Remote employees can quickly feel isolated and lonely in the home office, especially if, as is currently the case in the Corona crisis, they have to work from home for weeks on end without even once having personal, direct contact with colleagues. Especially now, managers bear a special responsibility for motivation within the team. What otherwise creates personal interaction and communication in terms of motivation, must now be achieved remotely through other approaches. How do you motivate employees remotely? What tricks and tips are there? And what is the decisive success factor for a motivated team that works well together? Eva-Lotte Gnüg talks about this in an interview with Ann-Kathrin Krichel and Stefanie Mannseicher.
Listen to the mgm Podcast episode #10 or read the written interview below.
Eva-Lotte Gnüg: Hello and welcome to a new episode of the mgm podcast. My name is Eva-Lotte Gnüg and today I am talking to Ann-Kathrin Krichel and Stefanie Mannseicher about “employee motivation from a distance”. A warm welcome! You are both consultants at mgm consulting partners and passionate about organisational development. Would you mind introducing yourselves again?
Ann-Kathrin Krichel: Yes. I will just start. I am Ann-Kathrin. It’s great that we can be here! The topic “employee motivation” was already very much anchored in my studies. I studied business psychology and was very much involved in change, also a bit in HR. Employee motivation is exactly my topic.
Stefanie Mannseicher: Hello, this is Steffi, Ann-Kathrin’s colleague. I am also passionately involved in organizational development and I am often involved in change management projects.
Eva-Lotte Gnüg: Thank you very much. Let’s start with a general question. Everybody has heard and felt employee motivation and everybody can say something about it. Why is it nevertheless important for companies to deal with it?
Stefanie Mannseicher: It is very important. We all have heard about employee motivation, but above all we all need it. One lives from employee motivation at work. That is what drives you personally and brings you a certain joy in your work. But it is not only a personal factor, but also a very strong economic factor. Many different studies show and prove that a good employee motivation naturally leads to increased productivity and of course in the end the companies with profitability and a good profitability of the whole company profits from this. Therefore it is also in the interest of the company to motivate the employees and it is definitely not an end in itself. At the end of the day, it is also about retaining motivated, qualified employees.
Eva-Lotte Gnüg: But what does that mean exactly? Is it simply enough to have a cool team event once in a while and then all my employees are motivated? Or is there even more to it?
Ann-Kathrin Krichel: Good question. That’s the crucial point, which can be looked at from different perspectives. In principle, a cool team event probably helps quite often, but to call it motivation is difficult, and you have to look at the long-term results and the timeline in particular. If you do a cool team event, it can certainly lead to a rise in the current mood in the team and make people feel good at certain points. But if you don’t introduce some kind of regularity, either as a regular team event or by regularly thinking of something else, it’s actually hard to translate that into motivation. So if you only do a team event, you’re usually working on the mood and not on the motivation, not to mention the fact that you have to look again in detail at what a team event really does. You have to get a feeling for how often I have to do something. Another important element are the measures I use to increase the motivation.
Eva-Lotte Gnüg: Okay, that sounds very interesting. It means that only long-term and recurring actions actually promote employee motivation. Have I understood that correctly?
Stefanie Mannseicher: Yes, you could say that. There are also different motivational factors, which of course vary from one person to another. There are classic extrinsic and intrinsic factors. An extrinsic factor is, for example, the nice bonus at the end of the year, salary increases or even getting a company car. Not to forget, however, the intrinsic factors that simply motivate an employee from within to give his best performance and, in the best case, to put in the best effort in the respective tasks. These include factors such as classic appreciation. Appreciation begins with the manager, being heard and seen, sometimes receiving recognition and praise for a job well done, and also getting the right and constructive feedback on what you might do better next time and what was already very good. You know classic “feedback burgers”: A positive feedback conversation, with topics that can perhaps be improved, which ends with a positive note. Another example would also be a certain degree of freedom at work, in order to realize one’s own strengths and to create one’s own freedom in one’s own topics. Another important issue is, of course, communication and transparency, especially in times like the present, which are unstable and lead to uncertainty. Here it is very important to create transparency, to have an open ear for your respective employees, also as a manager, and of course to radiate security and trust, and to bring employees up to date with the latest news and simply stay in conversation. A good working atmosphere among colleagues, where one feels comfortable, likes to exchange ideas, shares knowledge and enjoys working together, as well as a good error culture are also very important intrinsic factors. And it is up to the manager to trigger these respective motivators, which are differently pronounced among employees.
Eva-Lotte Gnüg: In theory, that all sounds quite good. Have any of you ever actually experienced this in practice? Could you name an example in which you once experienced a manager or a corporate spirit that is a positive example of employee motivation?
Ann-Kathrin Krichel: Yes, I can tell you about one. I would like to add that you always have to make sure that it fits your individual needs. The example I will now mention is one that caught my personal eye. I once experienced a supervisor of whom I can say that I have rarely seen anyone who worked with so much appreciation, communication and praise while still disciplining the team. This was simply because the employees had the feeling that they were picked up when something important was on the agenda. Nothing was withheld from them. If they did something well, even if it was a small thing, it was noticed and appreciated. The funny thing about the story is that when you failed to do something or someone felt that they couldn’t finish it, the employees actually did volunteer overtime because they didn’t want to disappoint their manager in that sense. That shows how much more you are willing to give if you are motivated and have the feeling that something is getting through. However, you always have to keep in mind that people are different and might needs different things. The manager has to develop a sensitivity and needs to use measures which are suitable.
Eva-Lotte Gnüg: So it is very individual. But what you just told me sounds like you can really get a lot out of it if you get the right point of attack from the employees.
Ann-Kathrin Krichel: Yes, definitely.
Eva-Lotte Gnüg: Right now we are in a very special time with Corona. It’s a rather unstable situation and for some of them an uncertain job outlook. Everyone has to work from home, you don’t see each other personally in the office anymore. What can you currently recommend to keep up the motivation of your employees or to push them especially, because these are simply more difficult times?
Stefanie Mannseicher: In times like the Corona crisis, when you can’t meet physically at the workplace every day or not at all, you have to create a different, safe working environment and the right structures. This starts with communication and transparency, starting with the management and extending to the colleagues. You have to get the feeling that you are still included, heard and seen. If, for example, you don’t yet have an All-Hands in your diary, you should introduce this, also at regular intervals, where all employees are involved, can voice their questions and suggestions, and where you can simply get the necessary information or also receive important information via regular info mails. Or one can also make greater use of other technical tools to communicate, chat with each other, exchange interesting information and even go into a video chat together and see each other’s faces and create a sense of closeness to colleagues. This can also be used to bring a little structure, security and regularity back into everyday life, to give a feeling of closeness to the team and the respective manager, so that this thread and also the motivation to continue things autonomously is not broken. This makes it all the more important to show the right employee motivation or to motivate the employees to carry on the tasks autonomously and independently and to simply maintain this flow of communication.
Ann-Kathrin Krichel: Basically, you could say it’s a bit of a two-way street. On the one hand, as Steffi already mentioned, you have all these structural things, the communication things. And on the other hand, you have to or should at least focus on the social interaction, which is not directly related to work, because as a social being you are of course also dependent on having a digital coffee break, so that you somehow create the atmosphere through certain meetings or a break via virtual teambuilding. There are really many very good methods that you can use to get a little bit out of this work. And especially now, when we’re basically just sitting in front of the laptop and working, it’s very important.
Stefanie Mannseicher: I can only agree with that and say from my own experience that it connects, motivates, drives, gives a certain security and stability and simply keeps us close to our colleagues.
Eva-Lotte Gnüg: Ann-Kathrin, I know that in your current project you also work a lot with Virtual Teambuilding, for example. Can you give me another example of what you can do remotely but still interactively?
Ann-Kathrin Krichel: Yes. Actually, there are a lot of tools available and to prefer one over the other would be almost unfair. Starting with those classic games like “Taboo”, “Activity”, “Pantomime” that you know, you can also try them remotely. There are also a lot of other fun games where you get to know your colleagues better, because you have to make up stories and your colleagues have to guess who is lying and who made up which story. In a very playful way there’s a huge toolbox and you always have to look: What suits my team? Because I also know from my project that some teams are like that, that they are on fire for these funny, crazy games, while others are more reserved. So you also have to look at what fits best and actually motivates the characters that are on my team.
Eva-Lotte Gnüg: Very exciting! Thank you very much! With these tips we are well prepared for the next weeks. Thank you very much for taking the time for our podcast. If we have also aroused your curiosity out there or if you have any questions on the topic of “employee motivation”, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to answer any further questions there. In any case, we look forward to hearing from you!