As a remote-first company of eight years, we set up transparency and accountability measures from the beginning. I like to say, early and often, “With freedom comes accountability.”
The beauty of working from home is a sense of freedom. Freedom to decide your schedule. Freedom to take breaks and go for walks, make lunch and eat it with a loved one, see your kids, and more. However, the work still needs to get done.
It’s a handshake (or elbow bump), if you will, between the employee and employer. You’re giving your team the freedom and flexibility to work from home with the agreement that the work will get done as promised (baring any out-of-their-control roadblocks).
Micromanaging is the opposite of trust. Checking in with your employees multiple times a day and asking where they are in their daily workload is not productive. It’s disruptive.
Here are some ways to create transparency and accountability without micromanaging your team. The goal is to show you trust them.
A chat system is a must: Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc. Whichever you pick, give each team a channel, and then create multiple rooms within it. We use the following rooms (just to name a few) for transparency and accountability purposes:
• General: Where are you? Here, lunch, leaving, need to be with kids, etc. We don’t mind where you are; we just need to know.
• By client: Each client has a room so problem-solving and brainstorming can happen quickly. People can ask questions before firing off emails. Here, you can see if work is not getting done because people are stuck and moving to get unstuck.
• Random: This is the equivalent of a watercooler. For us, it’s basically a string of GIFs. Conversations are light and provide a great way to take a break, get to know people and stay connected. In terms of keeping morale up, this room is a must.
Create visible accountability.
Every remote team needs a project management tool. You can make the process of using these tools as simple or complex as you need. We use Asana and have been for a few years because our processes are complex and require some level of training, which we do through Loom videos.
When you’re just getting started, don’t overthink it. You need a simple place to drop in tasks, assign them and communicate clear deadlines.
To do this well, you need two things in addition to the tool:
• Sprint planning: Each week, meet as a team to discuss what got done the week before, what still needs to get done and what new things need to get done. Talk about the complexity of each task so you have an idea of how long it might take, and then assign it with a due date. This meeting should be less than an hour. It’s not the time to problem-solve; it’s the time to assign and move through tasks.
• Daily standup: For every day that you’re not sprint planning, meet for 15 minutes. Each person should mention what they got done the day before, what they’re doing today and if they are stuck. This is also not the time to problem-solve. This is a status meeting.
So, when should you problem-solve? In a dedicated meeting with a dedicated agenda outlining what you’re trying to solve. This should only include the people necessary, and generally not the whole team. Make it quick, and keep it focused.
Let me be clear: Google Drive, Box and Microsoft Office 365 should not be used to spy on your employees. Employees can see when you’re in a document with them when they didn’t ask you to be, and this will hurt your “elbow bump” of trust. Don’t do it.
However, these tools are important for:
• Security: Passing documents back and forth via email is not secure, especially if people aren’t working on a secure network.
• Version control: How many times has someone gone into a document at the same time as you on a server and overwritten your unsaved changes? It’s infuriating, and it costs your employees time. Having a tool where people can edit remotely at the same time with automatic saving is a game-changer. Move to the cloud.
• Easy review and deployment: When it does come time for you, as the manager, to review, you can easily drop in comments, make tweaks to spelling and grammar, and either save the document as a PDF or grab a secure “view only” link and send it to a client.
This might seem like a lot, and there is some admin required to get started. But that’s all you really need to do: Get started. Organize as you go.
• Call a team meeting to let employees know what tools are coming (for communication, planning and collaboration).
• Sign up for each tool, and add employee emails.
• Provide a video training explaining what you have set up, why you set it up that way and how people can use it. Do one Loom video for each tool, and share them via email to get people started.
• Use the tools yourself. If you revert to email and aren’t embracing the full system, why should your team?
No one is an island, but it’s easy to feel that way when you’re remote. Open lines of communication, collaboration and transparency so you can all help one another and so you can get your work done and your team can see what’s getting done without having to interrupt.
This is for your employees. This isn’t about you. You’re there to help them do the best they can with this new normal. It just so happens that it gives you visibility into what’s going on so you can steer the ship at a high level without disrupting your team, their productivity and, most importantly, their trust.