggle to trust their far-away coworkers. A boss can no longer just walk past the office of their direct report and reassure themselves the individual is hard at work. These days, the worker might even be on another continent, yet approximately 40 percent of surveyed managers report low self-confidence in their remote management abilities.

Meanwhile, studies show appropriate management is key to ensuring remote workers’ performance. When supervisors take the correct approach, remote workers can produce just as effectively as their in-person colleagues. Sometimes, they can be even more productive.

So, how should managers approach remote employees most effectively? The good news is that evaluating productivity and ensuring accountability in virtual teams is still possible, no matter how far away your subordinates might be.

Identify employees’ needs

The first thing managers should do is identify whether or not workers are succeeding in meeting their KPIs and producing the necessary deliverables. The best way to encourage and motivate those who are underperforming is to collaborate with them to create an improvement plan. When people participate in creating these projects, they feel like their path forward has been their own idea rather than foisted upon them by someone else. As a result, they tend to take more ownership of their development.

To be most effective, these improvement plans should be realistic and set reasonable timelines for the employees’ progress. They should also be accompanied by regular check-ins with their manager.

For those employees who already are meeting their KPIs, trust should be extended in reasoned increments and progressively expanded as they demonstrate their continued capability to perform. For these workers, techniques that enable self-evaluation and self-accountability work best.

Self-evaluation and self-accountability techniques

As their names suggest, self-evaluation and self-accountability techniques allow competent employees to direct their own work goals and professional development. Since the individual has already satisfied their manager with quality work and consistent output, they have shown they can be trusted to continue meeting expectations. For individuals like these, giving them an appropriate amount of autonomy to self-assess is the most advantageous approach.

Indeed, a study has found that allowing employees to conduct self-evaluations enables them to know, understand, and validate themselves better. This self-knowledge often inspires the employees’ commitment and buy-in to the performance review process, allowing them to become more motivated to work toward their goals as a result. For this reason, employees who self-evaluate perform better than even those who are otherwise trying to do their utmost.

They also perform much better than employees who feel their supervisor is always squeezing them to produce more or micromanaging them. A classic study has associated these negative managerial behaviors with reduced productivity, elevated stress levels, burnout, low employee morale, and increased turnover.

The truth is that few people respond well to being told what to do, while most people tend to blossom when they feel they have an appropriate degree of control over their own work. The smart approach is to let productive employees take the helm and steer their own ship.

Notice that, for both kinds of employees, being an effective leader relies on building relationships.

Building authentic relationships

If there’s one thing remote employees suffer from most, it’s feelings of disconnection and potentially even isolation from the rest of the team. According to HubSpot’s 2023 Hybrid Work Report, 66 percent of participants reported lacking strong connections with their coworkers. 

Managers’ ability to establish positive, supportive connections with their remote workers is vital to addressing this problem, so holding regular one-on-one meetings with team members is indispensable. Luckily, today’s video conferencing software makes it possible to meet in real-time from anywhere in the world.

When meeting, take enough time together to ask questions about topics that go beyond work. Managers should be able to relate to their employees on a human level, knowing their employees’ hobbies and interests, as well as what family members and loved ones they have. They should provide emotional support when individuals are going through tough times and make people feel like they matter. For this reason, cultivating the ability to slow down, listen deeply, and relate to others are essential skills for effective managers. 

These conversations promote employees’ trust in their managers, which leads to greater honesty so that, when the conversation turns toward work, they will be more willing to be the bearers of bad news. This orientation is necessary if they are willing to point out inefficient or otherwise suboptimal work procedures. If no one ever says anything about these things, your business will continue to underperform due to fixable problems.

Finally, whenever a manager’s action is necessary to remove barriers and help team members do their jobs, this follow-through must take place.

Treat people like people

The best way to hold remote workers accountable is to create a supportive work environment in which they willingly hold themselves accountable. For those employees who need improvement, collaborating on their professional development will net the best returns. For those who don’t, using self-evaluation and self-accountability is best.

People are people, no matter if you’ve ever met them in person or not. Treat people like people rather than cogs in your organizational machine, and they will exert their best efforts on its behalf.

Shiela Mie Legaspi is the President of Cyberbacker, the leading provider of virtual assistance and administrative support services from anywhere in the world to anyone in the world. She empowers growth-minded business owners with world-class economic leverage to fulfill their greatest purpose. Legaspi is an expert on career coaching in the remote workplace, and she leads the company to organizational excellence through her work centered around workforce experience. She excels in people management and teaches others how to lead with integrity, purpose, and passion. Read more from Shiela on Chief Executive, Employee Benefit News, HR Daily Advisor, California Business Journal, and Newsweek.

Virtual teams stock image by Girts Ragelis/Shutterstock

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