Remote team management comes with its own set of challenges, but long days spent at home can lead to feelings of disconnect and isolation. Many remote workers are finding their morale drop as remote work becomes the new normal. No wonder! Working from home non-stop, 7 am-7 pm can be the physical equivalent of sitting on a long-haul flight every day, minus the effects of altitude.

Morale drives productivity and engagement among team members. When morale is high, the company and department can thrive. And managers need to ensure their team’s morale stays high—especially in a remote setting when you don’t have the physical cue. Managers will have to find new ways to work together and communicate, ensuring your teams can still feel the company culture in their own homes.

The biggest challenge for managers

“The biggest challenge that managers face is understanding how human motivation works…This is also because studying this was never part of their education, instead they learned this on the job,” explains Philip Vanhoutte.

Philip Vanhoutte is a big advocate for Smarter Working: a holistic human-centered work design practice that unifies space, technology, and people disciplines. He co-authored “The Smarter Working Manifesto”, a definitive guide on how to shape the best work style.

He explains that Deci & Ryan—in the Self-Determination Theory—identified autonomy as the catalyst for human development. It boils down to satisfying three innate psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When those needs are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive, and happy.

Vanhoutte says it’s really important for professionals in leadership roles to be emotionally intelligent and have an understanding of the human dimensions that come as part of an organizational structure.

5 strategies to improve team morale

  1. Show interest and provide feedback: Vanhoutte says it’s really valuable when managers show real interest and respect for value contribution. “I remember vividly employees thanking me profusely for reading/critiquing their work product and giving impactful feedback. When I said ‘it’s my job to critique’, they said how rare it was to get such a response,” he adds.
  2. Encourage professional growth: Vanhoutte suggests managers should have real interest in their team’s professional totality of competencies, interests, strengths, richness of personality, and where they want to take it. “This offers the opportunity to co-shape tours of duty as their career unfolds into human realization,” he says. Other ways to do this is by:
    • Offering truthful and specific praises and appreciation.
    • Recognizing when a job is well done—even if it’s a mundane task.
    • Actively listening to your employees during 1:1 meetings.
    • Providing undivided attention during Zoom calls—don’t be distracted and do other tasks.
  1. Identify and celebrate small victories: There’s often a lot going on in any team, but often there are times when managers miss smaller wins. Teresa Amabile’s progress principle supports this in her theory where she states that of all of the things that can boost emotions and motivations during the workday, the most important is making progress in meaningful work. And while you’re here, Vanhoutte recommends saying “thank you” every so often. It’s a simple act of gratitude making people wanting to more of the same good work.
  2. Embed nature into the remote workspace: In a remote workspace, being on video calls is getting increasingly monotonous, especially when you’re on the call with the same team for hours on end. As a solution to this, Vanhoutte recommends embedding nature into a work, ditching exhausting video calls for a voice calls during one-on-ones. “Prepare well for the session, put on a great headset and go for a virtual walk. You’ll be surprised how well you connect, how much you achieve and remember, even if you don’t take notes! I call this Nature@Work. No 5G needed!”
  3. Focus on positivity over negativity: It’s so easy for negativity to overwhelm a team, especially when working remotely can sometimes include long working hours, people’s calendars drowning in endless meetings, or lack of collaboration between departments. When you want to keep your team’s morale high, be positive and focus on improvement rather than manifesting on the negative. A few innocent complaints and negative remarks can knock your team’s motivation down, so focus on the positives of your team more.

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From Shiran Yaroslavsky

Shiran Yaroslavsky is the VP Product US at Hibob. She is the former CEO and Co-founder of Cassiopeia (acquired by Hibob), a startup that helps managers lead teams effectively with data. Shiran is a thought leader in people analytics and remote team leadership. She was featured in 2019 in Forbes’ 30Under30 list in Israel.