Running your business from no fixed address has huge advantages, including cost savings, location independence, and the ability to hire the best talent wherever they may be. But it also precludes lots of things, such as impromptu pep talks, bringing in a box of donuts to boost the mood on Friday, and even spontaneous group silliness.

Having no office, in other words, ties your hands when it comes to lots of traditional motivation strategies. What are the best techniques to replace them with?

That's the question Elizabeth Presson tackled recently on Medium; she's a remote-team veteran and organizer of the Yonder conference for leaders of dispersed organizations. Presson delves into what exactly drives happy remote workers, and in the process of her interesting discussion, offers several actionable insights for managers of this sort of team.

1. Keep your vision front and center

All employees need to understand why their work matters and how it fits into the bigger picture to perform at their optimum level, but this is even more essential for those who are physically distant and have to lean more heavily on the company's vision, rather than office camaraderie.

So how do you constantly keep that vision front and center? Presson offers a real-world example. "Lullabot, a 50-person distributed agency, does this in a few different ways," she writes, "with an open books policy for the company's finances and regular updates from the management team that could otherwise feel distant. A monthly 'Weather Report' discloses the company's monthly financial performance with notes on how strategies are affecting the bottom line. A monthly executive update is used to communicate the company's vision. By covering topics like 'Why the company is growing' and 'How to combat isolation,' the executive update also helps guard Lullabot's unique culture. Lullabot's frequently cited Core Values document serves as a foundation for both." 

2. Promote serendipity

Think you need to be co-located to have chance encounters and unexpected interactions? It certainly doesn't hurt, but there are ways to "simulate serendipity," according to Presson, who provides a practical example of how to achieve this.

"It's easy to overlook the casual get-to-know-you conversations that happen naturally in an office environment," she writes, offering a technique used by Upworthy. "Each week, a randomized spreadsheet pairs Upworthy team members for half-hour conversations. There's no set agenda, just a required call. One week you might be paired with the CEO, the next you might be chatting with the intern."

3. Give plenty of real-time feedback

It's hard to give your remote team the sort of small, constant adjustments and encouragements that are likely to keep them most motivated, Presson concedes, but it is still possible.

"Feedback has to be built into a distributed company's daily routine," she writes. "Chat systems like Slack can offer huge value: They give managers and team members a space to offer recognition and virtual pats on the back ... more formalized recognition tools include regular 'props reports': a scheduled newsletter that goes out to the whole team, letting everyone know what awesome things team members have accomplished recently." Marketing and tech company Fire Engine RED has found "props reports" to have a big impact.

Leaders of remote teams, what motivation boosting tricks have worked for you?

Published on: Oct 9, 2014