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8 ways to improve remote team accountability

8 ways to improve remote team accountability blog post featured image

If you’ve ever been part of a scattered or disorganized team, you know what a lack of accountability can do. Deadlines get missed, project timelines start slipping, and who’s responsible? No one, of course! 🙄

Maintaining a culture of accountability can be especially hard for hybrid or fully remote teams. 

If you’ve felt the sting of a lack of team accountability in your organization, read on for 8 tested ways to create a culture of accountability and help you lead a high-performing team — even if everyone isn’t together in a physical office.

Table of contents

  • What is team accountability?

  • Why is team accountability important?

  • 3 key signs of a lack of accountability in the workplace

  • Accountability in remote teams

  • 8 simple ways to improve team accountability

What is team accountability?

Team accountability is a way of working that requires employees and team members to be accountable for the things they work on, both daily and long-term.

It means that individual contributors as well as whole teams:

  • Deliver on commitments and team goals

  • Follow through on their tasks, responsibilities, and deliverables

  • Take ownership of their work 

  • Show initiative to meet team needs and help others

Often, managers discuss team accountability only when something goes wrong — which isn’t the best approach as it creates a purely negative vibe around accountability and makes team members feel stressed and worried that they're not doing enough. 

Instead, building systems that promote a culture of accountability, like regular planning, status sharing, and goal-setting, will ensure that accountability is fair and non-judgemental.

Why is team accountability important?

Without team accountability, there’s no sense of ownership of the work and related tasks. This can lead to employees becoming disengaged and not taking all the necessary steps and care to deliver great work.

Here are some  benefits of team accountability: 

  • Builds trust: When your entire team is accountable, there’s a thread of trust tying everyone together. Accountability gives people the freedom to rely on one another for help without taking advantage.

  • Increases team performance: When people are transparent about their responsibilities and who owns what — and this is clearly documented for all to see — day-to-day efficiency and productivity get a boost. 

  • Strengthens culture: A culture of accountability leads to a stronger workplace culture. Accountable teams have integrity: they accept mistakes and learn from them. Without a culture of accountability, individuals don’t own up to their mistakes and there is a sense of mistrust and competition.

3 key signs of a lack of accountability in the workplace

If your team lacks accountability, these are the top three things you’re likely to see:

  1. Team members aren’t focused on their roles: If your team seems disengaged in meetings or async discussions, it can show they’re no longer as invested and don’t feel a sense of ownership, which can affect their performance and output.

  2. Gossip is accepted as a form of communication: Gossip spreads distrust and secrecy, which are the opposites of transparency and clear communication.

  3. Poor quality of work: When there’s a lack of accountability, standards slip fast. Work is late, lazy, and shoddy.  People blame others as an excuse for why things go wrong, e.g. “I thought this person was going to do a final check — that wasn’t my fault.”

If work is slow and substandard — and communication isn’t open and trusting — your team or company is crying out for more accountability.

Accountability in remote teams

Accountability is difficult enough in the office, but it tends to get even harder with remote work, even though the problems are the same (slipping metrics, lack of employee engagement, missing deadlines). According to Hubstaff, almost 25% of remote teams suffer from an accountability problem.

So why is accountability so hard to nail down for remote team leaders?

Because some (or most) people are not present in the same space, it can be harder to align expectations. That’s because natural opportunities to talk to others are missing and people may not know what’s expected from each role and each project. 

Then, there’s the issue of online communication. Managers can feel overwhelmed by endless status updates from their colleagues. Some team members might share too little and others too much. For managers, separating the important info from the unimportant can be hard. 

Micromanaging might seem like a way out, but nobody likes that. In the long run, building trust and making sure that everyone understands the concept of personal responsibility is much more effective. 

To help you and your remote team out, we’ve put together eight simple ways you can improve remote team accountability.

Here are the type of expectations you need documented in a team wiki or other internal communications system:

  • Role expectations for every person on your team (who owns what?) 

  • Project expectations that outline who's responsible for what deliverables and who has the final say for all team projects.  Project specs and task briefs give team members handy resources they can refer to any time they forget something or are unsure about how to proceed 

  • Remote work expectations, or a WFH policy that outlines exactly what you expect from remote workers (working/flex hours, response time, etc).

8 simple ways to improve team accountability

Building accountability takes patience, guidance, and hard work. But don’t feel discouraged, because the benefits are more than worth it. 

1.  Document clear roles and responsibilities 

Clear role descriptions outline exactly who does what on your team and who owns what. These role descriptions should be housed in an internal wiki or other internal comms tool, so it’s easy for new hires to review and understand how the team operates. 

Managers should review roles with their team members every quarter to make sure that they’re up to date and accurately reflect what that person works on. 

2. Set clear project expectations and deadlines

Project expectations outline who's responsible for what deliverables and who has the final say on approvals. Project specs and task briefs give team members handy resources they can refer to any time they forget something or are unsure about how to proceed. 

The more specific your expectations are, the less chance there is of a misunderstanding. This is especially important in remote teams, where team members can’t just quickly turn to a coworker sitting next to them for clarification. 

One helpful tool to use is the RAPID® framework, a tool by Bain & Company to clarify decision accountability. For every project or channel (e.g. marketing emails), you can make a "Who's responsible?" chart that outlines:

  • R: Who recommends

  • A: Who agrees

  • P: Who performs/executes

  • I: Who provides inputs

  • D: Who decides (the most important!)

RAPID framework by Bain & Company

Source: Bain & Company

3. Share weekly updates

Having a weekly standup meeting — either over video or asynchronously on Slack — is a great way to have everyone share their goals, concerns, and potential workflow blockers, and check in on what they’ve been doing.

A two-week sprint cycle can help keep responsibilities and assigned tasks manageable and trackable. At the end of each cycle, you can reflect together on a retrospective of wins and losses. 

If you don’t want to share these as a meeting, you can also do an async weekly update that each team member shares. Use a simple format like the one below. Week of: (insert date) Shipped work: (list work shipped) Work in progress: (list work that’s in progress)

By setting clear OKRs (objectives and key results) you make it easy to hold everyone accountable for the results of their work.

Note: You can also have daily standup meetings if you’re following the agile method, but daily might feel like too much for some teams. 

4. Encourage ownership and feedback

Feedback is a tool that many managers underuse. It’s not about being critical or accusatory but giving constructive feedback that your team can apply and grow from. That’s why effective one-on-one meetings are so important. 

If you meet errors and mistakes with honest feedback and ways of doing better, you’ll see an increase in team accountability. That’s because your team will know that even if they’ve done something wrong, they can expect to be corrected, not punished or made to feel bad. For ideas on how to give feedback, check out this list of one-on-one questions (there are sections on manager and employee feedback). 

That said, there have to be consequences for lack of improvement too. That’s not a scare tactic, but something your team should be aware of. The answer to “what happens if X isn’t done?” can’t be “nothing.”

5. Have better meetings 

There’s absolutely nothing worse than being the only person who knows what they’re talking about in a team meeting. If your meetings run this way, you’ll want to take a step back and encourage everyone to collaborate on meeting agendas. 

A screenshot of the Vowel meeting agenda feature

You can use Vowel’s meeting agenda feature before each meeting. With this feature, you can do what effective leaders do and create a thoughtful agenda (using a template if you want!). 

Your team members can see and add to the agenda before the meeting — that way, they can all be part of setting the agenda and know what to expect. This means you’ll actually get to spend synchronous time together making decisions and unblocking tasks, instead of going over updates that could have been done asynchronously.

Another pain point of meetings: action items. How can you be clear about who’s going to do what after the meeting is over? 

With Vowel, you can assign action items to any team member in the Shared Notes panel, so everyone can see during the meeting and reference what’s assigned to them afterward. These items can be copied and pasted into a project management system — and you can pull up past notes in your next meeting to ensure the action items are accounted for.

A screenshot of Vowel's shared notes and action items feature

6. Build systems for follow-up

Introducing accountability in your workplace can take some time. 

That’s why following up on everything is important. With every email, task, or commitment, follow up on it and make following up a part of your meeting culture. What you don’t follow up on is likely to fall by the wayside, never to be mentioned again.

Your team members need to understand that once they’ve committed to a task, they’re responsible for it. You don’t want to rule with fear, but it should be in the back of everyone’s mind that there are consequences for failing to be accountable.

One way to keep people accountable and know what to follow up on is to have a record of everything you discussed and agreed upon. That’s easy with text-based communication via email, Slack, or project management tools like Asana or Slack, but it can be tricky for live meetings.

If you’re having virtual meetings through Vowel, you can use the real-time recording and live transcript feature to create a library of searchable, shareable meetings. Each meeting gets a recap with the recording, transcript, notes, and a summary with shared links and action items.

A screenshot of a recorded meeting summary in Vowel

7. Invest in team-building

Team building pays many dividends to companies, and increased team accountability is one of them. But it can be hard to build personal relationships among coworkers in a remote setting. In an office, people talk around the water cooler and in the kitchen while making coffee or tea — when your team is 100% remote, those opportunities for random conversation aren't available.

Consider investing in both remote team-building activities and in-person team offsites 1-2x a year so everyone gets a chance to meet face-to-face. Anything that builds trust within a team will affect accountability, too. 

8. Keep your remote work policies up to date   

Every organization should have a WFH policy that outlines exactly what you expect from remote workers, including working hours, flex time policy, response time, and documentation, to mention a few. 

More specifically, according to Indeed, an effective WFH policy should include the following sections: 

  • Purpose

  • Scope

  • Eligibility requirements (Note: Not all positions are appropriate for remote work. )

  • Work expectations and schedule 

  • Equipment and supplies

  • Technical support

  • Workspace safety guidelines

  • Security and confidentiality

  • Travel requirements [Optional] 

  • Compensation

  • Consequences

  • Remote worker policy FAQs

Keep your team accountable with the right tools

Without team accountability, work can quickly decline into projects not being completed on time, and a culture of slacking off and hiding mistakes. 

High-performing teams don’t work that way. They have clear communication and expectations and check in regularly. 

All of that becomes much easier when you have a good remote tech stack, including a meeting app that lets you create shareable agendas, take collaborative meeting notes (with action items), and search for anything that was said in a past meeting. 

A meeting search results page in Vowel

Put together, those features make it easy to track who’s responsible for what AND give team members the context they need to get more done. 

Want to learn more? See how Vowel makes your meetings better compared to other big-name video conferencing tools