Today, more than two-thirds of people around the world are working remotely at least once a week. While remote work comes with several benefits, it also has its challenges. Given the physical absence of colleagues, office support, and office infrastructure, remote managers must consider new ways to foster productivity and engagement in a virtual workspace, and motivate remote employees as they would in person. There are several aspects to consider in managing your employees remotely, and understanding the factors that motivate employees can help managers drive their teams to perform better and more efficiently from home.
What Drives Motivation?
One key driver of motivation is a sense of meaning and purpose. People want to feel that they’re positively contributing to their job – and furthermore, the world around them. In fact, more than 90% of people would be willing to earn less money for the opportunity to do more meaningful work – validating how important a sense of purpose really is to people.
In addition to finding value in the work people do, they also want to feel valued at work. A positive company culture and sense of belonging is essential to employee motivation and productivity. It’s human nature to want others to acknowledge and recognize your own contributions, and recognizing and rewarding employees helps to create an emotional connection between the organization’s goals and its workers.
This type of work can create obstacles when it comes to learning how to best motivate remote employees and drive productivity, but clear expectations, feedback, recognition, and supportive management can all contribute to an increase in employee morale and motivation.
Tips to Motivate Remote Employees
Here are six ways managers can motivate remote employees to foster engagement:
1. Clearly Define Expectations
There are so many things competing for worker’s attention right now, especially in the remote workspace where distraction seems inescapable. Giving employees a clear idea of prioritized goals and deadlines can help to declutter to-do lists so that workers are focused on the task of highest priority. Providing guidelines, setting boundaries, and reviewing the basics are among the most important steps of managing a project remotely. Getting employees to focus attention on one project at a time helps to avoid multitasking and diluting efforts across multiple tasks, which is proven to reduce productivity and increase stress exponentially.
Clearly communicated expectations and deadlines week-by-week help to set the direction for the workday and can help employees avoid procrastination sourced from feeling overwhelmed. Setting expectations and goals for employees working from home requires honest two-way communication between employee and manager about what an employee can and cannot accomplish in the workday, enabling them to stay better focused and engaged with the tasks at hand.
2. Emphasize Communication
Effective and regular communication is the key to successful remote working teams. Managers can encourage the use of platforms for instant messaging like Teams, Hangout, or Slack to allow quick and informal conversations between employees. Facilitating open communication and regular work status updates will keep your team connected and clear about what’s happening, without feeling overly monitored. Maintaining consistent communication helps remote employees to feel “in the loop” and more accountable to stay engaged during the workday, similar to how they would in an office.
Communication is essential to a strong work team; however, over-communication can do more harm than good. Regular lengthy meetings can lose the concentration of workers and take time away from focus on other important tasks. Managers can benefit from limiting work meetings to micro-meetings of roughly 15-25 minutes to pass along information quickly and collaborate on decision making.
3. Show Confidence in Your Team
Micromanagement is amplified when it’s done remotely via technology, making it even more bothersome for employees than when they worked in the office. It also sends a message that managers don’t trust employees to perform their jobs away from the physical office environment, which reduces morale and motivation of employees working from home.
Employees who are entrusted with more freedom from managers are self-motivated, inspired to achieve, and more likely to engage with work. Free-thinking employees, (especially millennials), are more motivated to achieve professional goals in their own creative ways, and it’s linked to higher productivity.
Regular one-on-one check-ins can help managers avoid suffocating employees while also maintaining a two-way stream of communication. Exhibiting trust and rapport encourages your remote employees to approach you with any work-related problems without hesitation. Just as with in-person interactions, trust is critical in motivating remote employees.
4. Celebrate Success
Recognition is the key to motivating employees. There’s a strong correlation between manager-led recognition and employee motivation, sustained productivity, and overall well-being, especially in remote working environments. Studies show that 40% of employees would put more effort into their work if management recognized their efforts more often. Whether a shoutout in a team meeting or a raise, acknowledging and celebrating quality work will help keep your employees feeling engaged and demonstrate to them that their contributions matter.
Managers can celebrate achievements and work milestones that would normally take place in an office environment both publicly and privately among team members, so they know how much their efforts are appreciated. It’s not just about the act of recognition, but the principle: If people feel that their efforts are appreciated, they’ll feel compelled to continue working hard.
5. Create a Personal Connection with Your Employees
Remote employees will feel more engaged and committed to the company and their role if they know managers care about them not only as employees but as people. While you want to remain professional with your team, it’s important to remember that they are still human. They have loved ones, celebrations, and bad days like everyone else. As a leader, you need to recognize their strengths, weaknesses, and interests to better connect with them.
Look for simple acts to show your workers you care about them, like sending a virtual gift card for a birthday or sending a chat to check in on how their day is going (not just related to their work). Research shows that feeling a sense of belonging in the workplace leads to a 56% increase in job performance and a 50% reduction in the risk of employee turnover. A sense of belonging in the workplace even brings down sick days by 75%!
6. Encourage Self Care
It’s no secret that people are most productive and focused when stress levels are reduced. In fact, stress makes people nearly three times more likely to leave their jobs, temporarily impairs strategic thinking, and dulls creative abilities.
While remote working has given flexibility and comfort to employees, it has blurred dedicated working hours. When employees work from home, they tend to overextend and find themselves working beyond the regular work hours. Establishing set times for the workday, with fixed break time to get away from screen, and avoiding “cabin fever” will result in better mental well-being of workers.
It’s also important for managers to listen to employees’ feedback about working from home and understand what works best for them to be productive in their remote work environment. Simply asking, “how is remote work going for you so far?” can elicit valuable information that you might not otherwise hear.
Future of Remote Work
Remote work is the future of the modern workplace, and understanding what motivates employees is vital as you look to enhance your remote work environment. Every team is unique, and what works for one company to keep employees engaged and motivated might not work for another. Leaders can foster open communication and a positive work culture to keep morale high without losing the benefits of the traditional office workspace. Learning how to motivate remote employees will soon be tablestakes for any business or leader navigating our modern work landscape.
Our firm has a wealth of experience working as part of remote teams. If you’re interested in learning more about best practices for working remotely, we’d be happy to connect you with the right resources.
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Contributions by Julia Hoffman