· 7 mins · Employee Motivation

Encouraging employee motivation from afar: How to keep your remote team engaged

Strategies for remote leaders looking to improve employee motivation on their team.

Avatar of Claire Brenner Claire Brenner

With more companies having gone remote than ever before (there are 4.7 million remote workers in the United States – that’s pre-pandemic, for reference), focusing on employee motivation and productivity is mission-critical. 

And unfortunately, it’s easier said than done, especially in today’s economic climate. 

The harsh truth is that more companies are having to tighten their purse strings. Unfortunately,  typical employee motivation methods, like bonuses and raises, are not possible for many right now. 

But that doesn’t mean we can simply throw motivation to the wayside. The most engaged work groups average 17% higher productivity and 21% higher profitability – in fact, if there’s ever a time to zero in on employee engagement, it’s now. 

That’s why it’s so important for remote leaders to learn how to motivate and engage their teams with intrinsic rewards.

In this article, we’ll walk through how managers can motivate and engage their remote team.

Employee motivation strategies for remote managers

For even the best and most impactful managers, motivating a remote team is a whole new ballgame. The following tips will help you make sure your remote employees are effective, motivated, and feeling valued through these unprecedented times. 

Make clean agreements and encourage 100 percent responsibility

While this is something managers should be doing in the office too, it becomes even more critical if you’ve transitioned to a remote workforce. 

Both of these concepts – clean agreements and 100 percent responsibility – come from the practice of conscious leadership. This practice focuses on supporting leaders in building trust, curiosity, and authenticity into all of their business relationships. 

But what exactly do they mean, and more importantly, how will this motivate your employees?

Clean agreements

A clean agreement answers the following questions: who does what and by when. By incorporating this principle into all of your tasks, your team will understand exactly what’s expected of them, and what they can expect of others. This clarity will keep your team aligned, knowing who is responsible for what.

100 percent responsibility

In the same vein, this can help you encourage your team members to take their 100 percent responsibility. Essentially, this means controlling the aspects of their life and career that they can control. 

For example, Employee A and Employee B are working on a project together, but the work split isn’t exactly even. Employee A is responsible for 75 percent and Employee B is responsible for 25 percent. 

Regardless of how the work is split, Employee B’s 100 percent responsibility is to complete their portion of the work to the best of their ability. 

Both of these concepts encourage trust and accountability between you and your employees, ultimately leading to a more productive and motivated team. 

Set employees up with the appropriate workspace 

Even for those who work from home semi-regularly, transitioning to full-time remote work is a massive adjustment from what tools are used, like video conferencing software, to the daily conversations that are had. One thing that’s often overlooked is giving up your desk, monitor, keyboard, mouse, and the oh-so-important ergonomic chair. That’s why it’s critical for organizations with remote workers, to provide a budget for setting up an appropriate workspace.

In addition, equipping your team with the right remote tech stack will ensure that your team is set up for success. A lack of technology can turn an employee’s favorite task into something they dread doing – or in some cases, give up on completely. So, nip this problem in the bud before it affects your employee’s motivation levels.

The best thing that we, as managers, can do to motivate employees through these unprecedented times is to set them up for success from the start. And that starts with their workspace. 

If your business has the resources to do so, consider setting up each employee with a:

  • Mouse
  • Keyboard
  • Monitor
  • Desk
  • Noise-canceling headphones

Employees will feel more invested in, more productive, and ultimately, more motivated to get the job done when you set them up for success. 

Facilitate passion projects 

A couple of years back, I heard a leader at my company say “you don’t get rewarded for doing your job” and it stuck, big time. 

This isn’t to say I don’t believe in positive encouragement, recognition, or monetary rewards when someone goes above and beyond – I do. But, I think there are more productive (and ultimately, more rewarding) ways to recognize somebody for a job well done. 

Enter: the passion project

Passion projects, sometimes referred to as stretch projects, are a way to award an employee who’s gone the extra mile while still keeping the focus on your business goals. These projects can be something a little more fun, something typically reserved for a more senior team member, anything! It could relate to the employee’s typical job function, but it doesn’t necessarily have to.  Sometimes, it’s just something this employee has wanted to tackle for a while but hasn’t had the time to. 

Stretch projects are a productive and effective way to keep employees motivated. Like any other reward, it requires good and consistent work to get a stretch project, so that’s motivation in itself. But the project itself is often motivating too, since the work may be more engaging and “fun”. 

Passion projects are an effective way to motivate remote employees while adding a little excitement to the job. You never know, these side projects may help boost your numbers in your analytics. 

Allow (and encourage) work-life balance

While remote work may have the reputation of being more laid back, it can easily turn into the opposite. Without an office, a commute, or the need to change out of pajamas, the line between work and life blurs. This increases the chances of employee burnout. 

Combine that with the reality that a lot of us are working remotely for the first time; it’s easy to fall into the trap of overworking. You know the feeling – you think that if you don’t respond to every Slack, email, or meeting invitation within seconds, your coworkers will think you’re blowing them, and your work, off. 

Things you’d normally do at the office, like breaking for lunch, grabbing a coffee down the street, and chatting with a coworker about last night’s episode of The Bachelor, seem like they’re officially off the table. 

As managers, it’s on us to not just allow these things but to demonstrate them, as well. Set the precedent that it’s okay to eat lunch away from the desk, or to take a 30-minute break in the afternoon for a short yoga practice. Set aside time for team building, and spend the first couple of minutes in a meeting with an ice breaker, chatting about your most recent Netflix binge or your most pointless quarantine purchase. 

By doing this, you’re encouraging your team to make their working hours count – even if those hours aren’t the typical nine-to-five. 

How to encourage intrinsic motivation in the workplace

Now, let’s talk about intrinsic motivation

While the above tips and strategies certainly have their place (and all encourage intrinsic motivation, to a degree), I think all managers can agree on one thing.

At the end of the day, we want employees to want it for themselves. 

This is where intrinsic motivation comes into play. Put simply, it’s motivation that comes from within. It’s employees who come to work wanting to do their best. Not because they want some sort of reward, or because they’re scared of getting in trouble. It’s because they’re engaged in their work.

Ultimately, managers will only have so much control over an employee’s intrinsic motivation. That said, we still have the responsibility to encourage it whenever possible. 

Encouraging intrinsic motivation

There are two key ways we can do this:

  • By helping employees feel connected to the work they’re doing
  • And by encouraging a connection between the employee and the organization’s larger mission.

The reality of a workplace is that there are always going to be monotonous tasks – the things that just have to get done, regardless of how dull. That said, as much as possible, try to offer engaging work that will challenge and develop your team. Almost always, employees are happier and more productive when they see meaning in their work. This can be the difference between a good team, and an extraordinary one. 

Similarly, encourage a connection between the employee and the larger organization. This may seem obvious, but so much of this starts with knowledge. Think about it this way, do your employees:

  • Know who the leadership team is, outside of just their title?
  • Understand how the product works and who it’s for?
  • Know how different teams function and operate?

More importantly, do they trust your leaders? Do they feel a connection to your customers and the problem you’re helping them solve? 

Look, I’m not under the impression that every employee will feel emotionally invested in their business – at the end of the day, it’s their job, and more often than not, it won’t be their true passion. But inspiring leadership, a great product, and a solid understanding of the business will certainly help. 

Final thoughts

In these unprecedented times, keeping employees engaged and motivated is more important than ever. You can easily track your company’s performance with tools, but measuring employee performance and motivation in times of crisis proves to be more difficult.

These tips will help you arm your team with the things they need to keep productivity high and spirits even higher.

claire brenner g2

Claire is a content marketing and SEO manager at G2.com. Hailing from the University of Dayton, Claire found her way back home to Chicago upon joining G2 in May of 2016. In her free time, you’ll find Claire practicing calligraphy, seeking out the city’s best BYOB sushi restaurants, and planning her next trip. Find her on Twitter.

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