Accountability and Discipline: How to Use These in a Remote Workplace
Has the ongoing global pandemic totally changed the way you work? You’re not alone...
Apr 2020 - 5 minutes read
Most of us are struggling right now, and a large part of that is due to the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. Working in the midst of chaos is never easy, and this time the instability is coming at us from all sides. We’re scared for our health, and may be especially concerned about family members who are feeling unwell, or are more vulnerable. Many of us are worried about our income, and whether business will stay steady enough to protect our employment.
Then there are the slightly-less-existential concerns like whether we’ll have to wait in long lines at the grocery store, where we can buy more toilet paper, and how to communicate with your relatives who don’t know how to use Zoom or FaceTime. All of these worries and concerns makes working from home a real challenge.
In the best of times, working from home requires a strong sense of discipline. Now, it’s become extremely difficult.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways that a development team can set up systems of accountability to encourage employee discipline when working from home. These systems don’t have to be overbearing or invasive- in fact, the best way to encourage discipline is by trusting employees, instead of micromanaging them from afar.
Our Top Strategies to Encourage Discipline and Accountability
Ultimately, the best managers are approaching this crisis with a sense of empathy (LINK to empathy article). They communicate clearly with employees, and are able to work with them to ensure that all the work gets done and business stays on track.
If managers are not willing to be empathetic, communicate openly, and work diligently to give employees what they need, they will likely find remote work challenging. Here are some of our favourite strategies for encouraging accountability and discipline when our development team is working remotely
1- Make Expectations Clear
The easiest way for a manager to end up disappointed with his remote workers is if he or she fails to communicate expectations clearly from the beginning. Every worker and workplace has their own work style.
When people go remote, managers and company leadership need to be clear on expectations. Do people need to be checking in with their direct reports every day, or is once a week enough? Are staff expected to be reachable at all times between 9am and 5pm, or are they free to set their own hours as long as their work is getting done? Answers to these questions should be clear from Day 1.
If expectations are not set clearly, employees will make their own schedule, and it may not be what their managers are looking for.
2- Establish a Clear Channel for Every Communication
A great way to help ensure the success of remote work is to put clear channels of communication in place. With so many apps and programs used for workplace communications these days, it can be difficult to decide which one your workplace should use. To cut down on chatter and interruptions, it’s best to stick to one or two. That way, you’ll always know how to reach someone.
If you’re finding that messages are getting missed or overlooked, you may have too many communication channels running at one time. Work with your team leads to synthesize a few channels and make sure everyone knows the purpose of each communication outlet.
3- Create a Specific Time for Check-Ins
Some employees appreciate quick, random check-ins, while others feel overwhelmed and anxious by the thought of their bosses springing a surprise phone call on them. The best way to ensure that everyone gets what they need is to schedule regular check-ins on your preferred method of communication. This gives staff the freedom to set their own schedule while ensuring that managers can reach them regularly.
4- Use a Project Management Tool
Many companies use project management software like Asana, Wrike, Trello, or Basecamp to make sure that work is kept in a central repository, and everyone can see what progress is being made. If your company isn’t using one of these tools already, you should start today. These tools are a fantastic accountability resource.
Even if your company is small, it’s really valuable to be able to see project status at a glance. These tools also ensure that completed work doesn’t get lost in inboxes, and allows people to work on their own time and at their own pace.
5- Avoid Micromanaging
There’s nothing wrong with wanting face time with your staff. However, if you find yourself making calls constantly or requesting updates multiple times a day, you may need to take a step back and ask yourself what it is that you really need. Do you miss interacting with people? Is there a lack of trust because you can’t see what they’re doing?
Micromanaging from afar sends a signal to your staff that you don’t trust them, and even worse- it disrupts their day and actively prevents them from getting work done.
A project management tool can help cut down on micromanagement by giving managers up-to-the-minute info on project status and tasks. When they have this information at their fingertips, they can plan out work and track tasks without having to micromanage their team.
6- Take Team Members’ Mental Health into Account
One of the major downsides of not having your staff in the office 5 days a week is that you can’t speak to them face-to-face, and casually check in on how their day is going. A good rapport between management and staff is extremely valuable and should never be taken for granted.
When we’re all separated into our individual homes and working remotely, it’s difficult to find time to check in with our staff about how they’re doing personally. If you’re not used to talking on the phone with people, it can feel strange.
However, checking in to see how team members are doing both personally and workwise is really valuable. Ask them how their week has been going, or whether there’s anything you can do to make their lives easier. Accountability isn’t just about keeping staff working efficiently. These structures also help to ensure that we’re able to stay healthy and happy even in the midst of global chaos.
7- Don’t Push Boundaries
For some people, one of the most jarring aspects of this crisis is that their work lives and home lives have suddenly merged. Everyone deals with this in their own way. Some people cope by segmenting their day and insisting on a strict schedule, while others will do their best to get their work done in short blocks when their children are napping or the home computer isn’t being used for school work.
The best way you can support staff working remotely is to give them the space necessary to work at their own pace. Don’t push boundaries by insisting that staff meet in person, or do anything that jeopardizes their comfort or safety.
Even if you were used to managing remote workers before COVID-19, there’s no denying that this situation is unique. There are many ways to encourage accountability and discipline among staff when working remotely, but it really comes down to two things- making expectations clear from the start, and trusting employees to get their work done without in-person oversight.
By hiring the right team, and setting them up with tools like project management software, clear communication channels, and regular check-ins, you can help keep discipline going and morale high, even when we’re all working from home.