By Elise Keith
The community on Inbound.org recently held a lively discussion about the struggles and benefits of remote agency work. Amidst all the tips about favorite apps and morning rituals, I found this comment:
“How do folks handle not having people around, and how do they handle those periods when motivation is a bit of struggle and distraction comes easily? To be honest, I’ve struggled with this before working remotely with an in-office team. I’m wondering if it gets easier with an all-remote team?” [Source]
“To be honest,” the commenter admits. As if this were a special personal failing.
To be honest, we’ve ALL struggled with motivation on the job. Some days, some hours, some too-full after lunch moments, we all have trouble focusing on the task at hand. But when you work together in an office, it’s pretty easy to look busy. And as managers, it’s convenient to mistake people sitting at work for people doing work.
For many managers, the keister-in-chair metric becomes a big part of how they measure a team member’s value. This can make the transition to remote work challenging. How can you know if people are working if you can’t see their chairs?
The answer: you can’t. When you manage a remote team, you must find other ways to detect and manage an employee who just can’t get motivated.
The team at Lucid Meetings includes several remote members. Here’s how we tackle the motivation challenge.
Remote, not alone
Like most remote teams, we use group chat (specifically Slack) to have “other people around” and create some of that sense of belonging you otherwise get in the office. We ping each other at least a few times each day to check in and ask questions.
Caution: It’s tempting to start viewing presence indicators (those signals that tell you someone is online) as the new way to assume that they’re working. Don’t fall into that trap.
Focus on results, not time spent at work
Too obvious? Sure, but this is one of those things that sounds easy but is actually pretty hard to do consistently.
Our weekly meetings are the most effective tool we have for keeping the team results-focused. Each week, everyone reports on progress to the whole team, creating a regular rhythm of “I said I’d do this, now I need to prove it!“ Motivating!
To keep it fresh, we rotate roles. Someone new takes charge of setting up and running this meeting every week – it really helps keep everyone interested in making the meeting successful when they’re in control.
Our agenda looks like this:
New sales, partnerships, glowing reviews: any positive results directly related to our strategic plan. Results first!
2. Individual updates
We fill out our updates in advance of the meeting and then take turns answering these questions:
– Progress on commitments: How did you do on the plans you committed to last time?
– Unexpected events: What came up that you didn’t anticipate?
– Plans: What are you working on next?
– Problems: Where are you blocked and where do you need help?
– Personal: Is there anything non-work related you’d like to share?
Notice that we’re asking people about blocks, personal updates, and all kinds of things that get at why someone might be having trouble making progress. You can’t effectively manage a crisis of motivation if you don’t know you have one, and sometimes what looks like low motivation turns out to be a training or family problem instead.
3. Business update
We check in on overall business health and progress. Not all results fit in the “victories” category, and this gives us a place to talk about what we all need to do to keep moving ahead.
Acknowledge and Plan for the Dips
Sometimes, a team member just isn’t feeling it. We know that, they know that, and no amount of pretending to work while scrolling through Facebook will help. Rather than pretend it doesn’t happen, we made it OK to talk about and created strategies to help.
We prepare for these motivational dips in two ways.
1. Everyone has a major task and a filler task.
Sometimes tackling the big creative project isn’t working. So if they can’t summon the mojo required to write that great new blog post, they can make progress on a research or QA task that doesn’t require so much investment.
2. Everyone knows it’s OK to step away.
While we like having the team online and available for some overlapping hours each day, results matter more. When motivation dips, we encourage people to own it by sending the team a note in Slack, then walking away for a bit. Each person on the team recharges in their own way. For example, when I’m stuck, I take 30 minutes to go for a walk, or if it’s too nasty out, do the laundry or something that occupies my hands and gets me away from the computer for a bit.
If you find yourself challenged to avoid distraction in the digital workplace, or you suspect your team struggles to stay motivated, give these tips a try. For us, tackling the motivation problem openly has gone a long way towards solving it.
About the Author
Elise Keith is the co-founder of Lucid Meetings (http://lucidmeetings.com), an online platform designed to help everyone run excellent meeting. Before starting Lucid, she worked to deliver collaboration products for international standards organizations and the legal e-discovery industry, where the importance of a well-run meeting (and the consequences of a failed meeting) were made exquisitely clear.
She now divides her time between working on Lucid Meetings, parenting her 3 young children, and consulting with teams on how to inspire the effective meeting habit in their organizations.