By Wayne Turmel

When leaders first experience working with remote employees (whether they are part-time teleworkers or full-time virtual team members doesn’t seem to matter much), one of their first concerns is: “How do I hold people accountable for their work?”

While that seems like a reasonable question, it’s not what most people are really asking. The question behind the question is most often: “How do I know they’re going to do what they say they’ll do when I’m not there to check up on them?”

As we all know, the line between paranoia and legitimate concern is often razor-thin, and often depends on things like your experience with the other person, your past experience with team members in similar circumstances, and how important the success of that task or project is to you personally.

True accountability comes from within. Yes, you can “hold people accountable” by simply checking off whether something was completed as promised or not. That’s one way, but it’s like driving with only your rear view mirror—you don’t really know whether the person is doing what they should until the moment of truth.

You can have a much higher level of faith in what’s going on, and whether someone is holding themselves accountable if you do a couple of things:

  • Don’t simply “assign” tasks and goals. Engage in real conversation with the employee.
  • Have them tell you why this is important, what challenges they face, and why they want to be successful.
  • Open-ended questions such as “What might get in the way of you being successful?” are more powerful than, “Can you do this on time?” Nobody wants to admit they might fail, even if they have a hundred concerns. Knowing what those are, knowing if that person needs help, and their level of buy-in will help set your mind at ease.
  • Agree on check-in points along the way, so you get the information you need to feel confident in their work; they don’t feel like they’ve been left to sink or swim; and you don’t appear snoopy or distrustful by just spot-checking their work.
  • Share the team’s individual goals with the rest of the team. No one wants to let their teammates down, and if people know what that person is working on , they’re more willing to proactively help if necessary. Plus, everyone likes the feeling of not being alone in the world, even if they ARE alone in their office.
  • Have “rich” conversations. A webcam chat where you can see the confident look in their eyes or the panic on their face will help you get a much clearer picture of their real commitment than a hurried cellphone conversation while both of you are fighting traffic.

People who hold themselves accountable are more often successful (and a lot easier on your blood pressure) than those who need to be “held accountable” by the old carrot-and-stick approach.

Goal setting and accountability is critical to your success and the success of your team. Learn how to be more accountable to each other with 12 Weeks to Being a Great Remote Teammate


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammateoffers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.

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