Maintaining morale across distributed teams can be a challenge. For all the positives of working from home, it can also lead to communication issues, divides between in-office and remote staff, and general feelings of isolation and disconnection, all of which can serve to erode morale and community for employees.
It doesn’t help that the COVID pandemic threw many companies into a grand remote work experiment with very little preparation of planning. In many ways, most HR professionals are still learning as they go when it comes to maintaining a healthy and positive work culture in a remote and hybrid setting.
If you've noticed that morale in your company has dipped since switching to a remote or hybrid working model, or just want to take a more intentional approach to building remote culture, this guide will help you get on the right track.
Defining hybrid and remote working
As this is a new phenomenon for most businesses, there can still be a little confusion around what hybrid and remote working are, and the difference between them. To make sure your employees understand what environment they are expected to work in, you should make these definitions clear.
The challenges of hybrid/remote working for communication
Both hybrid workers and remote workers often deal with the same challenge – communication.
Working in an office and working at home require different ways of sharing information, booking meetings, and giving instructions. When you are working in a hybrid environment, you need to tap into both.
There are two kinds of workplace communication – synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous communications are real-time interactions where those involved receive and respond to communications immediately, like a meeting or phone call.
Asynchronous communication is any kind of communication where there is a time lag between a communication and response, such as sending an email or chat message.
In an office, people can rely a lot on synchronous communication, connecting and communicating with colleagues through chance exchanges that happen through the course of their days.
Working remotely, on the other hand, demands more intentional communication, as you often need to find ways to connect with colleagues asynchronously. This can be a big adjustment for employees, particularly if they’re used to the office environment.
Tackling communication issues in hybrid and remote working
In many ways, the key to effective communication in a remote or hybrid environment is embracing asynchronous communication. While a lot of people tend to view asynchronous communication negatively, it can actually have a lot of positives.
Synchronous communications depend on making sure multiple people are available at the same time, which can be expensive and disruptive to people’s workflows. Asynchronous communications, on the other hand, give people the space to work on things when it is convenient for them, while still progressing on projects.
Encouraging your people to get into a steady rhythm of asynchronous communication could streamline your information flow and make your workplace more efficient.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t space for synchronous communication in remote work. On the contrary, you should make space for regular video meetings to reconnect with your colleagues.
While you should never have meetings just for the sake of meetings, having face-to-face conversations can sometimes help you share more information than communicating asynchronously in certain situations.
You should also encourage employees to use their judgment as to when to use synchronous communication to deliver feedback. While positive or neutral feedback can usually be delivered asynchronously, negative feedback is sometimes better conveyed face to face, as tone and nonverbal cues can be more easily conveyed.
It might be worth developing clear communications guidelines for your team as to how to communicate and when. This will help you avoid clashes in communications and get everyone on the same page.
The challenges of hybrid/remote working for morale
A lack of communication with colleagues can give rise to another problem for remote workers – isolation.
If your employees don't feel connected to their teammates, they won’t be able to form a community. Without a community to bond with, morale will dip. Low morale means workers slowing down, producing poor work or even increased employee churn.
This issue all stems from not being able to develop a rapport with co-workers, and feeling disconnected from teammates.
Creating community for remote workers
A good way to make remote workers feel less isolated is to provide team-building activities for your workforce. This will allow those who don’t work with each other regularly a chance to form bonds and connections as they would in an office setting. These social connections create emotional well-being and job satisfaction, both of which are needed to keep your employees happy and engaged with their work.
Team building exercises could include quiz lunches, TV show-related conversations, book clubs, or whatever captures the imagination of your team. It doesn’t matter what activity you choose as long it gives your employees a chance to feel a connection to the people they work with. For best results, team building activities should be done during work hours to ensure maximum flexibility and participation for all employees.
In-office/hybrid staff vs remote working staff
If your workforce is split between office workers and remote workers, you can easily create a cultural disconnect between the two groups. Different methods of working will develop until both groups are confused about how the other functions.
The key to stopping this divide from forming is making sure that there are clear lines of connection between your in-office staff and their remote counterparts. Encouraging them to meet regularly, collaborate on projects, and stay connected with one another can help keep everyone on the same page.
Managers and executives are also key to this. Ensuring remote and in-office employees are treated equitably and have the same access to promotion opportunities and project leadership is critical.
15 ways to boost employee morale
Of course, one or two tips and tricks aren’t enough to keep your employees in a perpetually good mood. Instead, you need to have an arsenal of ideas to allow your employees to feel heard, connected, and happy in their job.
Here are 15 ways to boost your employee's morale. Use them as they are or adjust them to better suit your work environment.
1. Organization is important
Having a straightforward and organized workplace, where every employee understands their role and responsibilities keeps the group aligned.
This is especially important in remote settings because each employee will likely be working with much more autonomy and less direction than they might have in a physical office. You need to encourage them to take ownership of their work and be able to work autonomously.
Setting clear expectations will stop people from misunderstanding their roles. It can also help create a clear path of responsibility, so employees know who to go to regarding different tasks or projects.
To continue this clear organization, you should remind your employees of their roles and reassign any work that isn’t part of their responsibilities. This should reduce stress and create a continued sense of teamwork.
2. Use the right tools
If you’ve transitioned to remote work from a physical office setting, you may find that some of your current tools and technology need to be updated.
For example, you may have done most of your internal office communication through email before, but find that you need to invest in instant messaging software like Slack or Microsoft Teams to keep everyone’s inbox under control.
Similarly, you might find it harder to organize work in a distributed team than before, and need to invest in more sophisticated task management software to streamline everyone’s workflows.
Be proactive about this – don't wait until people are complaining or project deadlines are being missed. Assess what your team and company will need in 6 months and start planning for that now.
You may wonder what this has to do with morale, but think about the people using these tools daily. If they are getting frustrated with inefficient communications, incorrect information, or confusing layouts, then that frustration will leak into their perception of their job.
Stopping these issues as they arise will make your colleagues feel as though they have been listened to, and prevent lingering bad feelings.
3. Ensure managers provide as much feedback and guidance as possible
We often give feedback to an employee when things are going wrong. Maybe their productivity has slipped, their quality of work has dipped, or their customer-facing persona has lost its charisma.
Although it’s important to give feedback in these times to help people improve, it’s also important to encourage managers to give positive feedback. It shows employees that their manager is aware of how well they are doing, and also helps to reinforce good working habits.
A big part of this is setting goals for employees. Creating reachable goals and praising people when they have achieved them creates a feeling of empowerment and pride, which all adds to morale in the workplace. This is called the Goal-Setting Theory of Motivation.
When it comes to guidance, we don’t mean micromanaging. Instead, we suggest creating an open space for questions to be asked and a helpful response given. This way, employees will feel comfortable coming to their managers with problems, questions, and ideas. Having managers create regular 1-on-1s to make space for this communication could be a good idea.
If they don’t, they will try to deal with issues by themselves, even if they don’t have a clear understanding of them. This could lead to negative outcomes, further issues, and overwhelmed employees.
All of these issues create low morale. To avoid this, a manager should treat every question with respect and answer them in full detail. This will create a safe environment of open communication and trust.
4. Promote positive work/life integration
Working remotely is meant to create better work/life integration, as you can spend more time at home with your family and less time commuting. However, this flexibility can easily become a double-edged sword.
Being able to log in from home can cause some people to continue working past their allotted hours to “get the job done”. But if they work this way without taking the time to relax and recharge, they will quickly become stressed and tired. This can lead to lower quality work despite the additional hours put in.
And on the emotional side of this argument, your employees will feel as though they cannot get away from their job as they can technically always reach their desk.
To avoid this issue and create positive work/life integration, you should encourage your employees to only work their allotted hours – whether that means a certain amount of time during the week or a set 9 to 5 schedule. Whatever their timetables are, discourage them from working outside of these times.
If your company does allow for overtime as a paid extra, then make sure your employees take on this additional workload responsibly. This could mean capping the amount of overtime they can do.
During all of this, you should remind your employees that their life outside of work is important and should be celebrated. Additionally, encourage them to take full advantage of the flexibility that remote work offers by working when is best for them. This will allow them to live their fullest lives while also executing on business goals.
5. Stay connected with colleagues
In busy environments, it can be easy for management to become so focused on their tasks and goals that this is all they discuss with their team members. This can make employees feel like they’re seen as machines to get work done rather than people.
Instead, a manager should take time to connect with each of their employees on a more personal level. You should suggest that managers have private one-to-one video meetings with every team member at least twice a week.
These meetings only need to last 30 minutes, and can be a place for employees to discuss how they are doing with their projects, what they need from management to help them progress, and how they feel in their current role. They can also be a space for a manager and an employee to connect and talk about fun non-work-related topics.
Conversations like this open doors to communication and allow the team to feel connected to their workplace. They also allow your employees to see their manager as an individual too, not just “The Boss”.
6. Help your employees use and develop their skills
As an HR professional, you should support our managers to ensure they are utilizing their employees’ skills correctly, and structuring their roles to make the most of their talents.
Organizing your workforce to maximize your employee’s skill sets is a win-win situation. You will have a qualified and capable team, and they will get the chance to do work based on their interests.
You can also create career maps for your employees and provide support to build core competencies to make sure everyone has a pathway to grow and improve.
Continuing to build people’s skills will pay off in the long-term, too. When new roles appear, you can look at your current staff and promote them or suggest a new role for them based on their abilities. This will show the team that internal growth is possible, and that you are invested in their ongoing potential.
7. Recognize and reward your people
Recognizing your employees' hard work is a simple way to let them know you appreciate them. It will create a sense of purpose in their role which empowers them to take pride in their work. Frequent and consistent recognition is a powerful tool to show your staff how much you value their skills and appreciate the work they do.
Of course, words can only go so far. A hard-working employee who is constantly going above and beyond should receive tangible rewards for their efforts.
You should reward your employees when they reach or surpass the goals set for them, go out of their way to help out a colleague, or anything else that you feel deserves appreciation.
If you’re looking for reward ideas, Guusto offers a flexible solution that you can use to ensure everyone gets something they truly value, with gift cards that can be redeemed in over 60,000+ global merchant locations, as well as custom rewards, charity donations, and other options. Our platform's digital delivery options also make it perfect for a remote setting.
Recognizing and rewarding employees helps your employees feel empowered and seen, and can be a vital way to improve morale in a distributed team.
8. Be open
We have talked about the importance of communication before, but it means more than giving clear instructions to your employees and creating outlets for them to connect. It also means being open to any criticism they have about their current working conditions, roles, or expectations.
If your employees cannot talk to you or your managers about issues they are dealing with or concerns they have, then the problems will continue to persist unchecked. This could lead to serious issues later down the line. However, it will affect more than just your product or services, it will hamper the team’s morale too.
When employees don’t feel heard or cannot speak up for themselves, they feel alienated from the team. This feeling will remove any goodwill they have towards the company and could lead to them becoming actively disengaged from their roles. This can result in more time off work, less productivity, and eventually with them handing in their notice.
Working remotely can make the issue even more difficult, as your employees might be less likely to come to you with their concerns. One way to remedy this is to run ‘office hours’ when staff are free to drop in for a quick chat with you. This could mean changing your instant chat apps to show when you are available, or making your office hours in an online calendar that’s visible to everyone.
9. Ask questions
If you notice someone’s attitude towards work has changed, you should start asking questions to see what the source of the change is and if it is something to be concerned about.
Your questions could include:
- Do you feel respected?
- What motivates you?
- What discourages you?
- How is your workload?
Most of these questions are open-ended, which means your employees will answer with more than a “yes” or a “no”. More detailed answers help you find real insight into their thoughts and concerns
Of course, your managers should be asking these questions in one-to-one meetings too, not just when an employee is showing signs of dissatisfaction. This way you can catch any problems before they grow to real concerns, and they can express themselves without it being a worrisome conversation.
10. Offer virtual team-building exercises
Talking at the watercooler is the classic way in which employees bond and connect during work hours. But when you work from home, these casual and unplanned conversations cannot happen naturally. Instead, you should create virtual team-building meetings or exercises to build up a sense of togetherness and culture that is otherwise missing.
You could have virtual coffee break rooms where people can “sit” at a table with their work friends and chat like they normally would in their lunchtime. Or you could have a system that creates random pairings, allowing people to bond with colleagues they don’t often get a chance to interact with.
You could have a monthly game based on easy but fun challenges. These could include showing your fun workspace to your co-workers, making drawings of your job and creating a “guess who drew what” competition, or pairing baby photos to the adults on your screen.
Simple 20 minutes games such as these can help your virtual workers learn about each other and feel like part of a team.
11. Prioritize employee wellbeing
In recent years, we have come to realize just how important it is to find wellbeing while working. We spend most of our day completing our jobs, so it makes sense that we need to consider wellbeing in this area of our lives.
Wellbeing simply means to be comfortable, happy, and healthy. To create this balance of happiness and productivity you need to learn what each of your employees needs. This could mean allowing for flexible work schedules, providing opportunities to experience other elements of the business, allowing casual conversations during working hours, and including activities as part of a fun weekly engagement.
Understanding how mental health can affect your workers and prioritizing wellbeing will allow you to create a healthy and happy workforce.
12. Create space for growth
Developing people within your company instead of looking outward allows you to find people for senior roles who already understand your systems and business.
It also keeps your employees engaged. Most employees are constantly looking for ways to grow, whether that means going further in their career or changing up their experiences once so their work remains interesting and challenging. In fact, 59% of millennials view having advancement opportunities when evaluating a job, meaning they are more likely to leave if they don’t see a clear path to growth.
Creating space to grow means your staff gets to experience this change and improvement without leaving the company.
13. Communicate company goals to your employees
Employees often lose morale when they cannot see what the purpose of their job is. We have already talked about why having clear goals for individuals can help keep them focused and encourage ownership of their work, but it’s also important that they understand the larger goals of the company.
Sharing how your employees’ work is helping the company adds context to their roles. It creates a sense of pride in their work and shows that even if they cannot see the benefit of their efforts straight away, they know that it is appreciated.
You can share these goals in company meetings, and track how you are progressing towards your objectives and what it means for the future. This creates gratification for people’s current work and community ties for work in the future.
14. Communication across teams is key
Throughout this whole guide, there has been one central theme – communication. And in a remote setting, this is especially important between different departments or arms of the business.
If your employees understand the work others are doing, they will feel connected to the wider world of your business. But if remote workers have limited contact with employees from other teams, it can be easy for one department to get the impression that another doesn’t pull their weight, or even be unaware of what the team actually does. Leaving these details in the dark can create misunderstandings or even resentment.
This can lead to a toxic environment where one group feels as though they are pitted against another. Fostering open communication, explaining how each team works inside the business, and allowing these teams to talk to each other breaks down the mystery shrouding other groups.
With these negative feelings dispersed, the team’s morale will improve.
15. Always train newcomers well
You should start as you mean to go on, which means training your new employees to follow the clear directions and systems which you have in place.
Sometimes, when new methods replace old ones, long-established staff members get confused between the old and the new. Although this is understandable, it shouldn’t be encouraged. Training your new employees using only the current processes helps stop this confusion as a new generation of staff has the most up-to-date knowledge.
Secondly, the new staff should be trained to perform the tasks to the same high standard as everyone else. This means giving them the equipment they need, the background they need, and the attention they need to get to this level.
If they are not well trained, then they will soon feel as though they are climbing up an escalator that is going the wrong way, and no one else can see it – as though the company is working against them and won’t help them succeed. This frustration and despair will lower the overall group’s morale, as the newcomers feel lost and the older staff think the new members aren’t good enough.
Training the new employees well eliminates this unnecessary barrier.
Benefits of high morale and motivation in the workplace
Weaved into our tips above, we’ve explained why morale is important to your employee’s health and productivity. But let's dive deeper into why it’s needed.
1. Good morale creates a good work culture
As a minimum, high morale in the workplace means your employees will be happy to log in every day. It creates a sense of company culture where people are proud to be part of the team.
At the end of the day, you want your employees to stay focused on their jobs, and the best way to do that is to make sure they are happy. Happy employees are also less likely to look for other employment.
2. Improved Productivity
When people are happy and proud of their work, they will have more energy to complete their tasks. They will be more driven to reach their goals, which means their productivity will be high.
The quality of their work will be better too, as they take pride in it and strive to reach higher standards.
3. Improved customer service
You could argue that customer-facing employees need the most attention when it comes to boosting morale. Customer service relies on happy individuals who can act as the face of the company.
This means they actively need to be showing positive emotions. This in itself is a big ask, as false positively can be emotionally draining. To make it easier for them and to lower the emotional labour, their environment should be happy.
4. Fewer absences
Emotional distress can lead to physical symptoms such as low energy, headaches, pain, and dizziness. To combat these issues, your employees will take days off to gather themselves and lower their stress levels.
This means that low-morale workplaces will have more preventable absences than high-morale ones.
5. Higher retention
With a happy work culture, pride in their work, and a healthy emotional state, your people are more likely to stay with your company.
Ultimately, you want your employees to stay with you as long as possible, so you have knowledgeable and trusted people within your team. Happy workers are long-time employees.
Issues that can be caused from low employee morale
Morale, just like any emotion, can change and dip. Even the best business can have days or months of low employee morale, but when you know what you are looking for you can change the atmosphere before it turns sour.
1. Lack of communication
When employees feel like they have no one to turn to, they often start doing their work solo. This could mean avoiding asking for help or not informing their co-workers about the tasks they have self-assigned.
This can lead to low-quality work through miscommunication and frustration as individual employees feel like everything is on their shoulders.
As the tensions grow, the quantity of work will dip too, leading to more issues for the company to face.
2. Lack of company growth
When the quality and quantity of work begins to decrease, a company cannot grow. Instead, it has to focus on fixing these issues and getting back on track.
Even if your company can cope with the lowered standard, they will start to notice more employees leaving. This leads to a second growth problem, as the company cannot expand when they have to focus on filling vacancies.
3. Frequent leadership problems/changes
If the vacancies are coming from leadership roles, this can lead to changes in your workflow adding to more disruption.
Changes in your workflow should ideally only happen when the company is on a strong footing, so that you can deal with the expected bumps in the road during transition.
If new leaders need to be trained during an already stressful time, this can lead to more confusion, frustration, and turnover.
Talking openly with your workforce is the best way to make your employees feel appreciated and help them to see why their work matters. This is fundamental to creating high morale.
When your people are happy you will benefit from a productive, energetic, and dedicated culture, which helps keep your quality high and your employees interested.
However, morale won’t stay high forever, as just like any emotion, there can be bad days. This is why you should keep a close eye on your employees and check in with them to see how they are feeling.
With the tips above, you should be able to boost and maintain your company's morale, even when working remotely.
Build remote team morale with recognition
Employee recognition is one of the most effective ways to build morale in distributed teams. It provides a fully digital tool to help make sure your remote and hybrid employees feel aligned, connected, and appreciated.
Not sure where to start? The Ultimate Employee Recognition Playbook will take you through our 6 key steps to create a successful program. You’ll learn how to:
- Make the case for Employee Recognition
- Build Your Team of Champions
- Find the Right Solution for Your Needs
- Set Your Goals
- Launch Your Program
- Measure the Results