Boosting employee morale in a remote setup

In a 2019 survey, Global Talent Trends by LinkedIn found “workplace flexibility” as a key ask from employees. Fastrack to 2020 and most organisations have been forced to accept work from home as a new norm. Covid-19 has radically altered the way we see work and interactions. I know it is a little late in the day for this article, and most leaders have been able to effectively navigate this setup, but I hope it helps in any small way.

While this setup has been a welcome change to the travel-to-office culture, it comes with its own challenges. Collaboration, a sense of belonging and morale can all take a hit.

As leaders, we are faced with a unique challenge of ensuring employee morale stays up despite the difficult and unusual times.

So how can we dial up our teams motivation levels? I thought of using the famously articulated Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to show simple things which can be done. Times such as these, often bring out the most primal and reactive parts of our brain into overdrive. This tends to bring heavier focus on the lower rungs of the hierarchy. However, there are various things, as leaders, we can do for each rung:

Physiological needs:

  • Ensure you maintain official work hours. One of the major concerns arising due to the pandemic is the increased blurring of lines between work and home. This is leading to longer work hours and managers expect their teams to be available 24×7. This can impact mental well being. As a leader it is your responsibility to set an example of a manageable work/life balance. Holidays and weekends should be sacrosanct. Avoid, unless necessary, emails beyond work hours or late at night.
  • Do not micromanage. Often with remote working, leaders tend to assume the employee is not working as efficiently. Trust the employee. Constant follow-up is not very encouraging and can lead to irritation and low morale.
  • Be considerate about meeting timings.
  • Technology and remote working setup: With work from home come a myriad of problems. Technology, an appropriate workspace free of interruptions, workspace tools etc are just some of the concerns facing remote employees. An organisation I know, provided remuneration to all employees for buying ergonomic chairs. It shows concern for the employee’s well being and speaks volumes for the organisation’s culture.

As leaders it is important to have a meaningful discussion with the employee to see any concerns being faced in this setup.

Psychological safety:

Psychological safety is the ability of an individual to speak up without the fear of repercussions or reprimand.

  • Get to know your team members – building a personal rapport is important to nurture trust. Employees will open up and share doubts, ask queries when they feel they can trust you. Informal check-ins help to get to know the individual better. You can also meet them for coffee outside of work or virtual coffee – if there is a location constraint.
  • Use technology that encourages conversations – use video conferencing facility when you want to encourage opinions. It helps to see body language and monitor visual cues.
  • Show vulnerability. There is compelling evidence to suggest that leaders who show vulnerability gain trust more easily. No one is perfect and acknowledging any mistake you might have made makes people believe you are real and human. Share your struggles and don’t try to cover up any errors made.
  • Celebrate divergent thinking. In a remote team environment, it is always uncomfortable for people to speak up. Thus it is your responsibility to ensure people do voice their opinions and are heard. Celebrate diverse thinking. Make someone wear a different hat for a meeting. Allow healthy risk taking. Don’t penalise team members for failing – instead share learnings.


As per Brene Brown, a noted professor and author, Belonging is when you don’t need to change yourself and can be completely authentic without any fear. In 2019 HBR published an article stating that high belonging was linked to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. Cultivating a sense of belonging is so critical for employee motivation, innovation and business performance; and with remote working even more difficult to get right.

  • Celebrate big and small wins.  
  • Create shared rituals – enable every team member to bring their whole self to work. Get the entire team to know each other beyond the professional setup. Hold beer-o-clock or bring your kid to work etc. Fun activities are possible even on a virtual setup.
  • Hold regular team meets. If the team is too diverse and works independently; setup monthly/quarterly all hands calls and fix smaller team meets so people are updated on happenings. Make them feel a part of the larger purpose.
  • Onboard new team members effectively – New team members often will feel the brunt of remote working. Ensure you connect with them and build a strong rapport early on. It is critical for them to feel comfortable and daily check-ins atleast initially might prove very useful in case they are struggling in their new role. A buddy would prove extremely useful to help them navigate the organisation better.

Self esteem:

  • Career and development conversations – Ensure these dialogues are not reserved for the end of the year. Even though you may work remotely, encourage regular check-ins on learning agendas and growth strategies. Loyalty increases if the employee feels you are invested in their growth, not only as an employee but as a person too.
  • Recognition – It’s important to recognise good work and acknowledge efforts real time. Have a quick video call or put a note on the group chat regarding the good work done. 
  • Give them screen time with management – If your team member has worked on a particular project, it’s a great opportunity to let them lead the presentation made to senior management.

Self actualisation:

Encourage the “Other Side” – with remote working comes the flexibility to decide where and how an individual works. This should ideally give them the freedom to focus on aspects apart from work and home. Is there a hobby your team member is passionate about? Encourage your team to pursue these. Have offline chats about them. A leader I knew, loved astronomy so much that he was asked to have a live session with his team (virtually) just to take them through various concepts of the universe.