Working from home can have its perks—no commute, more family time, and less distractions. But it can also be challenging to lead a team that you don’t see in the office every day. Several leaders have expressed frustration that some team members aren’t as responsive, or they lack follow through since they have been working from home. The lack of personal interaction can make it more challenging to check-in with team members who aren’t pulling their weight.
So how do you instill a sense of ownership and accountability in a virtual environment?
- Establish goals and outcomes. Although there may be less distractions when employees are working from home, it also can be challenging to focus. As a leader, it is important to set clear goals, outcomes, and deadlines for projects and tasks so that each of your team members know exactly what your expectations are. Focusing on outcomes allows an employee to take ownership of a task or project, and alleviates you from having to micromanage the process. When creating an outcome, think about what the end result would look like and communicate that to the employee. At the beginning of the week, communicate exactly what you are expecting for each employee to complete, the deadline for completion, and how they should submit their work.
- Create structures. This is not the time for a completely hands-off approach. As a leader, it is important to create structures that will support the achievement of tasks to move projects forward. You want the right balance between giving your team members some freedom to come up with their own solutions and manage their own time, while providing guidance and support when needed. For employees who are self-starters and manage their time well, a weekly check-in may be sufficient for communicating progress. For employees who need more direction or guidance, a daily call may be necessary. Another structure could be weekly “office hours” you make available for employees to schedule time with you to ask questions or get support.
- Adjust your leadership style. You may have one team member who only needs a clear goal and can work independently and autonomously. Another employee may need more specific direction and instructions. It’s important to know the working style of each of your employees, and how you can support them best. Daily check-ins may make one employee feel micromanaged, yet may be necessary to keep another employee on track. Don’t frustrate your employees who are naturally accountable and take initiative by micromanaging their daily work. Create structures that work to support how your employee works best. A good practice is to ask each employee in your next one-on-one call. Here are some examples of what you might ask:
- How is this check-in structure working for you? Would you prefer to meet more often? Less often?
- After working virtually the past two months, what have you noticed works best for you to accomplish your tasks?
- Is there anything you would change about how we are communicating?
If you notice a drop in production or missed deadlines, use your next one-on-one call to coach the employee. Don’t avoid the discussion, approach the employee in a non-confrontational way so you can support him to get back on track.
Examples of questions might be:
- “I’ve noticed the past two weeks that you have missed three deadlines. What can you do differently going forward to ensure you are meeting your deadlines?”
- “What got it the way of finishing the project?”
- “What will you do to make sure this is completed today?”
- Institute collaboration software. Collaboration software such as MS Teams or Asana can help to manage projects and deadlines, particularly if you have multiple employees working on a project,. I know several virtual teams that use collaboration software on a regular basis to track projects. Having a public forum like a software program to list who owns a task and important deadlines can provide the necessary peer accountability for an employee to take action.
It does take some effort to keep projects and tasks on track. As a leader, your job is to facilitate the best performance from your employees by adjusting your leadership style to coach them through challenges and obstacles, and supporting them to meet objectives.