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]

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