The pandemic has shaken everything, and remote work became the new norm for many workers worldwide. The transition from present to virtual teams was relatively quick but often not well prepared. We have now been working remotely long enough to observe that virtual teams can also become demotivated. We may not notice the social and emotional differences in people since we do not see them in person. We cannot judge body language or other changes in behavior.
Demotivation can be caused by multiple factors. For some people, it can be monotony in the work routine; for others, the lack of development opportunities or the insecurity about the duration of the position; others may not feel valued or appreciated, and some people miss the social interaction with their colleagues that comes from grabbing a coffee or having lunch together.
Finding a way to motivate remote employees may be a mystery for some of us. However, if we make an effort and can identify the root cause, we can decide the measures to apply. While some are motivated by monetary compensation, others are stimulated by recognition such as a simple “thank you for your work”. We need to find the balance.
Based on our own experience and observations of different teams, we have come up with the following ways to motivate teams and team members.
1. Feedback and recognition are powerful, even from the distance
We can’t talk about motivating employees without mentioning recognition. Sincere recognition is one of the best ways to give an emotional ‘salary’. When something goes well, tell them in front of others. Be specific about what went well and why it is appreciated. When something goes bad, tell them in private. Explain why it was bad.
The following are a few examples of ways to show appreciation and recognize performance:
- send a kind personal message
- make a public recognition at meetings or on social channels
- give a personal certificate
- give a gift voucher
- send to a training course — not only will they have training and knowledge that will help them grow, but they will also feel rewarded for their work.
2. Set small, measurable goals
Some projects just drag on or seem never-ending. It can be really demotivating to be stuck in a rut. Setting long-term goals such as improving cross-team communication or building trust between departments determines the broad, long-term outcomes we want to achieve. However, these goals are hard to measure and don’t detail how you get there. Thus, set interim milestones.
By using milestones — “times when a piece of work must be finished or something must be achieved” (Cambridge Dictionary) — we are setting small specific and time-bound goals toward achieving big ones. Celebrating milestones is a way of acknowledging and appreciating a specific team’s achievements and work.
3. Virtual activities and events are also fun
Before remote work became the norm, we could easily go after work to a place to celebrate a milestone while drinking or having dinner together and chatting about both work and non-work-related topics. We can’t do that in person with the teams working remotely anymore. Nevertheless, we can still meet and chat on virtual platforms. A regular online coffee break (or beer evening) with colleagues (Stammtisch) is an easy way to meet apart from the business topics.
In addition, there are countless options for organizing virtual social events to celebrate a milestone or just treat the team. In the last few years, many platforms and companies have offered all sorts of ideas to celebrate events virtually. Here are a few examples:
- Wine/beer/gin online tour and tasting
- Online poker workshop
- Virtual escape room
- Online quiz show
- Cheese/Chocolate online tasting
- Virtual murder mystery
4. Ask for and give feedback
Knowing that getting feedback means getting “information or statements of opinion about something” (Cambridge Dictionary), we can get honest input if we actively ask for it by, for example, scheduling a fixed time to give or to get feedback. Specifically:
- We should encourage collaboration within the team and appreciate suggestions on doing things better. This comes easier when we create an open and honest environment. It could be retrospectives, lessons learned sessions, or one-on-one meetings.
- Give individual feedback before small issues escalate to big problems or conflicts. This applies to giving feedback to colleagues, third parties, or clients. Use the ‘sandwich-technique’ for giving feedback, be honest, and give as much context as possible.
- Facilitate a troubleshooting session when an issue or problem occurs and stays open for too long. Plan enough time (at least 1 ½ hour) for discussions, brainstorming, and trial and error. Facilitate that everyone understands the issue or problem and tries to fix it. This way, people do not suffer alone with an issue or problem.
5. Ensure the health and well-being of the team
Humans are social creatures, and most of them need or appreciate interaction and conversations with colleagues to enjoy work. Working remotely, this has been very difficult to maintain.
In this context, the health and well-being of remote team members have suffered. When we see each other less in real life, it’s easy to lose the emotional connection. The lack of physical presence makes us not know how the team is doing and feeling.
We need to observe and ask how they feel. Planning one-to-one calls help everyone feel included and heard, especially new joiners. Address emotions directly (e.g., I see you are mad, you seem upset, I see you are struggling). Let people vent about negative issues before discussing further topics. Listen carefully to what they say, show empathy, and offer your support.