It’s unrealistic to not expect some challenges when fostering high morale. Miscommunication, lack of trust between employees, lack of respect and avoiding accountability are bound to happen at some point. Fostering morale can be difficult for any team, but especially for teams working remotely as it can be hard to maintain a sense of team connection
There’s no single factor that creates high morale, but rather a combination of multiple factors. By understanding the basic elements of what creates, builds and repairs morale, leaders can foster this within remote teams.
Strong morale is imperative to high performing teams. Leaders must create a safe structure and environment that cultivates a desirable culture of high employee morale. To do this, managers must lead the structure and the work while trusting the individual worker to complete tasks.
Effective communication can be a big hurdle for remote teams to overcome, leading to frustration, confusion and unnecessary friction. “[Communication] and shared identity within a team can mediate the effects of physical separation,” said Zara Abrams in an article for the American Psychological Association. One way to improve team communication and bolster morale is by encouraging transparency. When teammates know they can be honest about their feelings, what’s happening in their life, their wins and their mistakes, they feel safer, more secure and cared for in the workplace. This, in turn, builds trust among the team. It’s important to be each other’s biggest fan, encourage one another and motivate each other every step of the way.
Flexibility is also critical to morale in the workplace.
Leaders often hesitate to adopt flexible work arrangements out of fear that performance and productivity will suffer if employees are not monitored closely. Obviously, there’s a business or organization to run, so there must be some guidelines in place to ensure that goals are achieved and value is delivered. However, tempering structure with flexibility shows teammates that leaders understand that they have challenges and commitments outside of work.
For example, with recent COVID-19 events, a client of ours recognized their employees were struggling to help kids with online school activities while working from home. To help accommodate this, they decided meetings should only take place between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. By making this small adjustment to their working agreements, ensuring clear expectations and allowing employees to make up work in the evening as needed, the company saw an increase in productivity. This was a huge boost for morale too — teammates appreciated the company’s willingness to be proactive and respectful of their needs.
Transparency and flexibility go hand in hand — as does feedback from your employees for what they need to be successful. Honest, constructive feedback can only be provided in an environment where trust and transparency have been fostered.
Other ways to build morale include encouraging teamwork, acknowledging accomplishments, welcoming new ideas and encouraging fun. Some ideas to try that will foster these outcomes include:
One key element to building team morale that is often overlooked when it comes to remote teams is interacting with teammates on a personal level. When working in the same location, it’s easy to make plans after work or have impromptu conversations about non-work topics. It’s harder for these situations to occur naturally when teammate interaction is limited to chat, email and online meetings. As a substitute for hallway talk, you can arrange optional “water cooler” meetings where talking about work is discouraged and the focus is on building relationships.
If team participation is a concern, try some of these icebreakers to get the conversation started:
During stay-at-home orders, we’ve seen an increase in virtual water coolers or happy hours with teams that are used to frequent in-person interaction and want to stay connected as best they can. These teams understand the importance of personal interaction in creating bonds, while building trust and transparency between teammates. This same energy can be applied to teams that are remote during normal circumstances as well.
Teambuilding activities (different from team engagement opportunities) are great for improving communication and reinforcing a shared team identity. Perhaps team members are feeling isolated, apathetic or they’re craving more autonomy. Teambuilding activities serve to remind team members of the support available on the team, spark enthusiasm and allow teammates to demonstrate their decision-making and problem-solving skills.
Some examples of virtual team building activities include:
Don’t be discouraged or intimidated by the task of turning around low morale in an existing workplace. Negative morale is possible to improve and shouldn’t be ignored as it can lead to high turnover, unmotivated employees and damage company culture. A few signs of low morale include lack of enthusiasm, an increase in complaints, uncooperative attitudes and an increase in absences.
According to a report by O.C. Tanner Learning Group, 79% of people who quit their jobs cite “lack of appreciation” as their reason for leaving.
Repairing negative morale within an existing team can be daunting. Getting to the root cause of the problem is the first step in correcting it. If there are multiple factors impacting the morale of your team, focus on the areas over which you have control. Acknowledge that the problem may have been brewing for a while and easy fixes may not exist. Be patient. Meaningful change doesn’t happen overnight. When the atmosphere begins to improve, do periodic check-ins or anonymous surveys to identify weak points and ensure attitudes are creating a stronger, happier team.
Some considerations that will be helpful in repairing broken team morale include:
In a Forbes article, writers David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom explain: “Recognition is the number one thing employees say their manager could give them to inspire them to produce great work. Global studies prove that when it comes to inspiring people to be their best at work, nothing else comes close – not even higher pay, promotion, autonomy or training.”
Creating positive morale in the workplace and across remote teams becomes a reality by trying putting these strategies and techniques into place. Watch your team transform into a happy, high-spirited powerhouse ready to go above and beyond by committing to new approaches.
Whether the team is creating, building or repairing its morale, keeping a close pulse on individual and group needs is imperative for building an encouraging, high-performance environment — resulting in positive ripples throughout the organization as a whole.