The option for remote work is growing in popularity: it’s estimated that 3.9 million Americans work remotely, and that number is expected to continue to rise to a staggering one third of the working population in the next decade. It’s a popular benefit to offer in recruiting new employees, too - in a recent survey of millennials by Deloitte, 75% of respondents noted they prefer to have the ability to work remotely.
However, a common question and concern amongst employers is how to motivate their remote employees, and to do so in a way that’s sustainable.
These four ways to motivate remote employees can foster a greater sense of team-belonging and higher productivity.
Use video calls for meetings instead of phone calls.
Remote work creates even more of a responsibility for team leaders: they have to consistently find ways to hold remote employees accountable, communicate effectively, and gage productivity, usually over just one daily conversation at most. This can present a challenge when the team isn’t together.
After meeting in person, the second-best way to communicate with employees is via video-call, because much of communication is actually conveyed through body language. It will be easier to notice through a video call if an employee appears unhappy or uninspired than via a phone call, and in the same vein, a leader’s energy for the company can become more contagious over a video call. It also just feels more personal than a phone call - as if you’re actually with the person you’re talking to.
Assign clear tasks and measurements of performance.
Remote employees tend to be more productive partly because their work is assignment-based, rather than based on their time in the office. Whereas many in-office employees may work slower because they have to be in the office until 5:00pm, remote employees are motivated to get their work done quickly so they can get on with their days at home or elsewhere. The fruits of these spurts of productivity often produce better results faster.
So, it’s important that employees feel a clear sense of direction on what their work should be on a daily basis. Motivate them to do their best work by assigning straightforward tasks and assignments, and be clear on what’s expected from their work in terms of performance. Each employee should have a clear picture of their agenda items for the week ahead, with a step-by-step process for how they will deliver. Include casual performance reviews more frequently in video meetings if tweaks need to be made.
Create a company culture by showing an investment in employees’ wellbeing.
A way to ensure remote employees feel as though they’re part of the team is to create personal relationships with them and build a sense of investment in their wellbeing. For example: set video meetings within time windows that work best for their schedules and are less likely to interfere with sleep, as recent research has found that there’s a correlation between lack of sleep and depression. Remote workers are more likely to have different sleep schedules, depending on if they’re more productive early in the morning or late at night.
Get to know how your employees work best and what their lifestyles look like, then take these learnings into consideration as you schedule future meetings and assign future tasks. They’ll notice how you incorporated their unique preferences into assignments, which can spark a reciprocal sense of investment regarding their place on the team and how they serve the company.
A sense of teamwork and personal investment can also be communicated in small gestures, such as mailing them a book they would enjoy on their birthday or sending a quick text to catch up socially from time to time. Creating this convivial sense of friendship has been proven to increase employee happiness at work.
Find ways to connect employees to the overarching business mission.
Finally, if an employee wholeheartedly believes in what they’re working on, their motivation will be natural.
Dr. Richard Smith is the Founder and CEO of Trade Stops, which offers a more disciplined way to invest. Similar to trading, Smith thinks enforcing your mission in a systematic way, rather than relying on gut or emotion, is key to connecting remote employees to a mission. “The key to managing and motivating an in-person or remote workforce is having a mission driven business. That mission ensures all stakeholders are aligned and supporting the same vision, with a culture that reinforces that mission. When people believe in what they’re working for, motivation follows.”
Connecting employees to a mission is most easily done in an office environment, when the team is together everyday and feels a collective sense of devotion to the company’s mission. How can the same motivation be translated to employees that are never together?
The first step to connecting employees to a business mission is to communicate the company’s values effectively. When assigning tasks, make sure to zoom out to give the employee the full picture of how their work can propel the company forward, and how the company’s success serves a mission that they can support.
This consideration is also important in the hiring process. Make sure to ask questions in interviewing that help you understand the employee’s intentions in working for the company. Are their individual motivations and interests aligned with the company mission? They’re more likely to stay motivated in their work on their own if that alignment is there from the start.
These four ways to motivate remote employees are best when put into action simultaneously. Make tweaks according to your leadership style and company culture. Remember: the best remote employees will be those who understand the company mission from the get-go and feel a sense of commitment to the team. While you can enact quite a few strategies to motivate them, the most compelling form of motivation is internal. Keep this in mind when hiring.