By Wayne Turmel

We know that a big part of working remotely and managing teams is to set clear goals—people need to know what they’re supposed to do, by when, and to what standard. That’s great, but there can be an awful lot of drama before it’s all over. Between assigning tasks and checking them off the list, there’s a lot of room for worry, mistrust, and nail-biting. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Whether your team members work away from the office full-time, or telecommute occasionally, what you need to do doesn’t change, only how you check in. Here’s what we mean:

  • Document the goals. When a task or goal has been assigned and agreed to, have it in writing somewhere. In a virtual workplace, this usually means some kind of tracking document. It can be anything from a Word document or Excel spreadsheet, to sophisticated tracking tools like Basecamp or other project management software.
  • Keep the goals top-of-mind. It’s all well and good to write your goals and milestones somewhere, but if nobody pays them any attention until the due date, it may be too late to avoid disaster. Goals should be a regular part of your conversations with team members, even if it’s a simple “what do you need to make that happen?” Set automatic reminders for yourself, and encourage your team members to put the smaller “chunks” of the goals on their calendars.
  • Share with stakeholders. Do all your stakeholders know which tasks or goals have been assigned to whom? Do they know when to expect deliverables? The people who are waiting for the completed work are getting nervous, and you can help calm them down with full information and updates. Of course, the people doing the work should be aware of who is depending on them, and what they need.
  • The whole team should have visibility. People need to be “held accountable” for their work, and one way to do that is to make sure that the whole team knows when a task is due. More importantly, people generally want to “be accountable” (voluntarily, self-directed) to their team mates and the organization. When other people know they can depend on you, it builds trust as well as motivates people to do a good job and not disappoint their teammates. Does your tracking mechanism share information with the right people?
  • Talk about the goals as a team. It’s tempting to keep ongoing conversations between yourself and your individual team members. But how are the other people supposed to be confident in their fellow employees? How can they offer to help if they don’t know where the other person is in their journey? It’s too easy to create silos where people only focus on their own tasks at the expense of the rest of the team. Don’t let that happen. Update emails, mentions on team calls and sharing the files will help address that.
  • Set check-ins as part of the planning so they don’t come as a surprise. A critical step in setting goals is establishing how and how often you’ll check in along the way. That way when you ask “how’s it going?”, the other person is prepared for the question and it doesn’t feel like you’re looking over their shoulder.

Setting goals and managing them in a proactive, constructive and effective way is more than simply setting them and checking when they’re over.

With a little forethought and some mindful planning, you can track progress without seeming to micromanage people or look like you don’t trust them.

Effective goalsetting in a virtual team environment is a key component to our Remote Leadership Certificate Series. Check it out and learn more here.


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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