Keeping a remote Team Motivated and Engaged

By Nadia Harris – Mar 9 2023

One of the most common questions about remote work is how to keep a remote team motivated. Many leaders keep sharing concerns about the morale and behavior of their team members. This is also a hot topic on a global scale, resulting in endless discussions in social media. Many ideas are being shared such as playing Bingo or watching movies together that results in sitting in front of a computer screen for many hours. There are also ideas such as sharing small gifts with all team members. And well, as much as such initiatives seem quite pleasant and they express some appreciation – they don’t have much in common with engagement. Additionally, organizations are now discussing how to incentivize employees within physical office spaces if they eventually consider a hybrid working setup. All such ideas will surely impact the employee experience in general, but they definitely won’t directly contribute to long-term motivation and engagement. This is why the aspect of motivating and engaging remote team members must be discussed from a scalable perspective that will impact all team members equally.

What does it mean to be motivated?

First things first – let’s look at some definitions to start with. Motivation is a process that influences our behaviors. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it’s the “willingness to do something.” Motivation can be both intrinsic and extrinsic. The latter influences actions for external reasons – for example being rewarded or punished. This is exactly what’s happening in many companies that are actively advertising their perks and benefits with “Come, join us and you’ll get…” statements. Free fruits, snacks and gym memberships are very common and quite a standard, but they should never be the only motivator that companies rely on. Especially because the employers’ market is getting extremely competitive these days. Consequently, candidates and team members are starting to take incentives for granted and end up “job hopping” if there’s another employer that can offer more.

Intrinsic motivation, however, is quite different as it’s influenced by internal rewards. External factors don’t play an important role at all. This type of motivation happens for example when we decide to join a company because we’ve been following it for a long time, we’re interested in the projects and the working culture. It’s important to know that numerous studies have proven this type of motivation to influence employee satisfaction and reduce churn. Of course, there are also other factors within the company that build overall motivation and engagement but starting with a basic “why” that touches on a deeper level is a great starting point.

Engagement happens when employees are enthusiastic, and they express job dedication. It means that people care about work and the company, and they also feel that they’re making a difference. They know that their role makes sense as it’s purposeful. In such a scenario, a job means more than just a paycheck. Team members are more productive, and they are characterized by great performance. All processes around them enable reaching goals and fulfillment. Such teams also pride themselves on excellent communication, delegation, feedback, rewards and promotions.

The company’s “WHY”

Since we’ve already explained the crucial role of intrinsic motivation in building an engaged team, it’s time to take a deeper look at the “why” that becomes a bridge between the company and the individual.

This would be the company’s mission and purpose – the reasons why the company is on the market. What are we willing to achieve together? Where are we going? What is the moonshot? Responding to such questions in a clear manner will help team members contribute towards shared objectives.

According to Gallup’s statistics, employees are over three times more engaged if they understand how their work impacts the company’s goals. And that is particularly true within remote teams as they don’t see each other daily. If they share the same goals and they understand them, a community is being built. A team of people who understand that everyday tasks impact the company’s performance. This becomes their main driver. This is also the reason why top-down management isn’t a good approach in distributed teams. Constant monitoring and control results in a negative attitude among employees who express that they don’t understand why their manager assigns tasks they don’t really care about. Let’s be frank – it’s very difficult to stay engaged and productive in such a case. Instead, it’s much better to evaluate what drives the team the most, and how their daily work shapes the company’s mission. If we approach teamwork in such a manner, focusing on supervision becomes irrelevant. The people will naturally become responsible for results, and they will understand why these are so important.

A great methodology that builds engagement in a remote setup are OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). They give people a transparent overview on their tasks, how they relate to the team and contribute to the company’s goals.  OKRs help in building accountability, teamwork, a sense of belonging and fulfillment. In this case every little action step matter and team members understand that often much bigger tasks or achievements rely on their performance.

The secret sauce towards engaging a remote team

There are numerous ways to ensure that a remote team remains engaged. If we know that we have motivated individuals in our company, they are willing to contribute to the mission and vision, we want to make sure that we keep the momentum. Therefore it’s very important to enable an environment where people feel valued and heard. Just open your virtual doors to them. If people feel that they would like to express their struggles or share ideas, leaders should be there to listen and take this seriously. That’s how miscommunication and lack of performance can be avoided. If we embrace an “open door policy”, we will express that we care about the people. It’s also important to get a bit more personal when it comes to performance. Never assume but always try to find the root cause of why someone is feeling a certain way. Leaders should invest time in focusing their team members’ strengths, weaknesses, interests, and personal preferences. Everyone is different and there is no one size fits all approach.

It’s also important to mention that sharing appreciation is very important in remote teams. We shouldn’t possibly take it for granted. Positive feedback creates a huge impact, and it increases happiness. It’s important to say “thank you” thanks to KUDO cards.  They foster an improvement culture and at the same time, people want to be recognized and appreciated. It’s all about feedback and the deeper meaning of daily tasks. KUDO cards are better than yearly performance reviews or they can be added in daily operations as well.  We can also spice up KUDO cards and make them an internal ritual. This will surely build excitement and positive vibes among employees.