A Guide: 10 Best Ways to Motivate Remote Employees

February 17, 2021

Motivated employees are happy employees. They work harder, they take pride in their work, and they go the extra mile for their coworkers (and managers too!). In fact, they’re every organization’s dream: this is because the labor-efficiency ratio rendered by a group of highly- productive, highly-engaged employees directly increases your bottom line at the end of every year.

That’s right - you may not see it in black and white on your balance sheet each quarter - but unmotivated, unhappy employees inadvertently slow growth and hamper revenue numbers, probably more than you’re comfortable admitting. That’s because not only do unmotivated employees lack investment in their job, but their mentality encourages other workers to question the importance of tasks too. As such, the potential ripple effects are troubling and costly. 

So how can you maximize your number of highly-motivated employees, and limit the number of workers who feel unengaged? Perhaps more challenging, how to motivate remote employees during covid? 

That’s what we’ll explore today. We’re going to explain: 

  1. What Does Employee Motivation Consist Of?
  2. How to Manage and Motivate a Remote Workforce
  3. Fun Ways to Engage and Motivate Remote Employees
  4. Psychological Hacks To Increase Productivity Levels 
  5. Other Proven Employee Motivation Strategies 
  6. Takeaway Thoughts 

What Does Employee Motivation Consist Of?

“Employee motivation” is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot these days, but what does it really mean?Essentially, it constitutes the levels of energy, innovation, creativity, and commitment that workers bring to their jobs. These are positive feelings and drivers that your workers - ideally - hold intrinsically and want to apply to their job or role. So how can you encourage your employees to feel more of these positive emotions? Well, we’ve broken down 3 key components that are proven to feed into your workers’ motivation levels. 

a) Empowerment 

This is an issue many small businesses struggle with as they transition from founder-led and run to larger and focused on delegation. Indeed, this is such an issue because the person who created the company may find it difficult to give up control or essential tasks to anyone but themselves for fear of these delegates “not doing it right.” 

Unfortunately, this turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you don’t trust your employees with tasks, you deny them agency and empowerment. Since they are never trusted with meaningful tasks, they have no reason to feel invested in the future of the company, and so they gradually become: 1) more and more disconnected from their tasks, and 2) disinclined to perform well. 

b) Room for creativity 

Does your organization punish people for small mistakes? Is there a feeling that people can share ideas (even whacky ones), get innovative, and think outside the box without fear of rebuke or laughter? 

If not, this could be a stifling factor that’s causing low productivity. When people are allowed to be creative, they can really take ownership over their tasks. Afterall, as long as they produce results, does it matter if their methods are a little quirky or if they do it a different way than usual? Workers need to feel they have the opportunity to think for themselves and create new and improved ways to accomplish better results

c) Learning 

What’s the difference between a “growth” and a “fixed” mindset? Well, everything really. Definitively speaking, they’re sets of opposing beliefs, attitudes, and thoughts. 

“Growth” mindset indicates you believe skills can be built; you persevere in the face of setbacks and failure; you embrace challenges; and you accept criticism. On the other hand, a “fixed” mindset consists of the notions that skills are innate (not learnt); you are either good (or not good) at something; you give up in the face of challenges. So, saying that, with a choice of the two, which type of person would you rather have on your team? 

Probably a person with a growth mindset. That’s why, when it comes to the hiring process, you should look for evidence of a growth mindset in your candidates, but also long after they are onboarded, you should then cultivate this mindset. 

This means offering employees opportunities for learning: offer free trainings, lessons, courses, and anything else you can think of that is lightly, or heavily, tied into their job. The idea here? Employees associate their job with opportunities for growth, which assists in levels of happiness, engagement, commitment, and discipline. All positive factors that heighten employee motivation.  

How To Manage and Motivate Remote Employees 

So, having gone through all the factors that influence employee motivation, let’s talk about tangible tips for motivating remote employees and other unique ideas to motivate staff. 

Fun Ways To Engage and Motivate Remote Employees

1. Send Them Some Swag 

Remember how we said that employees need to feel that their work is important and that they’re appreciated in the workplace? Well, one way to show that they are an invaluable asset to your organization is to send them a swag bag, straight to their home. 

This can be as small or grand of a gesture as you’d like. For instance, you could send a token of appreciation, like a branded Patagonia jacket with your company’s logo on the front to thank them for their hard work (and stir up some organizational pride!), or if you wanted to go bigger, you could send a full swag kit. This is where you have several curated, aesthetically pleasing (and useful) items in one package, and it’s often themed. Think new hire kits, retirement kits, appreciation kits, wellness kits, and more. 

Thanks to the psychological phenomenon of reciprocation - in which, when you give someone something, they feel inclined to repay the favor somehow - this often works as a great sparker of employee motivation. Workers feel grateful, heard, and important, and they like to repay this gesture of gratitude by putting more time and effort into your company.  

This is one of the best fun things to motivate employees, as you can make it thoughtful, as well as enjoyable to receive! Specifically, think about including in your packages a reusable water bottle (S’well or Nalgene are popular choices) to remind your employees to stay hydrated, a yoga mat for at-home exercise, a cotton T-shirt (to stay comfy!), and feel-good snacks for lunch.

Quick note here: remember that in the age of covid, where many workers are struggling with mental health due to lockdowns and financial difficulties due to economic uncertainty, it goes a long way to make sure your packages are thoughtful and speak to employees' current struggles and wants.  

2. Weekly Team-Building Activities 

Motivated employees are those that feel they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. On the one hand, this means they’re contributing to larger organizational goals, but another important part of this feeling is their role within the larger team they’re a part of.

So as you’re thinking about the difficulties of how to engage remote employees, think about how you can get them to connect with their team members outside of regular meetings and projects. For you, this may mean having a one-hour slot once a week where everyone on your team gets to know each other better through playing a light-hearted game! Since productivity levels are naturally lower on say a Friday afternoon as opposed to a Monday morning, we recommend scheduling this activity for 1-3pm on a Friday as a precursor to the weekend. 

For this recommendation, we also suggest you start with games like ‘2 Truths and a Lie,’ ‘Show and Tell,’ and ‘What’s On Your Desk’ - all these are really fun office games that can be easily moved to Zoom or Skype and offer your employees the opportunity to get to know each other! 

3. Send Them A Hand-Written Card

Along the lines of reminding your workers of their impact on your organization, we recommend taking the time to send a hand-written card. This is way more personal than an email and shows that you sat down to think about what to say, how to say it, and then took the initiative to post it too! Especially as National Employee Appreciation Day approaches (March 6), this is a great way to recognize and thank your employees for their hard work.

In our books, this is one of the best motivational ideas for remote teams because its: 1) economical, 2) doesn’t take much time, and 3) has a big impact on the recipient. 

Psychological Hacks To Increase Productivity Levels 

How to stay motivated working from home 2020 quickly (or not so quickly) extended into 2021, and now 1 year on from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, some organizations are finding their productivity levels are petering out

They may even have tried some exercises here and there to trigger an uptick, but no cigar. So if you’re stuck on how to keep team motivated working from home, or in particular how to motivate part-time employees who aren’t there (and working with the larger team) the full 40 hours a week, we recommend resorting to some psychological hacks that you can institute day to day that will make a make a big difference.

4. Praise in Public, Critique In Private 

This is extremely important when trying to motivate team work and individual work. And you may be surprised by what you consider ‘mild criticism’ being taken as a severe reprimand from one of your employees. 

Try to always be kind, good-willed, and generous with your employees, and consider how certain comments may appear when in a public circle. Something that may be considered a joke one on one with a well-liked employee can quickly morph into an embarrassing moment when surrounded by others in the office, especially if it may frame that employee in an unflattering light. Especially now that most offices are conducting meetings, projects, assignments, and tasks all online over Slack, BaseCamp, Asana, you name it - be careful of how your comments may appear in black and white on someone’s computer screen, without an affable smile or gentle tone to accompany your words. 

In a similar vein, make sure to publicly praise individual workers (and teams) when something is done right! Even if your team has been struggling to reach their targets, find ways to congratulate them on pushing through the difficulties, maintaining a positive attitude, and overcoming this adversity while working from home.  

5. Demonstrate Trust 

When pondering the question, “how do you motivate your employees,” the question of trust is now more important than ever. With employees out of the office and in their own office spaces at home, if they feel their manager does not trust them, the impact on morale can be devastating. This is because in one fell swoop you take away ‘empowerment’ and ‘creativity’ - two essential components of employee motivation. 

Our recommendation? Trust your employees until they give you a reason not to. Otherwise, the consequences of enabling a micro-manager can be pretty damaging to your business. 

6. Insist On Work-Life Balance

Based on Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs - and then borne out by further psychological studies - it appears that before employees can strive for excellence at work, happiness in their job, and higher engagement levels, they first need a baseline level of financial and mental stability

So how can you help them reach this baseline level so they can achieve success at work? Well, there are 2 main things your employees need: 1) to be paid a living wage, and 2) to not be overwhelmed with responsibilities. 

You can ensure the first requirement by paying your employees a better wage (often by compensating your employees slightly over market value, you’ll see improvements in employee retention, motivation, and productivity), and you can assist on the second requirement by offering flexible hours and condensed work-weeks!

7. Start Unique Work-Place Traditions 

When considering how to motivate your employees effectively, a great way to consistently drive productivity is to institute incentive-based workplace traditions. For instance, in order to increase cold-calling and productivity from your sales team, you could create a 3 hour slot every Tuesday, for instance, where the team cold-calls together, and at the end of that slot, the person who has booked the most meetings gets to leave 2 hours early that Friday. 

We’ve found this is especially effective with results-based teams (like sales), but also any team where you can measure KPIs easily on a weekly level and provide rewards for exceptional results will benefit motivationally from this exercise!

Other Proven Employee Motivation Strategies

8. Give Them Meaning 

Did you know that employees who are “brought along on the goal-setting journey” are almost 4 times more likely to be engaged than those who are simply relayed the organizational goals later down the line? 

It goes without saying that obviously not all employees can be heavily involved in the goal-setting process for your department or team, but try to get feedback from as many employees as possible at the beginning of the quarter regarding: 1) what challenges they see ahead, 2) how they can overcome them, 3) any innovative or unique ideas that have for handling potential issues, and 4) what goal they’re most excited to hit. 

Take time at least once a quarter to explain to employees and teams the part they play in the overall success of a project, and why their function is so important.  Again, in considering how to engage remote employees, we can see empowerment and freedom are two essential components to workers’ happiness and motivation levels. 

9. Give Them a Mentor 

Remember how we said that learning is key to cultivating a growth mindset and fostering employee motivation? 

Well, in considering work from home motivation ideas, you should put mentorship at the top of the list. This is important for two reasons: 1) at a time when everybody is out of the office, reconnecting with senior team members and other workers from your organization is key to building morale and fostering feelings of community, and 2) mentorship helps employees think about and outline their career development path. 

If employees are working with a mentor on their trajectory within the organization, they’re more likely to see the potential contributions they could make in the future, see the financial opportunity your company offers, and feel invested in reaching organizational goals to realize these rewards. 

10. Offer Trainings  

The question of how to motivate your employees effectively can be answered in the form of offering training programs and other learning opportunities that your organization either offers or pays for. 

Here’s some examples of particularly useful trainings broken down by two popular industries: 

Digital marketing 

  • Google analytics 
  • SEO Training 
  • Microsoft Excel (Beginner to Advanced) 


  • 3D and Animation Course 
  • Color Theory Training
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Adobe Photoshop 

And don’t forget, you can also offer more personal development based courses, on topics like: 

  • Meditation
  • Productivity and Time-Management
  • Stress Management
  • Mindfulness 

As we said at the beginning of this piece, motivated employees are happy employees, and this means taking a three-dimensional approach to their well-being.

Takeaway Thoughts:

We hope you’re walking away with some tangible, concrete steps you can take action on today to increase worker productivity levels within your organization. And if you decide to expand beyond the scope of this article, for instance by offering a wider selection of trainings or remote team building activities, then that is great  - just remember to base these exercises in empowering your employees, and giving them the freedom to get creative and take control of their own learning (inside and outside of the workplace!). 

And if you’d like to kick off your employee motivation initiative on a feel-good, fun note, then check out Gemnote’s lookbook for inspiration on swag bags. We’ve helped Google, Slack, Gusto, Starbucks, and more create custom gifts that get employees stoked to work for your company! 

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