How to Be SMART — Even From a Distance

With the new year here, it’s time to set goals (if you haven’t already) –business, personal, and professional. The act of looking to the future and considering business possibilities is inherently optimistic and exciting. However, you may feel trepidation as you move forward with this process for 2021. This last year may have changed the way you view your business and the opportunities on the horizon. Your team may be larger or smaller, and rather than sitting together in the office, they may be scattered across the town, state, or country.

These changes mean that practical goal setting is even more critical than usual this year. Connecting with your people to discuss the business and plans for the coming year may look different; but, the elemental process is the same. With a few strategies, setting goals for remote employees can be every bit as smooth and successful as it is when you all sit together in the office. After years of working from home and leading a team, here are my best tips for success.

Take the Time to Talk Live

When employees are in the office, the discussion around goals often flows naturally. You see each other in the halls or grab an impromptu lunch, and talk of business, projects, and plans naturally flow.  You can create the same feeling with virtual team members by setting up virtual coffee dates or lunches via video conference to talk broadly about how things are going.

Consider Process Information

Set yourself up for success by considering the process you want to follow to set your team goals. Admittedly, the process discussion is less exciting than discussing the future and potential accomplishments. But, a few minutes of process-related thinking offers a big payoff in the end. 

  • Determine how formal a process to follow. Before you start the goal-setting conversation with your team, decide how you want to proceed after the call. Do you want to see a written action plan, or is a casual decision based on a few conversations the right approach? Past precedent can serve as a guide here but consider if other staffing changes may affect how well your past process works going forward. Be ready to share process information as part of your goal-setting conversations.
  • Establish deadlines for finalizing goals. Ideally, you have a day a week or two out where all goals are plans are completed, and you and your team are all working toward personal and business goals in short order.
  • Consider the progress check-in process. Based on the goals, you may want to check in weekly. In some cases, a monthly or even semi-annual check-in is in order. The important thing here is having a sense of the timeline and sharing it.

Once you’ve settled on the right process, send a general note to all team members that it’s time to start thinking about goals for 2021. Explain that you will be reaching out to them to talk. This step sets the table and lets people start thinking about their goals and prepare for your call. Then, send invitations out a few days before the meetings, so people have time set aside expressly for goal setting.


As you start your calls, keep the conversation light at first, much like you would if you were chatting around the copier. Then, segue into discussing the future and potential goals. To help the conversation flow naturally:

  • Outline the goals you have in mind for the business. Knowing what’s on your mind helps your team think more clearly about how they fit into the business and your goals for the next year. So, don’t be afraid to share what’s on your mind here.
  • Share your initial thoughts on the goals you have in mind for each role/person. Whether the goals are a continuation of prior goals or a fresh way of doing business, sharing some initial thoughts can help set the table for the direction of the discussion. Also, people feel appreciated when it’s clear that you’ve been thinking about them and how they fit into the team. Capitalize on this opportunity by sharing your vision. If you’ve recently completed performance reviews or shared performance feedback, that discussion can catalyze a broader conversation around goals and objectives.
  • Solicit feedback and employee thoughts on goals. Once you’ve shared some ideas, ask your team member what he/she is thinking about in terms of the next year. You may find that some people are hesitant to share their thoughts. You can combat this by pointing out that this is a safe space for brainstorming.

Remember the Basics

The basics of good goal-setting still apply. The long-standing business advice of setting SMART goals applies every bit as much now as it does when you work side-by-side in the office. When thinking about SMART goals for remote teams and employees, set goals that are: 

  • Specific– Be very clear on particular goal elements. Without face-to-face interaction, it’s tough to know if you and your virtual employees are all defining common goal terms like “execute with excellence” and “quick turn around” the same way.
  • Measurable-Know what success looks like in terms of metrics and share the metrics with your team so each member can track accordingly.
  • Actionable-Set goals that a virtual team member can efficiently act on. Take into account any access concerns that the two of you may have discussed—brainstorm ways to overcome any hurdles that appear on the horizon.
  • Relevant-Ensure that the goals you have in place for your virtual team members align with broader organizational goals and that your remote team knows those goals and why they matter. Understanding how specific work actions ladder up to overall goals brings more meaning to your staff’s day-to-day activities.
  • Timely- Specific time frames for success help all team members, but especially remote team members, stay on track. 

I’d love to hear how you set goals and how they lead you to success. Drop me a line to share your stories.

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