How to Tap into This Human Need to Motivate Remote Employees

The nature of work today has changed dramatically. Remote employees are working longer hours and learning to balance home life with their work commitments. Some love working from home. In contrast, others struggle to stay focused, longing to return to a familiar work arrangement. Yet, it’s unclear when all employees can and should return to the office. 

It’s been over six months since companies were forced to adopt remote-first practices. As companies settle into this new reality, leaders are discovering gaps in how to motivate remote employees.

Motivating remote employees, however, doesn’t’ require a dramatically different mindset. 

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Remote Employees Still Want Fulfilling Work

A meaningful way to motivate employees to help them find fulfillment in their work is through recognition. Fulfilling work isn’t experienced only in a traditional office environment. It’s an outcome sparked by employees who feel good about their work and their immediate boss. Therefore, it doesn’t matter where the work is done. What matters is leaders do their jobs to inspire high performance.

So, how can high performance occur when employees are distributed geographically?  Here are ten tips to maximize performance by recognizing employees.


Tips for Recognizing Remote Employees

It doesn’t matter if you have a remote-first work arrangement or a hybrid one; the following tips apply. 

  • Recognize employees within one week of the event. If your employee nails her digital sales pitch, let her know quickly. Share your appreciation in a hand-written note mailed to her home. Post a thank you in Slack. 


  • Make it public. Recognize employees publicly during a monthly virtual town hall meeting.


  • When sharing your recognition, focus on behaviors. It’s less effective to focus on outcomes. Sometimes an employee stumbles but recovers brilliantly. Recognize the behaviors that helped him recover with grace.


  • Use a 7:1 ratio. Ensure you have seven times as many positive interactions with employees compared to negative ones. This is always important. However, right now, the tone of your interactions carries more weight. Why? Because you aren’t physically interacting with employees. You don’t have the added benefit of running across employees in the office.


  • Encourage peer-to-peer recognition. Recognition isn’t limited to management. Develop solutions that allow peers to recognize one another. For example, create a workspace within Bluescape helping colleagues to post notes recognizing team members.


  • Use Technology. With tools like Slack, 15Five, BambooHR, and enterprise solutions offered by WorkHuman and O.C.Tanner, they make it easier to recognize people in the moment. 


  • Measure the impact. Creating a recognition solution is a business investment. Invest the resources and involve the right people to determine its effect on key business metrics: employee experience, engagement, morale, eNPS, for example.


Remote Employees Also Want Rewards

In addition to recognition, rewards are also effective ways to motivate remote employees. The following three are about rewards linked to recognition:

  • Make it unique. When recognizing someone, make the reward, if there is one, fitting for the person. If you know a colleague likes caramel popcorn, send them a gift card to a business that makes delicious caramel popcorn.


  • Encourage sharing. When rewarding employees, mix it up with rewards that allow people to gift part of their reward to others: donations, to nonprofits, for example.


  • Give an experience. Getting more company branded “stuff” is nice, but the positive association linked to the reward fades quickly. Instead, an experience, like dinner and tickets to a show, creates a lasting memory. 

In these days where a distributed workforce creates new layers in communications, interactions, and working together, recognition helps reinforce behaviors that yield extraordinary results.

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About the Author

Shawn Murphy
Director of Organizational Behavior, Bluescape
Shawn is our Director of Organizational Behavior and Workplace Trends. His second book, Work Tribes is out now. Shawn's first book, The Optimistic Workplace is out now. Inc. has listed him twice as one of the top leadership speakers in America.

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