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Motivating your remote workforce.


Dr. Neil Morelli


6 ways to keep employees engaged when they’re working from home.

For many U.S. workers, working remotely is officially the new normal thanks to Covid-19. And while these newly minted remote workers may all have laptops, Zoom accounts, and Wi-Fi connections to collaborate, managers need to be thoughtful about how to keep them engaged.

Engaged employees feel like they are an important part of the organization. They understand their role on the team, which causes them to be more productive, and leads to better business outcomes. But even the most engaged workers can lose their steam when they are forced to work from home.

When someone is accustomed to daily, face-to-face contact, remote work can come as a shock. Many employees are motivated by the team dynamic. They encourage and inspire each other, driving engagement through constant interactions and support. When employees lose that workplace inspiration, they have to tap into their own well of self-motivation -- and not all of them have what it takes.

For employees who need human contact to feel engaged, remote work will be a struggle. But managers can reduce this risk by paying attention to their needs and finding ways to inspire camaraderie and connection from afar.

Here’s how:

  1. Trust but verify.

    If this is your first time managing a remote team, ignore the knee-jerk instinct to micromanage. Just because employees aren’t at their desks from 9-5 doesn’t mean they are slacking off.

    Research shows that employees can become more engaged in their jobs when they’re granted greater autonomy. Instead of giving in to the urge to check-in multiple times a day, give them more autonomy by measuring their productivity in terms of output. Are they meeting deadlines? Responding to emails? Pitching in to problem-solve? These are the metrics that tell you who is engaged and who needs more accountability to stay on track.
  2. Be specific about expectations.

    Deadlines and due dates are vital for remote workers. It helps them stay motivated and on-task even as household chores and homeschoolers beckon.

    When employees know what their leaders expect from them, especially when a supervisor or manager isn’t a few steps away, they see that manager as being fairer and more trustworthy. Fair leaders can be trusted, which makes it easier for employees to invest their energy and time in their work.
  3. Stay connected.

    It can be easy to lose track of high performers who are good at getting work done on their own and don’t need a lot of facetime.

    To ensure they (and everyone else) stay engaged, set specific communication expectations. A weekly team call, daily progress reports, and/or frequent updates via Slack or other communication platforms will give you the touchpoints you need to stay connected with everyone on your team.
  4. Think about their personalities.

    Some people’s personalities will more naturally thrive in a remote work situation, while others will flounder. Employees who you know are proactive problem solvers, assertive in new situations, and self-motivated will likely do well by themselves. But those who require a lot of feedback, guidance, and hand-holding will need more frequent conversations and reminders to stay on track.
  5. Check on people as well as projects.

    Workers who feel trusted and supported are more engaged and productive – whether they work in the office or not. To inspire that engagement from afar, check-in regularly to see how they are doing.

    Inquire about their office set up and family situation in this crisis, ask if they need any help on current projects, and let them know they can reach out if they feel isolated or stuck. If they feel supported, they will do better work and be happier.
  6. Create a virtual watercooler.

    Teams need camaraderie to stay engaged -- now more than ever. Before we were social distancing, shared lunches, after-work cocktails, and even casual interactions were how we built relationships and wove fun into daily workflows.

    To maintain those connections, consider hosting a weekly virtual happy hour or digital yoga class, create a Slack channel dedicated to life in quarantine, or create a friendly email chain to help teams maintain personal connections while they are stuck at home. These virtual touchpoints won’t fill the void of isolation, but they will help maintain engagement until we can all come back to work.

This quarantine won’t last forever, but chances are remote work will become a lasting part of your corporate culture – at least for some employees.

The sooner you adopt techniques to engage and motivate these employees in a remote setting, the more productive your future workforce will be.

Employee drinking coffee and meeting virtually with his team

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