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Motivating a Virtual Team

People do things for 2 key reasons – to avoid pain or receive pleasure. Or at least that is what we used to think. However many books (such as Help! I’m a Manger by Arnold Mol or Drive by Daniel H. Pink) have been written on the subject, and after numerous behavioral studies across many years, it turns out those reason may not really be motivation.

If a donkey is standing in a field and I want it to move to the other side of the field, I can get it to do so by hitting it on the rump with a stick, or dangling a carrot in front of it – the carrot or stick approach. However, that is different than if the donkey decides to go to the other side of the field because it wants to. The former is not really motivation, it is movement. It is getting the donkey to move from one point to the other. The latter is truly motivation.

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As Arnold Mol points out in his book, when a person carries out a task due to a reward or for punishment avoidance, they are being moved. It doesn’t mean that they like the work they are performing, but they are willing to do it for the sake of what they can get (or avoid) by doing it. However, when a person carries out a task because they truly want to, it is true motivation, not movement.

This is a key thing to keep in mind when working with a virtual team, because movement must be constantly re-charged, whereas motivation is more self-charged. If you give your employee an extra bonus for doing an extra project, in future, when you ask them to do another extra project, their response will be “show me the money.” This is the carrot approach which only leads to movement. However, if someone completes an extra project because they are proud of what they can accomplish, then you have achieved true motivation, and they will gladly embrace future extra projects.
Motivating a Virtual Team

A virtual team doesn’t always get the same things to drive them in their work that those in an office environment get, such as Halloween custom contest, free Friday Pizza lunch, birthday celebration in the break room, etc….  Therefore it is more critical that managers find ways to truly motivate employees so that it is self-charged by the employee.

So how do you achieve true motivation for your employees? It all comes down to pride. This comes from feeling good about abilities and accomplishments. Remote managers need to arouse that feeling of self-esteem to best motivate employees. The key areas where a manager can motivate through pride include:

  • Ownership/pride in client, company, and work
  • Pride and appraisal in job
  • Sense of accomplishment
  • Control in job – decision making, idea sharing

By focusing on these key areas you can truly motivate rather than move your virtual team of employees, which will give you long term positive results.[/wlm_ismember]

Why remote teams need an accountability system – a story

When working with remote teams, it is easy to fall into a micromanagement role, constantly inquiring about every task to make sure it gets accomplished. This actually leads to the opposite of your goal; employees take less responsibility and accountability to reach the goals and tasks. How does this happen?

I have done a lot of management consulting for many different companies over the years. In one instance I was at a company’s multi-day corporate sales meeting. During that meeting, every time they gave a 10 minute break, at the 10 minute mark, the Vice President would tell all of the managers to go out into the building and round up their sales teams, so they would come back to the room and start the meeting. This was ineffective for several reasons:

  • The managers couldn’t spend their own break doing anything productive because they had to be ready to go gather their employees
  • The managers resented their employees because their employees couldn’t be accountable for their own time and they had to “babysit” them
  • The employees never looked at their watch to see when the 10 minute break was up for them to return. Why should they when their manager would come get them.
  • However, the employees resented the fact that their manager had to come tell them to return – “What were they, children?”

During the next break, I pulled the VP and managers aside and told them we were going to change strategy. After the 10 minutes was up, we were going to close the doors and start the meeting as planned, rather than rounding people up. If the sales people were not back, too bad.

After 10 minutes, only the VP and managers were back in the room. They closed the door and started the meeting. After another 10 minutes or so, the sales people started looking at their watches and wondering what was taking their managers so long to come get them. “Maybe they should go back to the meeting room to see what was going on.”

At the 20 minute mark, sales people started to return to the meeting room, realizing they were late and interrupting the meeting already in progress by walking in the room.

However, something very different happened after the next break – 95% of all sales people came back on time, after 10 minutes, without prompting from their managers.

As soon as they were held accountable by the potential embarrassment of being late or interrupting a meeting, they took responsibility to look at their own watches and meet the deadline.

You need to have some sort of accountability system in place for your remote teams, or else you ultimately have to be that system, which leads to micro-management and resentment from your team. The accountability system can be as simple as a weekly summary of progress they submit to you, or a dashboard where they enter their weekly goal obtainments. But in either case, it has to be driven by them and done frequently. Taking this approach builds the team’s responsibility for their actions, and frees up your time to focus on more important management tasks, ultimately keeping your team running productively.

Setting Expectations for Communications with Remote Teams

Communication is key in a Remote Team. Because it doesn’t happen automatically by sharing the same space in an office, it needs additional attention to ensure remote teams communicate effectively. This may entail setting some expectations around how you want the team to communicate including:

  1. Communication Frequency – Let the team know how often you’d like them to check in or touch base with you and each other each week. This will give those that tend to work silently a goal to strive toward.
  2. Communication Schedules – Set a weekly schedule for a team call as well as individual calls with each team member. This gives them a set time when they know they can share ideas, as well as get individual attention from you. It will help them plan for a more effective discussion if they know a consistent day and time.
  3. Working Hours – Remote employees may often work more varied hours than those in an office. However, it is OK as a manager to set key work hours that you expect them to be available for communication between team members and with you.
  4. Email Response Times – When you send an email to your team asking for feedback or information, how soon do you expect them to respond if you don’t set a specific deadline on the email? Within 6 hours? 1 day? 1 week? Set a team standard for when everyone should respond to emails from co-workers and you so there is no confusion on expectations.
  5. Communicating Goals and Progress – To help hold team members accountable to goals, post those goals, along with the team’s ongoing progress and obtainments in a place that everyone can view and share. Use this “Dashboard” to display the ongoing metrics and use it for discussion during weekly calls.

Setting clear communication expectations keeps the team engaged even when not in the same location. It will ensure there is no confusion on what is needed to keep them successful.

How to be a Successful Remote Employee

I’m often asked what employees need to learn about working remotely. The majority of success for a remote team is dependent on management – how the team is managed and the systems in place to support them. However there is one key area that remote employees can focus on: their visibility.

Remote EmployeeWhen an employee is not physically in a company office every day, it can be easy to lose sight of what they are doing, and how they are contributing to the company, for those that do not work directly with that employee. As well, remote workers have a concern that they will be “out of sight and out of mind” when it comes to company opportunities, promotions, etc. . . Here are some key ways that remote employees can ensure their work and efforts are highly visible to the company:

  • Tele-presence – Your tele-presence is your phone presence. Since you can’t talk to people face to face when you are working remotely, the phone needs to do that for you. We are often hesitant to pick up the phone unless we feel we have significant information to share, but we will more likely walk down the hall to chat with someone in a more minor thing. When we work off-site, we often resort to email for the more minor items. This is ok to do occasionally, but if you drastically reduce your verbal communication when teleworking, you need a different strategy. Jot down and collect ideas and notes on items you want to discuss with people, on a daily or weekly basis.   Then, rather than sending emails, pick up the phone to cover the multiple topics. This gives the call more substance, will save you time, from writing multiple emails, and will ensure better quality communication.
  • Remote Access – You want to ensure you can access all network tools remotely when you are not in the office. Can you handle e-mails, access shared files, and any other company information that you would gather when in the office? If not, figure out how you can leverage technology to do so. If you find yourself saying “That can wait until I’m back in the office”, because you don’t have your needed files or access, then you are not leveraging your remote access effectively.
  • SharePoint – Use your corporation’s Intranet such as SharePoint, to keep you visible. Post responses to discussion boards, post pictures and documents, or share blog articles. Have a sub-site created to collaborate with your team on a project.
  • Team Engagement – are you a team player? Do you support team members when they are struggling? You involvement with your team will not only increase your visibility with your team, but also with your company. The more successful your team is as a whole, the more you will be noticed. Also, find opportunities to build stronger relationships with those on your team. If you feel you don’t know someone well, call them to share ideas, work on a project together, or just talk to get to know each other better.
  • Solution Driven – Are you driven to find answers, or do you get hung up on the problem or why it can’t be done? Rather than presenting issues to others, always have some possible solutions and options to present with the issue. Don’t present issues for others to solve, but instead use them as a way to orchestrate your own creative results.
  • SelfDriven – Those that take action rather than waiting to be led by the hand, get the most visibility.   Take initiative – don’t wait for others to motivate you, create projects and tasks for you, or give you ideas. Leaders drive positive change and results rather than just being involved in them. As long as you work within your company and team’s guidelines, create opportunities to increase their success, and ultimately yours.

By focusing on these key items, remote employees can increase their visibility and ultimate success when working remotely.

Remote Manager MD

When managing a team of remote employees, how do you know if you have a healthy team?  When you don’t see your team all of the time, it can be tough to discover team issues.  However, there are many symptoms that can indicate signs of trouble.  If identified early enough, and corrected with the right management prescription, you can heal a team’s problem areas.  Below are some key symptoms and their corresponding remedies.

  • team_workThe team doesn’t work together – In general does the team not collaborate or reach out to each other for idea sharing?  Is it a team of independent mavericks working like independent entities?   If so, this could be a clear sign that they don’t feel like they are a cohesive unit.  They may not rely on other team members because they don’t recognize the value in them, or they are not aware of what they can offer them.

Managers can correct this type of team ailment, by building a team culture and finding ways for team to work together.   This will need to be continuously reinforced when opportunities arise:

  1. Create a sense of “team” by finding opportunities to get them to feel like they belong to a team and generating team “spirit.”  Create a team identity with a team logo, mission statement or motto.  Reinforce it by getting your team personal items that contain this logo or motto such as shirts, hats or coffee mugs.  Have the team participate as a group to come up with this motto.
  2. Find opportunities to celebrate with the team.  Highlight successes on calls (both individual and group).  Share funny stories about times together.
  3. Find opportunities for team members to work on projects together.  Pair up people who wouldn’t normal work together or who haven’t formed a visible bond.  If there are no current projects to pair them up on, have them come up with some best practices for a team issue, and share them with the team at the next call or meeting.
  • The “It’s not my job” syndrome – Do members of the team avoid helping others or avoid taking on extra tasks for the good of the team? Are they never willing to go above and beyond when a project needs it?  Are they “to busy?”  This could be an indicator that employees don’t feel supported, or don’t feel that there is any benefit for doing something outside of their job.  This can happen when major change happens in a company, if that change isn’t handled via good change management steps.  It can also happen if employees are over taxed or there are no clear job goals.  This symptom will also appear if there is a fear of job loss due to recent large company layoffs, or the threat of layoffs.

The best strategies for these issues involves priority and goal setting with employee involvement in  setting  their own goals, change management to prepare for upcoming company shifts, reinforcing and rewarding desired behaviors.

  1. Employees who are always handed their goals and priorities, will not feel ownership in them and can become demotivated.  Many managers find that if they ask their employees what goals they want to obtain (rather than dictating them), employees will stretch and accomplish farther than the manager would have set.   The most effective goal setting happens when priority and goal meetings are a continuous process between a manager and employee.  Ideally set quarterly goals with weekly check in conversations.  This helps employees stay focused on what is important to the team and company, and not lose sight by focusing on what they misperceive as important.   Goal setting also helps employees see the future (with them in it) if there are recent company layoffs.
  2. When companies are preparing for large changes, such as a new software implementation or processes, the best way to ensure employee buy in is to get them involved at the beginning, before the change happens.  Get their opinions and feedback.  Establish a change leader in each department to be involved in the initial pilot or development.  They will help carry a positive message back to their teams and help squash negative grumblings.
  3. Are employees rewarded for going the extra mile?  This doesn’t mean a monetary incentive, rather do they get positive accolades?  Is there a perceived benefit if they go the extra mile: they get to see their ideas implemented, they are included in team decisions more often, they can become a product expert, etc. . . If there is no perceived benefit, they will stop stretching.  Find way to reinforce the positive results of putting in the extra distance.
  • Employees don’t take initiative – If your employees don’t think out of the box or take initiative and need approval/affirmation for every little thing, it could be a good indicator that they are micro-managed.  When employees are not self-motivated, or seem to need a lot of hand holding, it means that they haven’t been trained, or encouraged, to make decisions or take initiatives without getting prior approval from their manager.   If they are always told what to do, they won’t do anything unless you tell them.

To stop the micro-management, find opportunities for employees to manage themselves.  Set parameters for them to work within, then let them make their own decisions within them.  Put systems in place for them to hold themselves accountable and encourage them to take initiatives.

  1. Set up the parameters for employees to work within, and define the end goal, but then let them make their own decisions within those parameters in reaching that goal.  Like putting up bumper guards at a bowling alley, the guards are the rules they need to play within, and the goal is to hit down all 10 pins.  However, how many times they bounce off the guards, how fast the ball goes, if there is a curve or spin on it, etc., are all up to the employee.
  2. Find ways for employees to hold themselves accountable.  If as a manager, you have to constantly ask employees if they have completed their tasks or met their goals, you will be wasting too much of your time that could be focused on more important strategic or macro view items.  Also, employees will resent you if you have to do this.  Instead, have employees track their own progress.  Work with them to set goals, and have them report weekly on how they are accomplishing those goals.  No one wants to come to their manager and tell them they did a bad job.  This self-accountability will free you up as a manager, and self-motivate your employees to reach goals.
  3. Encourage self-decision making through including them in team decisions and asking them their opinions.  By soliciting employee feedback and involving them in decisions, you will be teaching them the skills they need to take initiative.
  • Employees don’t apply or implement team policies or ideas – Do your employees implement team or company ideas or changes once they are informed of them?  Or do they seem to go into one ear and out the other?  They may be interpreting the message differently or may not know how to put it into practice.

To ensure that new ideas or policies actually get implemented, find ways to repeat and reinforce the message not only verbally, but within practice.  If ideas are just mentioned once and then you move on to the next, your employees will do the same.  It takes at least 12 times to make something a habit, so if you don’t get your employees to act on the idea at least 12 times, it will disappear.

  1. Are messages being clearly and consistently conveyed by all of management?  You want to make sure that the entire management team is on board and finding opportunities to repeat the message and its importance.  Repetition of the message by different persons, will also help bring clarity to employees of what the exact message is.
  2.  Are messages and decisions being reinforced with actions?  You can’t tell a team something once and forget about it.  You need to make sure that examples of the message are identified and incorporated in everyday practice.  Conduct action learning to practice the new idea.  Engage employees by bringing it up in conversations with them and ask how they have implemented it.

Employee’s consistently don’t meet deadlines or goals – have employees set their own goals, have them hold themselves accountable

Creating Accountability with a Distributed Workforce

When the term Micro-Manager is mentioned, it incites painful ideas of a manager that is smothering, controlling and demotivating. But the conundrum for most managers of field teams or distributed workforces is how to ensure that the job is getting done without over managing. Because a team of employees, spread across multiple locations, is not as easy to monitor with drop-in daily observations, like a centrally located team, many managers can overcompensate by trying to over control those things that they cannot see. Manager’s want their teams to reach all set goals, but without smothering them.
The key to ensuring management’s happiness with a team’s performance levels as well as the team’s happiness with their ability to spread their wings, is a combination of clearly outlining goals, creating responsibility, and generating individual accountability.

Setting the vision & creating expectations
Create VisionA good vision creates inspiration and motivation for a team which creates the catalyst to drive a team’s performance. When setting a vision, keep it at top level goals, not the specific tasks it takes to reach them (this is covered next). Because a remote team is more at risk for feeling disconnected from the company, they can tend to focus more time and energy on things that they perceive to be important but that might not really be of the most importance to the team or company. So setting a vision, and keeping a remote team focused on it, is critical to the team and company’s success.

Once the vision is set and communicated, expectations need to be created to define how the remote team will reach that vision. Every employee wants to do a good job, but they need to know what that looks like to obtain it. Creating the expectations, lets each employee know what they need to do to be successful, and what the end picture will look like.

Creating Responsibility
If you give someone the responsibility, they will more likely than not live up to it. However, if you don’t trust them with the responsibility, then they will never have a chance to reach it. Take a simple scenario observed at a corporate meeting where all sales people across the country met semi-annually to discuss the new product line and strategy. At this meeting, for the first 2 days, after every 10 minute break, the regional managers would go out to find their employees and alert them that the break was over and they needed to get back into the meeting room. As a result, over 75% of the sales reps never returned on time to the meeting and waited for their manager to alert them to return. They were conditioned that the manager would let them know, so they didn’t need to take the responsibility to look at their watches to see when 10 minutes was up. This approach removed the responsibility from the sales reps and placed it on the regional managers.

On the 3rd and 4th days, the regional managers took a different approach; they didn’t alert anyone when breaks were over and just started the meeting on time – even if everyone was not in the room. Those that arrived late (after the allotted 10 minutes for the break) had to disrupt the meeting to get to their seat. Those that arrived late more than once over the 2 days, were pulled aside on the next break for a discussion with the manager on the importance of being on time. By the end of the 4th day and the last (5th day) of the meeting, not one employee returned late to the meeting after break times. With the regional managers shifting the responsibility to the sales reps, it freed up their (the managers) time and made the sales reps responsible for their own actions. The key to this was setting the expectation and holding them accountable if they didn’t reach it.

This is a good example of a micro vs non-micro management approach. Releasing yourself from these micro management tasks frees up your time to focus on more important things. Increasing team member responsibility creates less management needs.

Accountability – Micro-monitoring vs micro-managing
Setting clear goals is like a virtual manager that keeps everyone focused without having to constantly look over their shoulder. However if you set these goals but don’t implement some sort of accountability and tracking system, YOU will ultimately have to be that system. This means a very time consuming, management intensive process of nagging employees, to inquire on how they are doing toward their goals, and micro-managing to ensure goals are met. The more you can empower your employees to track their own progress (with a simple delivery method to you), the better results you will get:

  • They will manage themselves
  • They will be more self motivated to reach their goals
  • You will empower them to be responsible for themselves which will demonstrate your respect and trust for them
  • You can free up your time to work with them on more productive items such as their talent development

Shared accountability creates a feeling of partnership with each team member. It also enables people to learn from both their successes and mistakes. So rather than micro-managing a team, a manager can enable them to micro-monitor their own individual performance.

To do this successfully, managers need to implement a tool that helps employees track their own progress. This tool should also be something that they can deliver to you with minimal effort. It should not be too time consuming and should be easy to decipher for both you and your employee. An Excel spreadsheet or Word table are good vehicles, or possibly an automated intranet system if that is available to the company. These should be completed and submitted weekly and monthly to keep everyone on track. Here are some things to consider when deciding what goals you would like them to track:

  1. Specific – Clearly outline the details of each goal so they know what to strive for.
  2. Measurable – they must be measurable. What will the successful completion of the goal look like? If it is subjective “Need to get better client service ratings”, there is room for argument on if they have succeeded on the goal. Is a .01% better rating successful? It could be argued that it is a better rating than 0. Instead set a metric such as “Need to have at least 85% excellent client ratings.
  3. Attainable – on the flip side, if goals are too hard, where more than likely most people won’t reach them, then people won’t feel motivated to reach them. Ie. “Increase your business by 100% this year”
  4. Results Oriented – if a goal is something that everyone does anyway “put details of each transaction in the system every day”, then it isn’t very motivating and becomes more of a busy work task in tracking it. These are processes in how things should be done in the business, but not a performance goal. These types of things should just be noted in an overall team process handbook, or in training. Make sure goals are geared to motivate people to stretch.
  5. Time Based – This can be another subjective area. It need to be clear and concise on when each metric should be obtained. “You need to have at least 85% excellent client ratings by the last day of the month.” Everyone is better motivated when they can keep a deadline date or timeframe in sight.

Once the goals are set, and a self-monitoring matrix system is put in place to track goals, set time frames on when each employee should deliver their tracked goals to you electronically. Then spend a portion of your regular communication with them reviewing the overview of the goals. Don’t fall into the trap of going through each individual item with them. Look at the matrix obtainments from a balcony view, to discuss trends or patterns with them. This will allow you to look at how their performance is doing overall, and coach them on their overall progress.

What can be monitored – how can we monitor it?
What must be managed – how can we manage it?
It is important as a manager to identify what can be monitored by the individual team members, and then create a tracking matrix that they use to deliver their progress. This will set their responsibility and create the accountability system. Start by identifying tasks and goals that they can track themselves, to enable them to micro-monitor themselves and free you up from micro-management. Secondly, it is important to identify what items must be managed because they cannot be self-monitored by an employee performance tracking system. Because enabling micro-monitoring through your employees will free up your management time, use it to focus on more of the talents that are critical to the team, but harder to track quantitatively. Look for qualitative things that are important to the business, to focus your management and coaching efforts with each employee on, such as: team work, creative ideas and innovations, strategic thinking, positive attitude, etc…

Micro-Managing Your Remote Team – How to Avoid this Common Pitfall

One of the biggest fears when managing a team of remote employees is that they won’t be working and getting the job done when you can’t see them. How do you know that they are spending their time wisely and doing things the correct way? Unfortunately, this fear can lead to micro-managing of employees, which can lead to the direct results you are trying to avoid.

When employees feel they are micro-managed, they feel overly controlled and become demotivated. This leads to a team that will not think outside of the box, or push themselves harder than they have to. They assume “why bother” – since everything is so tightly defined for them – there is little room for creativity and they will need to ask you for approval during each step, since they are not confident in proceeding without explicit direction.

Micro-ManagementSo how can you ensure that you have a motivated and productive team that is getting the job done correctly, without micro-managing them? The key is in giving them the responsibility to manage themselves and providing the vision and guidance when needed, rather than explicit instructions that are task focused.

Think of your team’s goals as a bowling alley. You want to clearly outline what the goal is – knock down all 10 pins in 2 or less shots, by rolling the ball. And you also want to define the boundaries for them to work within – like setting up the bumper guards in the lane. However, after that, you want to leave it to them to decide how to get the ball down the lane to accomplish the goal. Do they roll it fast or slow, do they use curve balls or straight shots, do they bank it off of the bumper guards several times – these decisions should be left in their hands.

By allowing your team to make all of these other decisions, they will learn what parameters they need to work within, and their goals to focus on. In turn, they will be able to make their own decisions within these limits and will only need to seek your advice when they have something that is outside of these parameters. This ensures that your team will not be paralyzed without your every authorization or decree, and will be motivated to seek new creative ways to enhance the team’s success.

The last step is to have them hold themselves accountable to their goals and have them report their success, or lack of, to you each week. By clearly setting goals and providing a weekly status report to you, they will hold themselves accountable for their goal attainment. No one wants to come to their manager and tell them they did a bad job. Everyone wants to be able to take pride in their achievements. By having them keep their goal attainment status on the top of every weekly conversation with you, they will be self-motivated to reach those goals.

Motivating Remote Employees by Making Work More Like Play


When you are managing a team of remote employees, it can be more challenging to keep them motivated, engaged and focused.  You need to know they are self-driven to do their best, even when you can’t be there to see them.  It’s a known fact that, employees who like their job and enjoy going to work, are more dedicated and self motivated.  One way you can ensure that your employees enjoy their job is to make their work more like play.  That doesn’t mean you should send your employees off to go ski the slopes or play a softball game, instead of working for the day.  But there are some key concepts we can apply, from how we play, that can make work more enjoyable for our employees.

What is it that makes work just that – other than the obvious – that we get paid to do it?  If you play the guitar for fun, what makes that different from a professional guitar player in a band?  If you like to play tennis with friends, would you feel the same way about it if you had to do it every day for a living?  These key differences are things we can look to integrate into the work lives of our employees, to create enjoyment and self-motivation in their job.

  • When you play, you have choices on when, where and who to play with.  We get to make the choices on how long we want to play, who we are going to play with and the location we want to play at.  Give your employees the ability to make these choices themselves.  Allow them to pick teammates to work on a project with.  Let them select locations and times for meetings or projects when possible.  Give them the flexibility to plan their day, week and priorities in what they want to accomplish and when.
  • Playing is relaxing.  It allows you to unwind, there is no pressure from others, and you can be yourself.   Be careful not to micro-manage your employees.  If you suffocate them, they will never take it upon themselves to work without your supervision.  If you ever have employees say “I didn’t do xyz because you didn’t tell me to do it,” that’s a good indicator that your employees are over supervised.  If you over supervise them, they will only do things when you specifically tell them to do it and how since this is the pattern that has been set for them.  They will not take any initiative outside of what you tell them. Avoiding a micro-managing style entails managing to the goal rather than the task.  Do you really care if your employee starts at 8AM each day, if they reach the highest numbers in the team?  By allowing them the freedom to make decisions and tasks within pre-set goals you have given them, you allow them to be themselves and work in a way where they can produce the best results.  Give them the bumper guards you want them to use to stay within the bowling lane, and the vision of the 12 pins, but let them decide if they are going to use the curve shot or fast ball to knock down all the pins.
  • Play involves social interaction with peers.  We like to play with friends because we get to spend social time with them, share experiences, and create new ones.  This is an especially important concept with remote employees since they can often feel isolated.  Find opportunities for them to work together, collaborate, and generate ideas.  Set aside time during group interactions to allow for “virtual water cooler chat” where employees can share information that may not be work related.  You can help this along by using icebreakers or other team building “fun” activities to kick off meetings or phone calls.  Encouraging your employees to find things in common, and reasons to bond.  It will make them a stronger team and their work more enjoyable.  Research has found that if an employee has a good friend at work, it greatly decreases their likely hood of leaving the company, and increases their motivation.
  • Playing allows you to be creative.  Many types of play allow you to be creative such as drawing or trying a new golf swing.  You can provide your employees with creative opportunities by allowing them to come up with creative solutions to issues as a group or individual.  Elect a committee of employees to find new ways to tackle competitors for the group.  Have a team come up with a new process.  Allowing them to stretch their minds will keep them driven and engaged.
  • No one is telling you what to do when you are playing.  When you are playing, no one tells you what to do – and if they did, you could decide not to play.  Ask your employees to do things rather than tell them.  You will get the same response, but the fact that you asked them shows a form of respect, and in turn, they will be more receptive to doing it.
  • You have the ability to use your talents when you play. We play at things that we think we have some skill and talent in.  It’s one of the reasons we enjoy it.  Find opportunities to utilize your employees’ talents and recognize them.  Have them create best practices to share with the team in areas where they excel.  Nominate employees to be Subject Matter Experts on various topics.  Give them opportunities to attend and participate in seminars and trainings where they can grow their talents.
  • Playing gives us the thrill of winning and accomplishment. We play because we like to win and feel a sense of accomplishment.  Whether it’s winning a game or accomplishing a puzzle, these make us feel good.  Find every opportunity to celebrate with your employees.  Highlight successes during any group meeting or call.  Give them positive feedback whenever you see them succeed.

By incorporating these aspects of play into your employees work environment, you can make their work more fun, keep them self-directed and create a strong, positive team of remote employees.

Building a Team Culture with Remote Employees

Because employees of a distributed workforce are in different locations, it is tougher for them to feel a part of the company and team, which is critical to their overall motivation and drive behind company initiatives.  That is why it takes a concentrated effort by remote managers to build a team community and culture for their employees.

Many remote employees feel left out when they hear of their office or others that have company events such as:  ditch days, breakfast or lunch brought in, costume contests, in office birthday celebrations, happy hours, bring your pet or child to work day, etc. . . These social engagements help to build that community in an office, but there are things that a remote manager can do to build that culture and community, for their team, as well.  teamwork_01

  1. Create and encourage inter-team communication – Communication amongst a distributed employee base helps to build camaraderie.  This strengthens the team by fostering an environment where the team members rely on each other for help, support and ideas.  This helps build trust within the team and fosters internal team partnerships to make it stronger and more productive.
  2. Partner remote employees for projects – Find reasons to partner employees on the team, especially those that do not always work together, for projects.  This can include mentoring, developing best practices, or preparing topics to present to the rest of the team on a conference call.
  3. Create virtual water coolers – All of that time-consuming small talk that happens at the “water cooler” in office environments has an important purpose that is missed in distributed teams – it builds the team camaraderie and culture.  A remote manager can find ways to create virtual environment to foster this “small talk.”
    1. Plan a small amount of “open time” at the beginning or end of team conference calls for small talk.
    2. User ice breakers, openers, and getting to know you exercises and games during team gatherings, calls, interactions, etc. . . This can also include a virtual bulletin board to post “getting to know you” related info about team members.
    3. Find opportunities to celebrate together virtually by sending out team congratulatory emails, or on conference calls.  One company sent out Starbucks gift cards for their next team call so everyone could have “breakfast together” on the call.
  4. Re-live the past – Find opportunities to re-live shining moments from the team’s past.  This brings back positive memories of the group and will help to renew that feeling again.  This can be highlighting accomplishments made by the entire team, or even one employee.  Even funny things that happened to team members when they were last together.  Think of the memories that strengthen the bond with your group of personal friends.  Talking about these always bring back those happy feelings of belonging to something good.

One item to avoid that can be a common pitfall of new managers in building a team: avoid pitting the team against another in comments and remarks, such as “our team is better than theirs,” or “this is the best team in the company.”  This alienates other co-workers and the company.

Although competitiveness can be a strong motivator, competitiveness such as this within the company can have potential negative effects in the future.  What if a member of one of those other teams now becomes a member of yours, or vice versa?  It will make it that much harder to assimilate them into the new team that they are an “outsider” of.   Managers should tell a team how fantastic they are, but not at the demise or lacking of another.

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