Is your remote team engaged with their work? Are they productive and happy? If not, it’s crucial to focus on what you, as a project manager, can do to improve things.
Keeping remote team members happy and engaged can be tricky. In the office, it’s usually clear who’s slacking off, facing burnout, or simply having a bad day. Remotely, you may have very few clues to go on. If one of your team members is quieter than usual on Slack, for instance, that could mean they’re feeling disengaged … or it could mean that they’re busy doing focused work.
While you might well be an expert at managing projects, managing your team’s engagement and wellbeing can be a real challenge (and it’s unlikely to be something you trained for while preparing for your PMP exam).
Here are ten steps you can take to improve your remote team’s engagement:
Step #1: Ensure Any New Remote Workers Have a Smooth Onboarding
Of course, if you have a say in the hiring process, you’ll want to make sure that you’re hiring the right people. But regardless of how much control you have over the hiring process, you can have a huge influence over how positively new remote workers feel when they first join your team.
Make their first impression a great one: you want each new member of your team to feel valued and engaged from the start. This means ensuring they have the tools they need from day one (such as a work laptop and work phone, if you provide those, and crucial information like email login details).
You’ll also want to have a strong training process to ensure that new workers get up to speed quickly: they may not find it as easy as in-office workers to get help and support.
Step #2: Help Your Team Come Together as a Cohesive Group
You might have people from different departments working on your project, or you might have several new hires … so your team members may barely know one another’s names, let alone know one another as individuals.
It’s up to you, as the project manager, to help your team members get to know one another so they can feel comfortable working together. This could mean something as simple as encouraging everyone to introduce themselves on Slack, or asking everyone to share three interesting facts about themselves.
If your team members are geographically close enough, you could take everyone out for an occasional meal … or even consider booking a meeting space for a regular (perhaps monthly) get-together.
Step #3: Encourage Your Team to Communicate With You
Make sure your team can contact you easily – and try to be prompt in responding to emails and messages, as well as working on your communication skills more broadly.
Encourage your team members to talk to you about problems, and assure them that you’re happy to hear about small problems or anything that’s making their job harder.
Being in touch with your team members regularly can also clue you into what motivates them. Some members might love the work they do and feel a lot of intrinsic motivation: you can help by letting them know they’ve done a great job, and where possible, assigning them the tasks they enjoy the most. Others might be much more engaged by external rewards – like a bonus for hitting a certain target. For more on intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, check out the article by Foundr.
Step #4: Schedule Regular Check-Ins with Each Team Member
How often do you meet with your team members, one on one? If you have a large team, you might feel it’s difficult or impossible to make time for regular check-ins … but this can be a vital way to improve your team’s engagement and to spot emerging problems.
You don’t necessarily have to spend long on each check-in, but try to have time set aside on a weekly basis (or at least every other week) to talk to each team member individually. If possible, do this over video for better rapport – though even a quick check-in by email is better than nothing.
Step #5: Address Any Problems Promptly
Some problems might come to light because a team member raises them (e.g. “I’m ending up working overtime each night to get through a standard day’s work”) and some might become apparent due to an issue with workflow, such as a team member not meeting internal deadlines, or even a problem with differing expectations between different generations of workers.
If a team member is struggling in some way, address that as soon as the problem comes to your attention – don’t just hope that the problem gets better on its own.
Depending on the situation, you might need to get extra support in place for them, shift some of their workload to another team member, or provide new equipment – e.g. if they have to make lots of calls and their headset is uncomfortable, that’s a relatively straightforward thing to fix.
Step #6: Help Them Do More “Deep Work”
Cal Newport (who quite literally wrote the book on deep work) explains that deep work is:
“... the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.”
The most valuable work that your team does is most likely “deep work”: creative, intensive work that requires focus in order to do it well.
While you might feel that it’s up to your team members to arrange their time to have periods of focused work, there’s also a fair amount that you can do as the project manager to ensure that your team can maximize the hours they can spend on quiet, focused work. For instance, you might reduce the numbers of different channels you use to communicate within your team (hence reducing the number of notifications interrupting your team members’ work).
Step #7: Lead by Example
As the project manager, it’s up to you to set a good example of positive engagement with your work.
When you assign work tasks or update your team on the progress of the project as a whole, be positive and upbeat – don’t make it sound like you’re fed up of your work!
If you’re using video, make sure your expression and tone match the message you want to convey (this doesn’t always come naturally, especially if you feel a little awkward on video). Remember to smile, where appropriate!
Step #8: Set Project Milestones and Targets
It’s likely that your project already has some large milestones in place – for instance, there might be a firm deadline for the point at which you need to get a prototype to your client. It’s often helpful, though, to set smaller milestones and targets along the way, so you can easily ensure that things are on track.
While the way you handle this will vary a lot based on the size of your team, the project at hand, and how your company typically does things, there are very few projects that won’t benefit from having several clear “stepping stone” targets on the way to a big one.
If you have the ability to do so, you might offer a particular incentive if the team – or individual members – exceed their targets. For instance, you might send everyone an Amazon gift card or (if your team has fixed hours), you might allow everyone to finish early on a Friday.
Step #9: Encourage Team Members to Share What’s Going Well
When everyone’s working remotely, it can be tricky for people to see how their efforts add up – especially if you’re working on a big project. Some of your team members may feel that their small successes aren’t worth much, in the context of the project as a whole.
This can foster a sense of disengagement or even disillusionment with their work – so it’s important that you help everyone to see how their small successes add up to a far greater achievement for the team as a whole.
Once a week, perhaps on Fridays, encourage team members to share one “win” from the past few days. This can help motivate individuals who are sharing their successes, but also helps to motivate your team as a whole as they can see how the project is progressing for everyone.
Step #10: Consider Your Team Member’s Personal Circumstances
Many project managers worry that remote workers might try to get away with doing the bare minimum of work … but the truth is that remote workers often get things done more efficiently than office-based workers.
If there is a problem with someone’s work, don’t start off by getting angry or demanding answers – especially if that individual has been doing great work up until this point. Instead, find out if there’s something going on that you should know about. Perhaps they’re unwell, and you could encourage them to use their sick leave – or maybe they’re facing a family emergency.
Your team will quickly become unengaged and even hostile if they feel that they’re being treated with anger or suspicion.
It can be tricky to keep remote workers engaged, but so long as you communicate with your team and ensure that you address any problems proactively, you should have a happy, productive, engaged team who see your project through to completion.
Erika Rykun is an independent copywriter and content manager. She is a believer in a high-quality networking, avid reader and runner.