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This massive shift to remote work came with benefits such as increased flexibility, no commute, and a lower risk of contracting COVID-19. Many employers also agreed that working remotely has its benefits as the workforce becomes more skilled with digital tools.

Digital transformation has accelerated during COVID-19, as employees around the world leverage technology to work more efficiently and deliver better quality work from home.

However, the lack of in-person social interactions has led to lower employee morale. An employee’s morale reflects the organisation’s work culture, as well as their drive and motivation to perform well at work. Employees with high morale are more likely to integrate better into the organisational culture and will contribute more to ensure the company’s success.

When employees start to feel disconnected from their colleagues and company, they will start to experience low morale at work and poor productivity. This creates a “push” factor for them to search for new job opportunities.

However, asking the entire workforce to return to the office to revive the organisational culture is not the resolution to this problem, as many office workers have been empowered by remote working, and are passionately voicing out how working from home has benefited them. In our 2021 Randstad Employer Brand Research, 69% of respondents said that work-life balance is an important employee value proposition that they look for in an ideal employer.

A majority of the employees do not want to return to the office as they feel that the time and money they spent commuting between home and work could be better used for other aspects of their lives. Removing the option for employees to work remotely is likely going to land a hard hit on employee morale. Employees may not want to sacrifice the valuable time they could have with their family and friends when they can work from home.

Remote working has become table stakes, and employers need to meet the new expectations to be able to continue attracting and retaining good talent. That said, a strong focus on employee engagement, such as taking active steps to boost remote team morale and well-being can help minimise some of these workforce issues.

how to build team morale remotely
how to build team morale remotely

how do you keep team morale up and make remote employees feel included?

There are many things you could do as an employer to improve employee morale in your remote team. Here are some ways you can follow to prevent low employee morale and keep your team motivated remotely.

1. understand and accept what works best for your employees

Ever since the emergence of COVID-19, hybrid workplace models have been implemented by companies and remote work is also something that has been normalised today.

Employers need to accept that some employees just don’t want to return to the office if there’s no good reason for them to do so. If they are doing the same things in the office as they are at home — working from their desks and using instant messaging to connect with their colleagues — then there’s really no reason for them to be in the office.

The nature of remote working is not for everyone and some employees may find it hard to work from home because their home may not be a conducive place for work. At times like this, it would be the best to provide a palatable solution to your staff by providing them an option to choose what works best for them. Giving your staff the flexibility shows that you care about their well-being.

Furthermore, everyone needs to be more purposeful about how they spend their time in the office. Management teams should try to understand what type of activities would motivate remote workers  to return to spend time with each other. For example, creative brainstorming sessions, team-building activities, project kick-off meetings or new product launches would be great motivators for your staff members to return as they would want to be a part of the company’s progress, key milestones and major events.

2. schedule daily meetings

An easy way to engage employees is to create opportunities for them to connect with one another and be more involved in each other’s work. A 15-minute daily meeting to discuss company updates, project progress and work priorities for the day is a good way to help your remote team feel in sync with each other and included in the company’s growth.

Apart from daily meetings, you could also play some interactive online games as a team as a way to include everyone regardless of where they are working from. This would help boost your team spirit virtually, which may have a positive effect on work collaboration and relationships. 

3. acknowledge and recognise employee successes

The lack of small social interactions may not seem important to most people, but it may build up over time especially for remote workers. For example in a physical workplace, your boss could drop by your desk at work to compliment you on that great presentation you have just delivered to the management team. However, in a virtual presentation, everyone tends to log off right after it’s over, and may not stick around to interact or offer feedback. The employee often doesn't know whether they have done well for the presentation until the next team meeting.

When working remotely, you have to be more intentional about connecting with colleagues, so that moments for recognition are not pushed aside or overlooked. When good and hard work isn't recognised, employees will start to feel less motivated as they don’t feel appreciated or valued.

Acknowledge and celebrate your team members' good work. Make sure that you’re taking time to celebrate successes with your organisation or team, no matter how big or small their contributions are. Acknowledging good work and giving occasional compliments are one of the best morale boosters you can do and motivate your employees, especially during hard times. More often than not, those who feel acknowledged are likely to stay on track to meet their goals and do better.

4. encourage flexibility and breaks

Employees who work from home are less likely to take breaks compared to those in the office with some even having longer working hours. Employees working in the office are more likely to head out for lunch or go for coffee breaks with their colleagues. However, those working from home tend to take shorter lunch breaks and only excuse themselves to make a cup of coffee.

Make sure that your employees feel comfortable managing their time in a healthy and productive way, no matter where they are working. You can implement policies such as ‘no emails after 6pm’ or block 15-minute time slots in your team’s calendar so everyone remembers to take breaks throughout the day.

Flexibility is only a benefit if employees feel comfortable using it. Some managers find it difficult to oversee their teams from home, and have a tendency to micromanage staff in order to gain control. This lack of trust will only lead to greater workers and jobs’ dissatisfaction and resentment towards their bosses.

To successfully navigate this next normal and retain their best people, employers should move away from control to empowering their employees with autonomy. Develop work policies that look at employees’ total output and final deliverables, rather than monitoring how they spend every minute of their day.

5. turn on your video during virtual meeting

When working from home, virtual meetings are one of the few opportunities we get to connect with others and build a cohesive team dynamic. You can encourage everyone to turn on their video feed during these team meetings, no matter where they are.

Seeing colleagues’ faces (and even those of their pets and kids) adds an element of “human” connection to the remote teams. Turning on your video may not seem like a big deal, but this is especially meaningful for people who live alone, or new colleagues who have just joined the company. Being able to put faces to names would be particularly important during these times.

6. create a group chat

In between meetings and calls, remote work can get lonely. You can tackle this by staying connected with your team in a group chat, with the most commonly used tools being Whatsapp or Google Chats.

It’s impossible to virtually replicate the social dynamic of spending time together at work, but having all your colleagues interact or communicate in one channel can help keep the connection alive. If you already have a group chat, now’s the best time to leverage it to stay engaged as well as improve your manager-employee relationship. Keep in touch throughout the day by sharing tidbits, anecdotes, interesting facts and a steady stream of funny memes, even if they aren’t work-related.

In brief, creating a group chat will help to allow your staff to feel more connected with each other at all times.

7. focus on mental health

Working remotely can be hard on some, especially those suffering from anxiety and other mental health issues, thus taking care of one's mental health is crucial. Make an effort to stay in touch with your team beyond those team meetings and group chats. Be sure to reach out to your colleague who seems reserved, quieter than usual or is showing signs of stress or burnout. Even for those who seem completely fine, it would help to lift their spirits if you can reach out once in a while to let them know that there’s someone who still cares about them.

Human beings are social creatures, so offer your support openly and make sure to create a safe environment so that employees feel comfortable raising their mental health concerns.

staying social improve team spirit
staying social improve team spirit

8. plan regular social interactions

For many of us, work is a big part of our social lives. Our colleagues are also our friends whom we used to meet regularly for lunches and impromptu after-work dinners. Being disconnected from them can make us feel like we’re losing touch with them, or create a sense of fear that the relationships we have built over the years are deteriorating.

Staying social can help bridge the gap amongst colleagues and improve manager-employee relationships.. As more and more countries loosen up their social distancing measures, you can arrange for after-work dinners with your teams and colleagues to foster positive relationships. Just try not to talk business during these social gatherings so that your staff  or colleagues can “switch off”, simply enjoy each other’s company and have a good time.

9. offer learning and development opportunities

During the pandemic, many workers are left feeling ‘stuck’ - at home and in their careers. They are very aware of how much the world has changed and that their skills need updating to retain their employability.

To counter these restless feelings, you can offer ongoing training and development programmes to encourage remote team members to keep building their skills in a productive and meaningful way.

This will not only allow your employees to pick up new skills that interest them and prepare them for emerging, in-demand roles within your organisation, it is also a great talent retention and engagement strategy. When employees feel that their employers are invested in their personal and professional development, they will feel more motivated to stay and grow with the company.

10. gather regular feedback

No two companies will handle remote working the same way. That’s why it’s important to ask your teams how you can help and support them through any challenges they’re facing. The best way to ensure you’re hitting all the right notes is to ask for feedback from employees. This is the most effective method to identify and understand problems in your company. You can ask your team members  directly (if you’re sure they will feel comfortable opening up to you) or gather anonymous feedback in the form of an online survey.

However, be prepared that the feedback that you’ll receive will not necessarily be all rosy. As a team manager, it is critical that we receive and accept negative feedback to help us identify the critical gaps we need to fix and act on. Constructive feedback ensures we continue to learn and evolve so that we can remain relevant as our employees’ needs change in the new work environment.

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