Fostering Engagement in Remote Teams

Posted by on Jan 31, 2014 in Featured, Individuals, Miscellaneous, Organizations, Women | 0 comments

Engagement and hands

Once upon a time, with exception of salespeople and repair crews, everyone worked in offices with other people from their company. That still true for a lot of people, but today more than three quarters of the companies listed in Fortune Magazine’s “Best Companies to Work For” have people working remotely. That offers all the old challenges along with some new ones.

Engagement is an on-going challenge. Despite years of attempting to improve things, most consulting firms who survey engagement say that a maximum of 30% of the workforce is engaged. In their most recent report, Gallup tells us that “only 13% of workers feel engaged by their jobs.”

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Fostering Engagement 

We know the keys to engagement. When it comes to creating and sustaining engagement, the most important person is the boss. That’s not the CEO or someone high up on the organizational chart. It’s someone’s personal boss, the one they’re in contact with the most.

It’s what the boss does that counts. Creating engagement isn’t a matter of a corporate policy or a sophisticated compensation scheme. Engagement happens when the boss does things every day that create a great working environment.

That great working environment doesn’t drive or create engagement. It makes engagement possible. When the environment is unfriendly, people withdraw. They look for advantages. They pay more attention to politics than productivity.

When the working environment is good, people are free to lean in to work. They pay attention to their team and the work at hand. Those activities give a person a number of intrinsic rewards that drive a virtuous cycle of engagement.

The most important research on intrinsic motivation was done by Drs. Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, whose work established what is known as “Self-Determination Theory.” In several articles and their Handbook of Self-Determination Research, they identify three important human psychological needs: Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness. Meet those needs and engagement can happen.

You meet a team member’s needs for Autonomy when you give a team member as much control as possible as soon as possible. It also means allowing team members to make mistakes and helping them learn from them. In some situations, it may mean giving a team member a range of options instead of unlimited freedom to act or assigning or negotiating decision rights.

The need for Competence is the need to do good work and make progress. Positive feedback is the main tool you need to meet this need. Praise good work, but praise effort and improvement, too. Praise is powerful because it reinforces the idea of progress. Helping people achieve small wins and consistent progress, even in small ways, helps meet the Competence need.

Relatedness is the need to feel connected to other people. People need social support to thrive in any environment and when they have it at work, engagement can happen. Great bosses help meet the need for Relatedness in two ways: individual and group.

They should contact the team member often. Some want more attention and some want less, so every situation is a little different. But touching base to check on both work and well-being gives the boss the opportunity to have conversations. Those conversations are where rich personal relationships grow. Meet one-on-one frequently to assess performance and progress.

Make sure the team does things together. Routine meetings should help keep team members up to date on what everyone is doing and get help if they need it. Celebrate team and individual triumphs as a team.  

Making It Work with Remote Workers

The principles of creating an environment where engagement can grow are the same whether everyone is in the same office or whether you’re spread out across several time zones. Find ways to meet a workers’ needs for Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness and engagement can flourish.

You start with a benefit. Remote working helps meet most people’s needs for autonomy by nature. Don’t mess with that by checking up on work too often.

The trick is to make technology your friend. Use email or text for regular reminders and easy questions, but don’t depend on them for the conversations that build relationships.

Use the richest technology available for both group and one-on-one meetings. Video almost always helps meet those Relatedness needs, and make sure you have regular group meetings and celebrations.

Help team members learn through all the means available today. They’re more likely to make progress on their own if you show them the tools and give them encouragement.


Increasing engagement will always be a challenge, but meeting workers’ basic psychological needs will create an environment where engagement can thrive. That’s true whether you’re dealing with remote workers or people who all work in the same place.

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