August 24, 2021
When we closed our office doors back in March it all felt very temporary. I was sad, but thought it would be a matter of weeks before we were back together again. Besides, as a company that designs digital tools and virtual experiences for teams, the adjustment to remote work didn’t seem all that daunting.
Six months later that naivete feels laughable.
What was perhaps most startling, both to me and the countless leaders I’ve commiserated with, is just how hard it’s been to sustain motivation during the last six months - not just our own, but that of our teams.
Even the most motivated and driven among us have struggled with massive swings in our energy and morale. I saw some of our greatest extroverts wrestle with isolation. I watched parents depleted from the impossible juggling act of parenting and homeschooling while working. I noticed, despite our virtual wine-downs and trivia sessions, that we started to move out of lockstep with one another.
As a manager, low morale and motivation isn’t always easy to spot, especially when remote. Though you may have seen some of the warning signs. Shorter fuses and growing impatience. Delivery of tactical work with little energy for more complex problem solving. Growing inertia. Even your own energy, fluctuating and more volatile than in the past.
How you help your team rediscover their motivation will be the top indicator for their long-term effectiveness, satisfaction and contributions. If left unaddressed, you’re likely to see decreased adaptability, creativity and contributions on your team just as pandemic recovery will demand the most from them.
1. Listen and let them feel heard. Living and working through a pandemic has blurred the line between the professional and personal. Embrace this by taking time to understand how each of your team members are feeling, not just about work but also in life. Are they struggling with anxiety around a second wave, unreliable schooling and childcare, isolation? Create space to talk, truly listen and show you care. Uncover how you or the team can help support them through it.
Tip: If you find they aren’t opening up and you’re hearing a lot of one word ‘good’ or ‘fine’ answers, breakdown barriers by sharing your own struggles.
2. Make time for play. This isn’t just about virtual trivia or Zoom wine-downs. Sure those briefly fill people’s cups, but they don’t get to the heart of what motivates.
Instead we need to rediscover that joy and play we used to experience when working alongside our colleagues. The impromptu and inspired creative collaboration at a whiteboard. The invigorating sessions tackling a new problem that stretched long past 5 over takeout in a quiet office. The debriefs and shared sigh of relief after nailing a big presentation.
We can’t recreate those moments while remote, but we can find ways to build in the right conditions.
Tip: Ask your team what moment stands out to them from working together in the last year. What made those moments magical? Why did they leave such an impression? How did they bring out your best selves? Once you know the conditions for those moments, find ways to build them in.
3. Find purpose. Many teams lost their sense of purpose as remote work created distance between them and their key stakeholders, obscuring the end impact of their work.
If your team is feeling disconnected from the ultimate impact and importance of their work, bring your stakeholders to the forefront. This will take time and effort, but the energy boost you’ll see when your team feels purpose in their work will provide a strong return.
Tip: This can come in many forms. Schedule a customer call for the team. Ask the call center for customer quotes. Run a roundtable with your key stakeholders focused on the next big thing you’ll achieve together. Lead a feedback session with clients.
4. Reignite learning. Most people are motivated by personal growth and learning. Since the pandemic hit, learning opportunities and growth plans have largely been pushed to the back burner.
Explore how your team members’ goals and capacity for learning have shifted and changed. Be understanding of those who say they’re maxed out and can’t operate in their learning zone right now.
Tip: For those who are hungry to learn, help them find the right combination of remote resources, mentors and stretch responsibilities to accelerate their growth. You don’t need to direct or manage their learning plan, but show you value you it by helping them identify opportunities and opening connections.
How we bolster and motivate our teams right now will be a defining moment in each of our leadership journeys. I know it isn’t easy, especially while apart, but finding ways to reignite your team’s purpose, appetite for learning, joy in tackling work together, and sense of community will lead to a happier and more effective team. And if you’re like me, seeing them thrive and connect again, will help you rediscover your motivation too.
"Meaningful, lasting behavioral change is a complex process, requiring timely personalized guidance. Startups like Valence (formerly Shift) provide teams with a fabric of interactive activities that emphasize mutual feedback and allow them to learn on the job while doing the work they always do."