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How to engage and motivate your team remotely

Dr Maggi Evans, Chartered Occupational Psychologist, Consultant and Coach, Mosaic Consulting


A key role for leaders is to engage and motivate their team – but how? And how can you do it when everything is so uncertain and different?

To help us to find the answers, it’s useful to look at some of the main elements of engagement and motivation. There are numerous engagement theories and models our there – in fact, the ‘Engaging for Success’ report of 2009, estimated that there are over 50 definitions of engagement! However, at their core, they are all based on the premise that engagement is a positive relationship between the employee and employer.

A relationship where there are mutual goals, respect and care; a relationship where challenges can be openly discussed and there is a collaborative approach to finding solutions that enable the individual and the organisation to flourish. Motivation is a key goal of engagement, and together, they have been shown to bring benefits such as increasing commitment, purpose and energy, bringing benefits to performance, innovation, retention, customer service and other measures of organisational success.

Five ways to engage and motivate your team during the Coronavirus pandemic

But the times we are living in are very uncertain, so we need to think about engagement and motivation in the context of what’s happening. The acronym VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) is often used – and our current situation is high on all counts. So, how can we be the most engaging and motivating leader possible in this new reality? Having looked at different angles and research on engagement, motivation and VUCA we have five top tips.

  1. Partnership – in the first part of this series, we encouraged you to ‘know your team’ – to find out about what’s going on for them right now. The next step in this is to work with them to agree a way of working together over the next few months, to accommodate their needs and to show that you care. For example, given their other responsibilities (such as childcare), how do they want to manage their work? What times are they likely to be available, and when are they not available? How would they like the communication to work between you? What are their concerns and how might you help them? This then becomes an explicit way of working together, so you both know where you stand – and you can talk about it openly and change it if you need to.
  2. Short-term targets – in times of uncertainty we all need to know our priorities – it’s so easy to be overwhelmed. Leaders therefore need to work with their teams to agree the core priorities and short-term goals – there may be some priorities that you set, but there are likely to be others that are suggested by the team. These key deliverables should be things that your team have the capability to achieve, so you can trust and empower them to get on with it. Working on short-term priorities and having clarity enables a sense of achievement as things are ticked off – and we all know how satisfying that can be!
  3. Ongoing feedback – lots of people will be new to remote working and will need a lot of reassurance. If you’re working next to your team, it’s easy to give that feedback and encouragement throughout the day. But working remotely means that you have to be much more purposeful about it, otherwise your team will be playing a guessing game, not knowing how they’re getting on. As a leader, you should be giving each team member really regular feedback (either email/phone or video conferencing). Some of your team will want this daily, others will be more confident to have less – so you need to work out what is right for each person. There’s more about this in the next in our series, where we explore how to hold successful 1-2-1’s virtually.
  4. Flexibility – we are in the midst of a huge lesson in flexibility. It is amazing how organisations around the globe have responded so rapidly to the changed environment – and individual leaders need to flex too. You need to be flexible in how you work with each team member to help them to be at their best, you need to be flexible in your expectations of your team, the timescales in which you can deliver things and how you respond to the changing context you are operating in.
  5. Longer term vision – amid all of this turbulence it can be difficult to think long-term, but as a leader, you need to keep one eye on the future. It can be really motivating for the team to set a vision for how you want to work together and respond to the current crisis – what do you want to say and feel at the end of it? What do you want to have learnt? What do you want to have improved? These conversations can lead you to painting a positive picture, finding some important silver linings and opportunities.

Some leaders are used to doing these five things anyway. If these are new to you, you might want to seek some support from someone – you could forward this article to them and ask if they’d be happy to coach you, and to hold you to account as you try to lead your team in this new reality.

About this author

Maggi is an experienced consultant and coach with international experience across a wide range of sectors including professional services, financial services, retail and FMCG. She is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and combines research and practice to develop practical solutions to drive business improvement.

Maggi has been a consultant for over 20 years, specialising in talent strategy and talent development. She has a reputation as an insightful consultant, helping clients to reduce the ‘noise’ around an issue so they can focus and act on key issues which will make a difference. Maggi is on a mission to help organisations, leaders and individuals to liberate talent. Her first book ‘From Talent Management to Talent Liberation’ has recently been published.

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