woman working from home on a laptop, aware of her leader's expectations

Managing a virtual workforce? Employees want to know your expectations

By Madison Hanscom, PhD

When it comes to doing the job well, people need to know what is expected of them. Ambiguity can be a very stressful experience, and a great deal of individuals are in a working situation where they would like to know precisely what they should do to be considered a high performer. Unfortunately, for those working in remote positions, this is particularly difficult.

A team of researchers recruited 1135 participants to take place in a study that collects information on their work experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic over time. The data collection began in April of 2020 and will run for 6 months. Initial findings were recently shared by the researchers (1). Of the employees who were sampled…

• 66.6% knew exactly what was expected of them
• 67.2% agreed they know what their responsibilities were
• 65.2% agreed they had clear planned goals and objectives for their job

Although the majority of employees reported some sort of clarity, these percentages are not high enough! A third of workers still were unclear.

What can leaders do to better communicate expectations?

First, you have to work backwards and ensure you have clearly and accurately defined your expectations in writing before sharing them with employees. Have you developed goals for employees that are aligned with company performance metrics, for example? Are they measurable, realistic, and up to date? Are they specific enough to where someone knows what to do on a day-to-day basis? Are there any reference materials they can consult (like a handbook)?
Second, you have to set aside time that is dedicated to this purpose. Leaders are incredibly busy, so unless you schedule check-in time to discuss performance expectations, goals, and progress — it won’t happen! Try setting up short (15 minute) touch-points with employees to discuss your expectations and their performance objectives. Everyone will benefit.
Third, be humble and ask for feedback. Although you think you have defined your expectations in a clear and actionable way, this might not be the case. Create a psychologically safe environment where this can be an ongoing, two-way discussion.
Fourth, strike a balance between giving people as much autonomy as possible while still giving them solid expectations. This is when people flourish and perform at a high level.

What can employees do?

• Speak up! All too often people suffer in silence. It is a great idea to be proactive if your manager or supervisor is not giving you the information you need. Consider scheduling bi-monthly check-in meetings to discuss performance and goal progress.

At Propulo Consulting, we partner with you to improve the world of work. Our team has the expertise to help your business plan and implement a sensible Flex Work strategy without pain. We work with you to ensure your company culture and processes develop accordingly during or after a Flex Work transition so you can continue to deliver results for your organization and customers. Please visit our website for the latest insights and research into flexible work.


(1) Centre for Transformative Work Design survey:


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