How to Reward and Incentivize Remote TeamsAUTHOR: Noah Rue
Anyone who has been paying the slightest attention knows that the world of work has changed dramatically in the two years since the advent of COVID-19. And though remote work did not originate with the pandemic, it certainly reached unprecedented heights in the era of lockdowns.
Indeed, the virtual workspace quickly became a lifeline for thousands of businesses and their employees. But that does not mean it has been easy. Though there are many perks to working from home, not the least of which is the ability to protect oneself and one’s family from exposure to the virus, there are also significant potential drawbacks for remote employees, including the risk of social isolation and loss of work motivation.
To counteract the inherent challenges of remote work, you need to prioritize and perhaps even revamp your processes for rewarding and incentivizing your employees. But what is the best way to motivate your virtual team?
Why It Matters
Although the pandemic forced massive portions of the workforce into work-from-home environments, that does not mean that the transition was necessarily smooth. The mass transition to the digital office also does not mean that those teams that continue to work remotely at least part of the time are necessarily thriving.
Indeed, a substantial body of research suggests that the work-from-home environment can be deeply demotivating for many workers. The detrimental effects of remote work on motivation appear to be particularly strong for those who work from home by necessity and not by choice.
But there is a bright side in that studies also show that rewards and incentives programs do, in fact, have a positive effect on employee engagement, morale, and productivity. Team rewards and incentives appear to be the most efficacious, but what matters most for your remote workers is that their employers consistently strive to make them feel valued and valuable.
Focus on Performance
One of the best strategies for rewarding and incentivizing your remote team is to focus on performance. More specifically, you can establish target metrics on a project, toward a sales goal, or some other job-related achievement. Let the achievement of this goal trigger a reward, whether that be a financial bonus, a gift card for dining or merchandise, or a few hours of paid time off.
You might even opt to establish a sort of friendly competition between teams, departments, or divisions, such as offering an incentive for the highest-earning group. This needs to be done with caution, however, and you should use your best judgment as to whether the relationship between teams and employees would be enhanced or harmed by a bit of rivalry.
In some organizations, spirited competition can help push your team to ever-higher levels of mastery and performance. This can be profoundly motivating in and of itself, infusing your employees with a strong sense of personal accomplishment, pride, and purpose which can help motivate them to continue to develop, grow, and succeed.
In some organizations, particularly high-stress environments where team cohesion and support may be somewhat lacking, introducing competition may actually have the opposite effect and may undermine productivity, motivation, and performance.
In such cases, then you might shift the focus to performance improvements. After all, remote work requires a unique set of skills that may not come easily to every virtual employee, including technological acumen as well as so-called “soft skills development” such as communication, perseverance, and self-direction.
Taking the time to recognize and reward your employees as they develop and refine these specialized skills will help to motivate them, supporting engagement, productivity, and growth even in the virtual workplace.
Such rewards based on clear metrics related to performance, competition, and/or improvement are especially beneficial in the remote work environment because employees working from home report that they often feel uncertain about what, exactly, is expected of them. Using performance incentives is, ultimately, a fun and encouraging way to offer positive feedback and pair it with rewards.
If you want to go the extra mile in rewarding and incentivizing your remote employees, though, these perks shouldn’t always and only be tied to performance alone. As we’ve seen, home-based workers may easily feel isolated, anxious, and disengaged.
That’s why it’s particularly important to offer “just because” rewards that let your employees know you recognize and appreciate the hard work they do every day, not just on record-shattering performance days.
For example, you might offer rewards and incentives that help employees care for their physical and mental health, such as giving them discounts and full memberships to a local gym or spa. Or you might offer opportunities to connect and unwind with colleagues, from online game nights to outdoor, socially-distanced picnics.
Every employee needs to feel recognized and appreciated if they’re going to remain motivated, engaged, and productive. But this need is especially great for remote workers, who may feel isolated and anxious in the virtual workplace. The good news, though, is that you have endless options for rewarding and incentivizing your remote employees, from performance incentives to those all-important “just because” rewards.