Remote work has solidified its place in the modern workforce, but one of the biggest lingering concerns is accountability. How do managers effectively supervise their remote workers? And how can you, as a remote professional, show your supervisors that you are accomplishing daily tasks without feeling micromanaged?
For companies with a completely distributed workforce, these questions might be easier to answer, as processes are likely built-in as part of the business’s work culture. But for other companies that have some centralized employees, as well as some who work remotely, there could be questions about differences in managing office employees and remote employees.
Without the direct oversight typically found in a brick-and-mortar office, how do remote workers show their supervisors that they are capable of performing as promised? While some employees might wait for managers to set expectations for them when working remotely, there are effective strategies that you can proactively use to demonstrate accountability to your remote supervisors.
1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
This first strategy cannot be overstated. From the very beginning of the remote work arrangement—whether that is on the first day of your job or whether your telecommuting arrangement starts after you have been with the company for years—communication is key. In fact, at the onset of a remote work arrangement, there is no such thing as too much communication, because establishing trust is key.
It is important to have open conversations with your supervisor—before you even begin to telecommute—so that both of you are on the same page and have the same expectations. These conversations should cover all the details of the working arrangements, including the following elements:
Do both you and your supervisor expect that you will keep standard business hours, and that you will simply be working remotely instead of in the office? Or are you both in agreement that your schedule is yours to set as long as your work gets done and you are available for any weekly meetings that are scheduled ahead of time? Outlining these priorities is critical to creating and (more importantly) maintaining realistic workflows for the employee and the remote manager alike.
If your schedule is yours to set, but something urgent comes up, how will it be handled? Will you agree to be in constant contact through phone calls or instant messaging? Also, what parameters will be set around how quickly you need to reply? Immediately, if the event occurs within business hours, or perhaps a quick response if you are called away in the evening? What about over the weekend?
The answers to these questions will be different for every position, every company, and every supervisory relationship. If there is a public relations emergency that has to be handled immediately, there will be different expectations than if a supervisor messages you to let you know they want you to start researching the best hashtags to use in Instagram posts.
The latter example is clearly not urgent, but the supervisor may pass along the task to you on a Saturday morning so that it will not be forgotten. It is important that both you and your supervisor have the same expectations about what constitutes an urgent matter and what type of response is expected.
Ongoing Communication with Your Supervisor
If your schedule is one of standard business hours, how are routine appointments to be handled? Does your supervisor want to know about all upcoming appointments in advance? Would they prefer for you to message them before you step away from your desk? Or do they prefer not to know at all and trust you to schedule your dentist appointments when it works for you, alerting them if any deadlines or meetings might need adjusting?
Another important expectation to set right from the beginning is how often you and your supervisor want to communicate. Do your projects necessitate daily check-ins? Perhaps a quick, five-minute video chat at the beginning and end of each day is a good idea—similar to how you would loop in with a manager in a traditional, on-site office.
Even if your projects are more weekly or ongoing, it could be a good idea to check in with each other for the human connection and from a team-building perspective. The supervisor could see if you need anything to support you in your projects or to make sure there is nothing preventing you from progressing on your to-dos.
In addition to informal check-ins, more structured meetings should be part of your communications. A weekly meeting with your team by video is a good way to have the whole department come together, update each other on projects, and connect as teammates. It also makes sense to have a weekly one-on-one with your supervisor to give more structured updates on projects, and your supervisor can fill you in on anything they see coming down the pipeline.
As mentioned at the beginning of this section, the importance of communication when you are a remote worker cannot be overstated. While these might sound like minor considerations, they are crucial to building a positive and productive remote work relationship with your supervisor. Even the slightest misunderstanding can lead to an erosion of trust.
2. Use Accountability Tools
Once you’ve had all of the important discussions with your supervisor about setting expectations for communication, it’s time to talk about the tools you can use to show accountability and improve communication. These tools can range in purpose and help with project management, messaging, team projects, and even used for team-building and developing a positive workplace culture.
By suggesting the use of these tools up front, you have the opportunity to set up workflows that demonstrate your ongoing contributions, as well as establish the remote work culture for your organization moving forward.
This tool is helpful for simultaneously building trust for and supporting remote teams. The Sococo “map” looks like the floor plan of an office layout, with offices, conference rooms, and break rooms—however you choose to configure it. Each person has a “floating head” that appears in their office when they log in so you can see at a glance who is virtually “in the office.” Need to have a quick meeting about a project update? Message everyone and see if they can jump over into one of the conference rooms for a brief audio or video chat.
This great tool can even be used for team-building by having virtual happy hours on a Friday after work, or holiday parties where all employees or individual departments can gather in a conference room together, wear their ugly holiday sweaters, play a holiday trivia game.
For supervisors who value face time in an office, Sococo can give them the reassurance that you are working when you say you are, just like in a real office—only from the comfort of your own home.
Most companies use messaging apps like Slack, a cloud-based instant messaging tool, to stay in touch without crowding email inboxes. With this tool, you can answer a quick message from your boss without disrupting your workflow too much. Channels can be created for different teams, and all of the information that is shared stays within that channel, so you and your boss do not have to search through emails to find that one topic you were talking about. You can also easily offer project updates whenever your supervisor needs to hear from you.
Project management tools are the best way to keep track of projects, stay organized with your daily tasks, and demonstrate accountability for the work you complete on a daily basis. With Asana, collaborators can view current projects and their progress statuses in a platform that arranges work like sticky notes that can be moved and reorganized.
Tools like Asana are another crucial piece of the accountability process because you and your supervisor will not always be available at the same time. With Asana, remote supervisors can go into the board you already have set up for that project to see its current status.
3. Show Your Results
In the most evolved workplace cultures, results-based models are the ultimate in trust and employee accountability. It is about treating employees like the professionals they are—hired because they believed they could do the job. It is about treating employees like adults and allowing them to manage their own time and get their work done however it works best for them to get it done. While this kind of culture normally has to come from the top down, there are ways that you, as a remote worker, can encourage this.
If you sense that your supervisor does not trust your remote work ethic, over-communicate. Check in with them every morning, mid-day, and at the end of the day. Ask them how often they would like updates and about what else you can do to build their trust, establish credibility, and show that you can get the job done.
Share Your Work
When it comes down to it, your supervisor wants to see that you are progressing in a timely manner and fulfilling the terms of your employment. Show them those results. Meet your deadlines; work the hours you committed to working; and if they need progress reports, go above and beyond. Make sure remote supervisors have access to all of your work-related storage, files, documents, and digital collaboration tools.
Keep in mind that remote supervisors, especially those who do not work for a fully virtual business, may have experienced an isolated, negative event with an employee or contractor who took advantage of the professional freedoms afforded through telecommuting. If they have since taken a chance on you, be proactive in demonstrating your accountability.
With these suggestions and a commitment to productive home-based work, you can help build your supervisor’s trust as the experienced professional and remote worker you are. And if we are to change some of the stereotypes associated with “working from home” and encourage acceptance of remote work as standard professional policy, we all need to do what we can to help employees and supervisors embrace it in meaningful, measurable ways. Demonstrating accountability is a great place to begin.