Operating in the new normal of COVID-19 requires embracing remote work for your team. There are endless obstacles to overcome, such as isolation factors, interruptions and distractions — not to mention, accessibility to technology for disabled workers. One way to address this challenge is to take a strategic approach to meet worker requirements and still encourage voluntary engagement[1].

So, what are some other ways to set clear expectations to help create a culture of accountability for your remote work teams? Here are suggested methods for communicating and setting clear expectations, delegating team tasks, leading by example, and tracking team performance.

Communication and Preferences

Developing an inclusive and accountable team requires clear direction, asking the right questions, and getting your organization on the same page. This includes removing clutter and confusion and sourcing feedback on work, goals and budget.

A collaborative culture takes time and is reinforced by understanding your expectations as a leader or manager. Get the ball rolling by sharing your non-negotiable preferences, clearly communicating expected results, and creating opportunities for your team[2]. Take the lead during stand-up meetings, and facilitate discussions to help your team determine their work expectations and establish team norms. Share meeting notes on a central drive so the team can access it for reminders.

Remember that expectations are a two-way street. Hold yourself accountable and honour your end of the deal. Agree and follow through on decisions together as a team — but set clear consequences if the team fails to meet expectations. Be deliberate on agreements and invite the team to participate in discussions regarding consequences. In the end, non-negotiables are more likely to get the results and deliver the high-performing work you want.

One best practice to open lines of communication is to listen to all expectations and avoid losing credibility by ignoring unreasonable expectations. Adjust expectations for the results you need. Reaching team performance is more than giving up control. It requires accurate and crystal clear expectations, opens the ownership process to include the overall team — and increases accountability as a by-product. It only makes sense to set your employees up for success as they transition from a more structured traditional work environment to an unstructured remote environment[3]. Setting expectations allows your team to focus on their work, and their connection to the overall team.

Clearly Define Work

What is your delegating strategy? Do you have a system for delegating projects? And do you schedule time to discuss upcoming tasks with your team? Follow the three Ws to delegate tasks, and ask what needs to get done, when is the final deadline, and who is in charge of specific tasks[4]. By clearly defining the task or project, you can be flexible with time ranges, and avoid interpretations. Specify what successful draft completions look like — versus reports that are ready for client submission.

Look for common pitfalls when it comes to proposing a new project, such as waiting for volunteers, instead of correctly choosing the right fit for the right job. Take some time to avoid playing favourites for assigning challenging and high-profile work. Don’t let trust in your leadership decisions erode because you unfairly delegate work. Your team will feel overlooked and perceive your behaviour as a barometer for predicting future actions. Instead, equip your team with the right experience and trust them to produce[5].

Prepare your team with a defined work scope and share it in a central drive. Establish strategic structure and systems and keep your remote workers engaged and accountable. Know your project needs, follow and meet strict deadlines, and share the project reins to prepare the foundation for future success. And, match the right employee to the right project and set the stage for team accountability. This will make it easier to find volunteers, delegate strategically, and increase the odds of accurate work on time, on cost and on budget.

Always Lead by Example

Leading by example, is more than a cliché — it’s action that sets the tone for how your team will approach tasks and projects. If you want to tap into your team’s full potential, start with a clear vision and the bigger picture, and give your best effort. Your team will listen carefully to what their leader says. But they will also look intently at what you do. Remote teams working in seclusion, or on cross-functional teams, need to share ideas and feedback for both you and the overall team. Your demonstrated ability to demonstrate openness will help your team feel comfortable with giving feedback.

This is the time to set and follow defined expectations for projects and deadlines, and create opportunities for your remote workers to take meaningful responsibility[6]. Be flexible to challenges, and make adjustments when necessary — but stick to the playbook. It will help you navigate any storms and inspire your team to follow suit. Get in front of potential problems and communicate early, and often, to trouble-shoot and make quick decisions. Own your mistakes and be purposeful and deliberate with your decision. if you are wrong — admit you are wrong and address the mistake.

You will also need to understand that team members will approach projects in many different ways. Some are quick with ideas, some prefer to take a planning approach, and others feel they work best under pressure. Allow your team to determine their timelines and track project success to hold them accountable. By giving your team a voice in setting milestones, and even encouraging sprint timelines of three weeks or less, you are promoting ownership of joint deliverables[7]. Keep an eye on team performance with regular performance reviews and conduct one-on-one sessions for open dialogue on opportunities for team collaboration[8].

Accountable teams need accountable leaders. If you want your team to perform at high standards, your actions must set the tone for their expected behaviours. Give your best efforts and lead by example — both verbally and visually.


[1] Dhawan, E., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2018). How to Collaborate Effectively If Your Team Is Remote. Harvard Business Review.

[2] Lovelace, D. (2020). Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.

[3] Carosa, C. (2020). How Can You Still Communicate Effectively With Staff And Coworkers While Working From Home. Forbes.

[4] Lovelace, D. (2020). Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.

[5] Neely, T. (2020). 15 Questions About Remote Work, Answered. Harvard Business Review.

[6] Dhawan, E., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2018). How to Collaborate Effectively If Your Team Is Remote. Harvard Business Review.

[7] Lovelace, D. (2020). Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda. 

[8] Lovelace, D. (2020). Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.