How to Motivate Remote Team Members to Collaborate Effectively and Productively

A Guide To Shifting How You Work Online

In previous blog posts we talked about how to stay motivated while working remotely. These posts focused on individual experiences with remote work and were about finding motivation on your own despite the difficulties that remote work poses. However, now it’s time to shift the focus away from individual team members and toward teams as a whole.

How do you motivate remote teams? There are two parts to this question. One is how to motivate teams and groups of people. This is naturally very different from motivating yourself. You know yourself, what you like, and your aspirations, hopes, and abilities. With teams, though, there may be a multiplicity of different goals and aspirations. Motivating teams, therefore, comes down in part to uniting these different goals together.

The other part of the question is how to motivate remote teams specifically. With many teams shifting to remote work or hybrid work styles, motivating teams has taken on new meanings and new challenges for managers, team leaders, and anyone interested in keeping their team productive and on-task. As a result, it may be necessary to shift to new methods and work structures in order to motivate and engage remote and hybrid teams. 

Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Motivation  

We can break motivation into two parts: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from within each individual person. It is how people relate to a certain task or job and what they feel they will gain from it personally (skills, validation, development, etc.) Intrinsic motivation is what we talked about before, in terms of motivating ourselves while working remotely. 

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from outside ourselves. It usually refers to reward systems, like payments and honors for work and a worker’s “buy-in” or incentives for working that are given to them by their company or team. However, I think extrinsic motivation, in the case of work, is also connected to company culture and structure. 

Team structures and cultures that value members and provide psychologically safe environments are necessary to motivate teams, even if a specific rewards system is already in place. 

A lot of the issues concerning motivating remote teams boil down to issues with extrinsic motivation and how to communicate extrinsic motivators to a remote team. Specifically, the changes in team culture and structure, including transformations in regular channels of communication caused by a shift to remote work lead to certain dislocations in extrinsic motivation that can often go unnoticed or unaddressed.

What this means is that older structures for providing extrinsic motivation need to be reexamined. Before, it was easier to communicate face-to-face when things went wrong or when team members were having difficulties. Now, there needs to be a little more thought put into this process.  

Specific Extrinsic Motivation Issues With Remote Teams Using The  Five Behaviors Model 

In order to address those issues that are specific to remote teams, I’m going to use The Five Key Behaviors model, created by Patrick Lencioni and explained very nicely in a blog post by Iris Culp. 

The model identifies five (generalized) “behaviors” or indicators that successful teams exhibit: trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and results. In the following, I will go through each of these categories and discuss some of the issues related to motivating remote teams and what can be done about it.

1. Trust (vulnerability)

•Working separately and without constant interaction can lead to a lack of trust between team members 

•Without seeing what other people are doing, management can become distrustful of teams, or may resort to using technology that tries to monitor members more carefully.

•Even technological tools like videoconferencing and messaging can sometimes create disruptions or breakdowns in regular communication that can engender mistrust. 

What to do about it: Create more trust in your remote team by strengthening communication and letting remote team members work without constant monitoring. Investigate and experiment with different communication tools that allow your team to communicate effectively and transparently without sacrificing their privacy.  

2. Conflict (productive conflict and conflict resolution)

• There may not be good or efficient ways of managing conflict that emerges, or in creating avenues for productive conflict to flourish when team members are dispersed. 

• There are greater incentives to call out individuals in front of the whole group when everyone is together, rather than handling certain conflicts with specific individuals.

•It may be harder to notice conflicts that are bubbling below the surface on video conferences or Slack channels.

What to do about it: Make sure that all team members are being heard and have the ability to voice opinions and critiques. Talk to individual team members when there are problems as much as possible, and be attentive and proactive towards conflicts that could arise. In order to have productive large-group discussions over video chat, you might have to change the way meetings are held, like using break-out rooms to conduct smaller discussions or online whiteboard apps to facilitate brainstorming sessions.   

3. Commitment (buy-in)

• Some remote team members might feel left out of the decision-making process, or may be unclear about what was decided at a meeting. 

• The lack of boundaries between work and personal lives can create confusion about vacation policies and time off. 

What to do about it: Be clear about your decision-making process and include as many team members as you can when making decisions that affect the structures surrounding remote work, including vacation policies and time off. Have open and honest conversations about these issues when they arise and maintain consistency.

4. Accountability (responsibility)

• The switch to remote work can leave some team members unclear about their responsibilities and how they have changed.

• The lack of personal, face-to-face interaction and clearly defined and updated roles can lead to issues of accountability between team members and with management. 

• Communication difficulties and team member dispersion can make it harder to enforce accountability among team members.

What to do about it: Again, clarity is key. Be clear about what team members’ roles and responsibilities are and what happens if they fail to meet them. Things may be different now, and so policies and expectations may have to change. But while it may be more difficult, you should still try to engage with team members on an individual level when there are issues in order to maintain accountability. 

5. Results

• It may be harder for team members to see the larger picture and how they fit into the successes of the team when they are working remotely on their own.

• Remote work can sometimes make it more difficult to find the time and space to discuss bigger picture/team-wide goals and results.

• It is less easy to celebrate successes altogether and easy to forget the necessity of doing so. 

What to do about it: Broadcast results and performance to the remote team as much as possible and let everyone in on what’s going on throughout the team. Schedule time to talk about long-term and team-wide goals together. Make time for celebrating successes and relaxing together after a stressful project, even if it has to be done online (there are a lot of great ways to spend time together as a team, including online team building activities). 

Conclusion

As you can see, many of the issues facing motivation on remote are not so fundamentally different from those facing in-person teams. What is different is that it’s harder, in general, to effect extrinsic motivation when everyone is dispersed and mostly on their own.

But just because it’s more difficult doesn’t make it impossible. It just requires a bit more thought and effort, especially when it comes to rethinking the structures of work that we are used to and communicating with team members. Working remotely online means having to think a little bit differently about how to connect your team to their goals and to connect your team to each other. And that may not be such a bad thing for teams after all. 

Invite Japan is committed to helping remote and hybrid teams stay motivated together. We offer a wide range of online and in-person activities that strengthen communication, teamwork, and the relationships that hold your team together. Contact us for more information! 

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