Even before the pandemic, around 3.9 million people in the U.S. alone were working from home. Now, more people than ever before are working remotely. The fact that many will likely find they actually prefer this lifestyle (coupled with convenience and savings for businesses) means some employees may even continue to work from home after the crisis is over.
The Struggle Remote Teams Face in a Pandemic
When employers think about managing a remote workforce, their attention is often on logistics. However, it’s equally important to consider how to motivate remote employees.
Working from home can be challenging enough. To make matters worse many businesses are facing uncertainty in the face of the pandemic. Plus, but the pandemic means that people are worried that they or family members could contract the virus. This all takes stress to another level. For these reasons, it’s extra important to think about how to make remote employees feel included in ongoing business activities.
How to Motivate Remote Employees
There’s no need for motivating employees to involve anything complicated. You can implement all these tactics and activities to engage your remote employees immediately.
1. Improve Communication
It’s more difficult to communicate using technology alone than using a combination of tech and in-person interactions. Communicating digitally increases the likelihood of misunderstandings, which can lead to frustration, mistakes, and delays. To avoid problems, it’s always better to provide employees with detailed instructions than assume that they already know your expectations and make sure to keep them motivated.
As a manager, a key component of your job is to make sure that everyone is on the same page, which means being clear about the requirements for every project. You may be busy, but if employees message you with a doubt or question, it’s essential that you answer quickly.
2. Use Video Chats
Whenever feasible, use video calls rather than phone calls or text-based communication. Video has the advantage of allowing you to have a conversation rather than a back and forth exchange. Plus, it allows you to communicate with your body language, not just words.
Having said that, it is important to strike a balance between checking in regularly and being overbearing. It’s beneficial to keep up with your employees’ progress and schedule enough one-on-one calls to maintain a good relationship with your workers. However, you need to avoid forcing employees to attend video calls when they’re actually unnecessary — it’s a waste of everyone’s time and it can make employees feel that you don’t trust them to work independently.
3. Avoid All Work and No Play
When employees are working from home, it’s easy for them to start thinking that they need to dedicate every single business hour to work. In fact, if you think about how you behave in the office, you’ll realize that workers spend large chunks of time each day socializing. Doing so helps them develop bonds with team members and is critical for both motivation and a sense of belonging.
There are numerous ways you can help your team socialize remotely. You can designate time at the beginning or end of group video chats for small talk, create social channels on Slack, or even hold online events — for instance, you could schedule a happy hour on Friday evenings.
4. Offer Mentoring
When everyone is working in the office, it’s much easier to impart your knowledge to workers and offer employees other opportunities to develop. This is all still possible remotely — you just need a more structured approach.
Mentoring can be as simple as pairing an experienced employee with a new hire. If you have enough time and the relevant skills, you could even offer some coaching yourself. This is great for identifying gaps in knowledge and finding out what abilities employees need to develop. You can then provide employees with the appropriate training to create a more productive workforce.
It’s also useful to extend mentoring to your current workforce. Employees commonly feel that they are unable to progress in their careers when working remotely. Ideally, you should work with each employee individually to create a career development plan — this will help employees feel more committed to their jobs. Plus, when employees have a clear path to reaching a more advanced position in your company, retention rates increase.
5. Provide Feedback
Remote employees need to hear that they’re appreciated and doing a good job. If you only ever let them know how they’re doing their work falls short or they make a mistake, they’ll quickly feel demotivated. It takes barely any effort to provide employees with real feedback that they can use in the future to continue producing great work.
Better still, make a company-wide announcement when an employee goes above and beyond. This acknowledgement may well inspire others.
6. Ask Employees for Their Feedback
It’s just as important to hear what your employees think. Facilitate two-way communication where you listen to your workers’ concerns, complaints, and ideas. Make sure to ask them about their struggles and what has led to demotivation as well as where they feel like they have succeeded and what their top achievements have been. Use this feedback to guide other activities to engage your remote employees.
7. Utilize Tools and Technology
Tech is useful in an office setting, but it’s essential when you’re working remotely. Some tools keep everyone connected and avoid a sense of isolation. Others improve communication and help you manage projects. Whatever you need support with, there’s a tool for it.
As well as making their jobs easier, technology can motivate employees by showing them how the company is progressing. Visuals like graphs can convey how the work of individuals contributes to the whole.
One kind of tool that is definitely valuable for remote teams is digital brainstorming. This ensures employees feel they’re heard by the entire team. Furthermore, when everyone is contributing at the same time, you’ll find your team generates ideas that no single team member would have thought of alone.
8. Measure Productivity Over Time
Time tracking tools can be valuable for remote teams, but it’s critical that you avoid letting them become your main measure of performance. It’s far more important to look at productivity than hours worked — not least to avoid employees becoming burned out.
Set clear expectations of what you want each employee to achieve in a day — or perhaps a week, if you want to be more flexible. If an employee is able to finish a large chunk of the work in a short burst, rather than needing to work continuously over the day, that may be fine. You can always check up on their progress through a video chat or by using a project management tool.
9. Remind Employees of the Bigger Picture
It’s easy for employees who are working remotely to focus so much on their own roles in projects that they forget the mission at the core of their work. There’s a reason why employees decided to join your company: reminding them of that reason can be highly motivating.
Whenever employees start a new project, make sure you show them the bigger picture — help them understand how their work will contribute to something much larger. In addition, strive to keep the values of your company at the forefront in all communication. This will help employees remember that they are committed to their projects for more than just job requirements and to earn a living but because they want to see the company succeed.
Rewarding Virtual Teams
Motivating your employees is a great start. To take it to the next level, set up a system for rewarding your virtual teams.
First, you’ll need to determine what achievements and behaviors you’ll reward. Ideally, the system you implement will assess employees objectively, as this will make it clear that the system is fair and that all employees have an equal chance of a reward. Alternatively, though, you could have a panel or receive nominations. This at least avoids having a single person making the decision. You’ll also need to decide who is eligible — for instance, how the reward system works for part-time employees.
Next, you’ll need to choose a variety of rewards at different values. For basic achievements, rewards should be something simple, whereas once-in-a-lifetime accomplishments require something more substantial.
If you’re unsure about how to reward your team, ask them what they’d like. You may find that they’d appreciate something directly related to their jobs, such as a new piece of software or even a remote training course. Other rewards could be a treat you can send to their homes or, to avoid human contact, a virtual gift card.
By motivating your remote employees, you can help your virtual team to adapt to the current situation. Work will be one less stress in their lives. If you go a step further and also reward your virtual teams, you’ll create a work environment that employees don’t just endure but that they come to love.