As more and more businesses are going global or allowing employees to telecommute, the physical office is giving way to a virtual workspace. This space allows all of your employees to continue to interact in various ways while working together on different projects. Some virtual workplaces make use of messaging programs and white boards, while others use video conferences and file sharing. No matter what type of virtual workplace you have, you do want to make certain that your employees are still held accountable for their projects. If you’ve had some lax employees in the past, here are five different things you can do to help keep them accountable in the virtual office.
1) Judge employees by their outcomes
Do you have an employee who rarely pops into the virtual workplace, but delivers outstanding work days before deadlines? Some managers want to keep tabs on these employees, requiring them to check in regularly or answer emails within a certain time frame. But productivity shouldn’t necessarily be measured by how busy an employee seems to be; instead, it should be measured by how much work the employee actually gets done. Some people may take much less time to do a task than another. As long as deadlines are met and the work is of high quality, how busy the employee looked while doing it doesn’t necessarily matter.
On the other hand, just because an employee is always sending emails, answering the phone, and logged into the virtual workplace doesn’t always mean they’re working. You have no way of seeing if they have another window open on their computer. The same goes in the office—just because you see someone at their desk on their computer doesn’t mean they aren’t playing Solitaire or surfing the net. Hold employees accountable by how well they meet deadlines and complete tasks.
2) Set clear goals, expectations, and policies
Just because someone is in a virtual office instead of a physical one doesn’t mean they shouldn’t meet certain expectations or goals. Make certain that everyone knows what’s expected of them and what happens if they do not meet these expectations. For example, telecommuting employees may lose their telecommuting privileges if they miss multiple deadlines. Those who don’t check into the job space once a day may be required to call their supervisor regularly to see if they have any new work. The policies may differ from job to job, but those working in a virtual workplace needs to know what’s expected of them what the consequences are if they fail to meet those expectations.
3) Effective communication with virtual teams
Managers need to do more than just make sure that all employees know what’s expected of them. They also need to effectively communicate with them every day in regards to projects and what they need to do. Employees also need to be able to effectively communicate with each other. Working in virtual teams is different than it is in person—you can’t just walk to someone’s office and ask them a question. However, in some ways it’s better—there tends to be less chitchat, and because communications are often done through email or messenger, there’s a copy of what was said for later reference.
Many virtual teams also use online team collaboration software or team management software to have better team meetings on a regular basis. This keeps everyone informed of where projects are and lets them ask questions or give their thoughts on different topics.
4) Have realistic measurements
Because you’re working in a virtual space instead of a physical one, you need to have different ways of measuring success and failure. For example, a team may miss a deadline because the virtual workspace application they were using crashed and was offline for several days, making it harder to collaborate. An employee may live in an area that was hit with a major snowstorm, leaving them without a stable internet connection for a week. That employee can’t be held accountable for something like that.
5) Get to know employees
It’s not as easy to get to know your employees when you only interact over messenger or email, but if possible, take the time to do a one-on-one video chat with them every now and then. Get to know them as a person. Doing so will help you learn their strengths and weaknesses. It’s easier to keep a person accountable for tasks when you know you’ve given them something they can do. Your employees will respond better to this, while an employee who wasn’t trained in a specific area will feel frustrated when taken to task for missing the deadline.
Do you have any additional thoughts on keeping employees accountable? Share with us in the comments below!
Originally published Feb 19, 2016, updated Apr 18, 2021