How to Keep Remote Teams Motivated

For the foreseeable future, remote work is the new normal. The path beyond that is riddled with uncertainty, and employers are facing the pressure of navigating what the unknown...

Fiona Gurtiza
Fiona Gurtiza June 9, 2020

For the foreseeable future, remote work is the new normal. The path beyond that is riddled with uncertainty, and employers are facing the pressure of navigating what the unknown future holds.

In response to COVID-19, a majority of companies have issued work-from-home policies to prevent the spread of the virus. In the US, nearly a quarter of the workforce already work from home, so it wasn’t a new concept.

But the change to complete remote work has ushered in unforeseen work-related mental health challenges. These can range from chronic stress to employee burnout. 

As a business owner, you have the responsibility to provide the support your employees need during this time of crisis.

A large fraction of business leaders have already responded to COVID-19 by transitioning to a work-from-home set-up by securing reliable meeting technology and converting face-to-face into virtual ones.

But these just describe the initial hurdles of creating an effective work environment for remote employees. What about motivating people working from home?

A Closer Look at Work & Motivation

Managing the workplace is difficult, even under perfect conditions. Keeping track of hundreds of micro tasks can be tough, and it gets even harder to manage when working from home. After all, the list of distractions are endless.

But when faced with a crisis like COVID-19, one can’t simply focus on tactical work. Your organization’s success will depend on the productivity of your employees.

And that’s why you’ll need to understand what motivates people.

The Impact of Emotional & Economic Stress

Between 2010 and 2015, the Harvard Business Review conducted a survey on 20,000 workers and analyzed data from more than 50 major companies. The study was designed to figure out what motivates employees, and how working from home plays into the equation.

The results show that employees who work remotely feel less motivated, and those who had no choice about it were the least motivated of all.

In particular, the data revealed three negative motivators that lead to reduced work performance: 

The Need for Play, Purpose, & Potential

On the flipside, the study identified three positive motivators for better productivity:

Understanding shifts in employee motivation is crucial to keeping your remote teams happy. After all, recovering from COVID-19 requires significant productivity growth. 

Understanding Barriers to Remote Work

Consider the current climate when figuring out how to keep your company motivated. With everyone out of the office, you’re likely to face these hurdles:

Virtual Interactions

The lack of face-to-face interaction could make your team struggle with reduced access to managerial support and communication. With less interactions with superiors, some employees might feel that their supervisors are out of touch with their needs.

Lack of Info

Accessing info may seem like a huge obstacle for those working from home. Asking for help from co-workers requires greater time and effort, especially when people aren’t responsive to messages and face connection issues at home.

Social Isolation

Loneliness is the biggest complaint of those working from home. Even though most people believe that extraverts tend to feel more isolated than their peers, any employee can feel disconnected to the rest of the team over long periods of remote work.

Distractions at Home

We’re all familiar with the idea of a suboptimal remote workspace: parents holding a child while typing on their laptop, or employees working on their living room floor. On top of that, school closures can leave some employees with unexpected parenting responsibilities. All of these factors can have an impact on performance.

So What Can You Do?

It’s possible for you to deliver a much-needed boost to your teams, even when everyone’s hands are tied in the work-from-situation. 

Start by resisting the temptation to see work from a tactical point of view. Work isn’t just about processes and rules. So if you want your workforce to be engaged with work, you’ll need to make their work engaging.

Fostering Engagement among Teams

Consider this: employees who feel empowered to experiment are more motivated. One of the best ways to do this is by giving them the opportunity to solve problems. Ask them:

So conduct employee pulse surveys and pay attention to what everyone’s needs are. Ask questions like: How is the current situation affecting you right now? How do you motivate yourself while working from home?

Other tips for motivating your remote teams include:

Streamline Internal Communication

In-house teams can be productive even without an effective communication channel in place. After all, word gets around easily from one employee to another.

But with everyone working from home, it’s harder to catch on about company and team updates. 

Make sure your marketing team is aware of cross-team operations. Ideally, they should be prepared for announcements at a moment’s notice, and this means they’ll need extra time creating content assets, crafting social media captions, and preparing blogger outreach.

Your updates shouldn’t just cover the COVID-19 pandemic. Keep everyone in the know about new leads coming in, unhappy customers, new partnerships, and the like.

Consider putting up a company-wide blog where people can post weekly, bite-sized updates about their team. Or set up an email list and send out regular updates to your employees.

Foster a Sense of Community

Even people who enjoy solitude and prefer plants to people get lonely sometimes. Foster a sense of community among your team through activities that can help beat isolation.

Here are a few ideas:

Prioritize Employee Health

It’s hard to stay active when everyone’s cooped up indoors. A lack in physical activity could result in a drop in mood and energy, which could make employees even lazier when it’s time to work.

Break the vicious cycle by organizing company-wide digital health events. Schedule weekly events encouraging everyone is the company to get active for 15-30 minutes. 

You can also consider offering a benefit that lets employees access digital health platforms. From there, employees can take advantage of online therapy and counselling. 

Standardize Collaboration Practices

As mentioned earlier, access to info is one of the biggest challenges that companies face. That’s why it’s critical that your employees know how to navigate shared storage. Make sure they know where everything lives and how they can access files.

Now is the time for you to use cloud-based tools for project management and real-time collaboration. These tools minimize friction and ensure that your projects keep moving forward even when direct contact isn’t possible.

Create New Success Metrics

With everyone working from home, it’s harder to micro-manage your teams. If you want to maintain the same level of productivity back when everyone was still at the office, you’ll need to establish new success metrics.

New success metrics should be tangible, but refrain from making them sound too basic. For instance, a follower count shouldn’t just be the basis of a successful social media campaign.

Instead, consider keeping tabs on notable daily brand mentions. After all, meaningful outbound marketing tactics like mentions and interactions are a more reliable yardstick of success than follower counts.

Ensure Local Community Support

Do you have expat employees? Keep in mind that one of the scariest experiences in life can be getting sick in a foreign country. 

Even though you have no control over the health of your employees, you can still show support for foreign members of your team. Make sure they understand all the vital information needed during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Assign someone on your team who can act as a local crisis buddy. They can help by keeping your foreign team members fully informed by monitoring press cons, recommending reputable news sites, and providing translations of government announcements.

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