Since 58.25% of businesses plan to stay partially remote and another 26.25% will remain completely distributed for the foreseeable future, it’s the perfect time to learn how to motivate remote employees.

58.25% of companies plan to combine remote and in-office work in the future

Motivation is a common concern for all kinds of leaders. Even without pandemic-related stress, 29% of employees state that they’re not motivated at work. If you’ve ever dealt with low motivation in your team, you know how frustrating it can be for everyone involved.

When your remote team lacks motivation, it can be tough to turn things around.

That’s why we wrote this article.

Motivation is one of the things we’re really good at. The Hubstaff team works hard and gets things done together, even though we work in a dozen different time zones. Yes, really — 12 time zones.

Whether you’re new to remote team management or you’ve got years of experience leading at a distance, this article will teach you to diagnose and fix motivation issues in your remote team.

Types of motivation

If you want your team to show more drive, it’s handy to understand how motivation works.

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Motivation falls into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic. Both of these things exist within your remote team. You can learn to recognize and use them to help inspire your team members.

At a high level, motivation is related to what people want. The core of motivating is helping your team see how they can get what they want from their work, whether it’s personal fulfillment or a feeling of importance. Help your team get what they want and they’ll take your company to the next level.

Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation is related to internal factors. If you’re intrinsically motivated, you do something because you find it personally rewarding. For example, you read novels or watch TV shows because you enjoy those activities.

intrinsic motivation

There’s a system called the Job Characteristics Model that recommends focusing on these five areas to increase your team’s intrinsic motivation:

  • Skill variety – Does this job involve a variety of interesting tasks, or is it repetitive and simple? The most desirable jobs offer variety.
  • Task identity – Do team members complete a task from beginning to end, or are they responsible for limited steps? People who are responsible for an entire task feel more connected and responsible for their work.
  • Task significance – Does the work have an impact on people’s lives? When team members feel like their actions have an impact, they’re more motivated.
  • Autonomy – Can your team members make decisions on their own, or do they need to get approval? People who are free to decide how to do their job (with clear feedback) are likely to feel motivated.
  • Feedback – How much insight do team members have about their work, either through manager feedback or tracking their progress? Without feedback, your team will doubt that you care about the work they do.

Extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation is outcome-focused — you do something to earn a reward or avoid punishment. For example, you’re extrinsically motivated if you take a boring online course because it will help you get the promotion you want.

extrinsic motivation

According to the expectancy theory of motivation, these three elements need to come together for an external reward to be an effective motivator:

  • Expectancy – Your team needs to expect that an increase in effort will increase performance. In other words, they need to believe that they can control the outcome.
  • Instrumentality – An increase in performance needs to result in a reward. That means that your team needs to believe that their hard work will pay off.
  • Valence – People need to want the reward you’re offering. If they don’t want it, they won’t work harder for it.

Keep in mind that these are only motivators if they’re achievable. When a team member feels like they can’t reach their goals or they don’t trust that you’ll deliver on your promises, they are actually demotivated.

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The importance of keeping your team motivated while working from home

Unmotivated employees are less productive. They can have an impact on other team members’ productivity, motivation, and enthusiasm, too. In other words, demotivation is contagious.

That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to attitudes in your team. When you take steps to help your team feel more motivated, lots of good things happen.

  • Increased productivity – If team members are highly motivated, they’ll work faster and contribute more, boosting their productivity.
  • Reduced absenteeism – Motivated employees are happy to be at work and are less likely to be absent from work frequently.
  • Improved proactiveness – Motivated team members tend to be more proactive and look for ways to improve how the company does things.
  • Reduced team member turnover – Motivated employees are more likely to stay at their current job.

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How to measure team member motivation (Survey Template)

The first step to any improvement plan is to find your baseline. Measuring team motivation tells you where you are now and whether or not your efforts work.

While you can get a general idea of your team’s mindset in several ways (e.g., by monitoring absenteeism rates or checking in with each team member), the best way is a motivation assessment survey.

For best results, try to keep your survey short. Don’t ask more than ten questions. This should be a quick and easy task for your team.

e.g., Do you feel stimulated and engaged with your work? (Yes/No)

You can then ask questions to help you understand the relationship between the team member and their direct manager.

e.g., How often does your manager take your suggestions into consideration? (Never/Once in a while/About half the time/Most of the time/Always)

Finish the survey with a few open-ended questions to get a better insight into what motivates your employees.

e.g., What could we do to improve your job motivation?

Busy team members are more likely to skip open questions because they take longer to answer. At the same time, those open answers are often the most insightful for you as a leader. Choose a couple of questions that are important and save the rest for later.

Want help creating your questionnaire? Get our free template here:

9 strategies to keep your team motivated remotely

1. Set clear expectations

It’s hard for your team to be motivated about their work if they don’t know what you expect them to do or accomplish. Be clear about each team member’s responsibilities and your company’s overall goals.

Let your team know what kind of behavior you expect. For example, you might want a team member to do all of these things:

  • Be available during certain times of the day
  • Reply to messages promptly during work hours
  • Provide status updates at the end of each workday

When setting expectations regarding performance, be specific.

For example, your customer support team members should know that you expect them to have an average satisfaction rating of 4 stars throughout the year. Your development team should know their defect rate or on-time percentage goals.

Performance expectations must be realistic and something team members can directly influence. Otherwise, they might backfire and cause your team to become demotivated. If you want your support agents to hit overall sales goals, but your biggest source of sales is your website, that’s not realistic.

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2. Show team members how they contribute to company goals.

Wondering why you’re doing a task, especially if it’s boring, can make you hate doing that work. Show team members how their tasks contribute to company goals so they understand why that work matters.

People feel more motivated when they can see how their job fits into the bigger picture.

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You know that you would never assign pointless work. Still, the team member who spends hours working on a presentation that you look at for five minutes feels like they wasted their time.

So, how do you show team members that their work matters?

Start by sharing results with team members. You can do this through company-wide meetings, public dashboards, or internal reports.

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When sharing company results, make sure to:

  • Decide which information you’ll share beforehand – You don’t have to share everything with your team. Think about the information and metrics your team would benefit from knowing. We believe in transparency at Hubstaff, but that’s not appropriate for every business.
  • Do it regularly – Sharing company results with your team needs to happen regularly. A monthly all-hands meeting is a great place to do this.
  • Showcase each team member’s impact – It’s not always easy to see the impact an individual makes on the big picture. Make sure to explain how each team member contributes to your company’s bottom line.

On an individual level, talk to your team members about the importance of their role and the reasons you want them to do specific tasks. Creating charts and spreadsheets is tedious work, but if the person doing it understands that this information tells the CMO what they need to know to make decisions on strategy, it feels more fulfilling.

3. Recognize achievements

According to a Harvard Business Review study, 40% of employees would put more effort into their work if management recognized their efforts more often.

Recognize individual and team achievements. Praise your team members for their hard work if you want them to stay motivated.

Apart from improving motivation, team member recognition increases retention and loyalty.

If you want your recognition to have a positive impact on motivation, it must be:

  • Genuine – Be honest and sincere. Accurately describe what your team member did to deserve recognition, and make it clear that you truly appreciate it.
  • Specific – Generic comments rarely motivate employees. When praising a team member, be specific about what they did and why it matters. In other words, don’t just say that they’re a hard worker. Point out that they finished all of their projects ahead of schedule this week.
  • Timely – Don’t wait until a team meeting or performance review to recognize someone’s achievements. Get in the habit of thanking people in the moment, and publicly praise good work as soon as it comes to your attention.
  • Appropriate – The way you recognize good work should be proportionate. Big achievements might deserve a public announcement and a bonus, while other situations might call for a short Slack message saying thanks. Don’t go overboard if the situation doesn’t call for it, and make sure you spot and reward the big stuff appropriately.

Wondering how to recognize and reward your team members’ efforts? Here are a few ideas:

  • Call a team member on the phone and thank them
  • Create a public Slack channel just for recognizing accomplishments
  • Reward them with an Amazon gift card
  • Send them a gift basket
  • Donate to a charity of their choice

At Hubstaff, we have a slack channel called #hubstars where all team members are encouraged to call out their coworkers’ achievements.

4. Check-in regularly

Keeping your team’s motivation up is an ongoing process. That’s why you should check in with each team member regularly to see how they’re doing.

Check-ins allow you to gauge motivation on an individual level and address any issues that are getting in the way.

At a minimum, check in with each team member once every two weeks. Check-ins should be one-on-one so that you can honestly discuss how things are going, including career advancement and development opportunities.

For an effective one-on-one meeting, make sure to:

  • Prepare a meeting agenda – Write down your talking points and expectations for the meeting. Ask your team member to add topics they’d like to discuss to the agenda before the meeting.
  • Ask open-ended questions – Some of your team members might have a hard time opening up during one-on-one meetings. Asking open-ended questions like this can help:
    • Do you enjoy the work you currently do?
    • Are there any other tasks you’d like to add to your workload?
    • How is your workload now?
    • Have you run into any issues completing your current tasks?
  • Discuss career goals – Always leave some time to discuss career goals. Ask where they see themselves in a year or two, then set goals to help them get there. Maybe you need to set aside time for skills training or ask them to take the initiative and suggest improvements.
  • Make notes – Remember to make notes during the meeting. Write down the topics you discussed and note any additional comments that might be helpful for your next meeting.

5. Trust your team

Do any of these sound like you?

  • You don’t like delegating tasks
  • You want to make all the decisions and solve all the problems
  • You ask to be CC’d on every email

If that’s you, you’re signaling to your team that you don’t trust them.

Micromanagement and second-guessing can be very demotivating. It can also reduce team morale and harm productivity.

If you want to boost your team’s motivation, trust them to do their job.

Once you assign a task to a team member, let them do it without interfering — unless they ask for help. That’s one of the reasons we created Hubstaff. Instead of interrupting work to check progress, you have the visibility you need. It’s easier to trust your team when you know the data is there.

Each time you delegate a task, be clear about the results you expect. Accept that sometimes a team member won’t perform a task exactly like you would have done. Don’t expect perfection, and give your team members a chance to succeed or learn based on their own merit.

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6. Help employees set up a dedicated workspace

While remote work comes with plenty of benefits, it can also be a challenge. For example, they might not have a dedicated workspace at home. Their work environment might affect productivity and motivation.

They might have small children or other family members at home during the day, yet no spare room to turn into an office. Having to deal with constant interruptions throughout your workday can be both stressful and demotivating.

You can address this by providing team members with a budget to set up a private workspace at home.

This budget will allow them to buy the equipment and accessories they need, like noise-canceling headphones to reduce interruptions or an ergonomic chair to prevent back pain.

You can also consider letting employees use the budget to pay for a coworking space. These budget-friendly offices provide internet access and basic amenities such as meeting rooms and printers.

7. Take care of your team’s health

The fact that motivation drops when team members feel unwell should be no surprise. To avoid this, you need to devise a strategy for taking care of your team’s health.

The majority of businesses understand this, which is why 70% of them have a wellness program. According to team members, these programs are successful at helping them detect and prevent diseases, pay more attention to their health, and lose weight.

So, how do you form a team member wellness program?

A gradual transition is less stressful and more practical.

Start by paying more attention to your team and whether they feel tired or stressed out. While this might be more difficult to do in a remote team, it’s not impossible.

You can use team and one-on-one meetings, surveys, and participation in optional group discussions to gauge how team members are feeling.

If team members say they’re tired or stressed out, ask why. Talk to them about what you can do to help them take care of their health better. Do they need a more generous time-off policy, a flexible work schedule, or something else? Read more about employee happiness here.

Make sure to discuss all of this with your team before implementing any changes. Wellness programs can be a big investment, so make sure you choose things that your team will actually use.

8. Encourage passion projects

Your team members likely have talents and interests that go beyond their job role. Recognize these and put them to good use. A person who is empowered to use all of their skills will be more motivated and excited about their work.

Passion projects are a great outlet for this type of creative energy. At Hubstaff, our Hobbies slack channel is one place where we showcase our passions and inspire new projects.

Don’t be afraid that these projects will take time away from team members’ day-to-day responsibilities and hurt your company. Some of Google’s most successful products, such as Gmail and AdSense (now Google Ads), for example, were team member passion projects.

Passion projects don’t necessarily need to be related to employees’ core job responsibilities. It’s even better if they’re not. These projects give team members a nice change of pace from their regular day-to-day work.

You can bring up passion projects during one-on-one meetings. Ask each team member what they’re interested in and what they’d like to work on if given the opportunity.

If they express a desire to build or create something new, encourage them and provide them with a way to make it happen. For example, consider letting team members use 10% of their work hours to work on a passion project.

9. Provide opportunities for professional growth and development

Team members can get discouraged if they don’t see how they can grow within your company. They might even start looking for better opportunities elsewhere.

To prevent this, talk to your team members about their goals and show them how they can advance. Make sure also to advertise all your new job openings internally so that current employees can apply.

Team members are also demotivated if they feel like they can’t do their job well. You can address this by providing opportunities for professional development like training, chances to work on new projects, and mentorship programs.

The easiest way to do that is to give your team a professional development stipend to spend on books, courses, and other educational resources. At Hubstaff, we have a freedom stipend that team members can use for whatever they want:

If you want to take a more hands-on approach to help team members develop their skills, you can organize online workshops and virtual lunch-and-learns, as well as set up a mentor system within your leadership.

It’s crucial to take inventory of your team’s skills and knowledge before deciding on development opportunities. This insight will help you understand which skills they lack and what type of training they would benefit from the most.

Next steps

It’s time to take action. Here’s what to do next.

  • Measure your team’s motivation – Use the motivation survey template to create a survey to gauge your team’s motivation and determine what might be demotivating team members.
  • Pick two strategies from our list – Take another look at our list of strategies and choose two that you think would work best for your team. Add a task to your to-do list for creating a plan on how to implement those strategies.
  • Bookmark this article. There’s a lot of information here, and you won’t remember every word on your first pass. Bookmark this article and come back to it when you’re ready to try the next strategy.

This post was originally published in April 2019. It was updated in May 2021.

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Category: Remote