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.

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