Motivating Your Teams When You Are in Different Locations

July 2020 | By Brian Cole, Ph.D.

When I coach leaders, I often discuss how to keep people motivated. But COVID-19 has added a twist: “How can I motivate my teams—both in-office and remotely?” How do you keep people motivated when you’re not in the same building?

original_1725467707_Leader (002)

You still do what you’ve always done to motivate them: Provide clear direction, keep them engaged, check in to review progress and remove barriers—and above all, give plenty of performance feedback. Encourage them when they do well, and give constructive feedback when they need help. These are the keys to successful leadership, and always have been.

The difference today is how you deliver your direction and feedback. It’s easier in the office: stop by to talk (honoring policy/preferences for social distancing and masks), assemble a small group in a space that allows proper distancing, or meet over lunch. But if you have a team working remotely, or a team that is split between office and home, how do you motivate everyone—no matter where they are working?

Here is my advice from many years of working with organizations and coaching leaders in the Fortune 100:

  1. Know your people. If you know them well—their passions, concerns, barriers, needs—then you can provide effective encouraging motivators, even when they’re quarantined. Motivating your remote teams just requires more planning.
  2. Never leave motivation to chance. Don’t assume that everyone can self-motivate when working remotely or on hybrid teams. Some people do this well; others need strong leadership to keep them engaged, productive, and confident about working remotely. This is a new environment for many. The impact of every little thing you do and say is amplified by the challenges of remote work.
  3. Motivating your teams must be planful and purposeful. This is especially important with people who are working from home. Part of this is intentional listening. With remote employees, whether online or a phone, listen intently for stress, concerns, and negative attitude, as well as positive feelings and enthusiasm. Reinforce those things that are positive, and take time to gain a clear understanding of those things that may be challenging or not going well.  Work together to ensure barriers to performance are removed.
  4. Quality communication is motivating. Especially with remote employees, check in regularly on your team’s progress, as well as individual progress. But don’t overstep boundaries; only check in as needed. How often is that? It depends on the situation and individuals, of course. For some people, several times a week. For others, maybe every two weeks. Be sensitive to the “need” you sense from them.
  5. The criterion for communications is quality, not length. Even a 2-minute thank-you call can be motivating. Say the same things you would in person, and listen carefully to make sure the communication is working.
  6. Make timely decisions. Be prompt in decision-making to avoid frustration. Be available for decision-making. Don’t waffle or postpone. Decisions are motivating, even ones that people may not want to hear. Indecisiveness means you are not leading. Your decisiveness reassures employees: they may not be in the office, but they have your attention, and can work as effectively as if they were there with you.
  7. Engage them. Through practicing the items above, engaging and motivating your remote teams will be just as effective as if they were all together in the office. Don’t think of this situation as fundamentally different from a standard office environment. It’s just the navigation that’s different. It takes time, practice, and all your leadership skills.

Here’s a neat fact to remember: the words “motivate” and “remote” share similar roots in Latin. Both mean “to move.” Your job as a leader is to motivate your remote employees, as well as those in-office, to move forward in these trying times.

You also may find these posts valuable: Leading Virtual Teams: Strengthening Your Relationships and How To Motivate Teams When They Are Tired.

Topics: Leadership, Leading Remote Teams, Managing Remotely

Brian Cole, Ph.D.

Written by Brian Cole, Ph.D.