Motivating employees in the new normal


The new world of work consists of high-tech, distanced teams, hybrid models of in-the-office combined with work-from-home. Customers are increasingly expectant of efficient online service and delivery options. It is an evolving challenge to keep customers happy and employees motivated.

If you are feeling a little overwhelmed as a small business owner, you are not alone. Large corporations are grappling with the same problems; however, your advantage lies in the agility that is core to being a small business. Adapting to change is what small businesses do well.

The following tips may help you navigate the new world of remote management.


High-Tech and High Touch

Technology may have facilitated the work-from-home capability of your business, but it cannot replace our fundamental human need for society. Sharing a joke or chatting at the coffee station was part of our daily dose of human interaction and it made us more productive. A physical team has the benefit of this camaraderie to solve problems or to take a sanity check when the pressure is on. Sitting alone, behind a screen may leave an employee feeling distant and disconnected.

It is easy to lose sight of the big picture and why my work matters. Work is, well, work. Much of our day consists of uninspiring tasks such as producing reports, spreadsheets, and handling mundane customer enquiries.

Our employees need to feel that they are part of something worthwhile. They need to see how they fit into the jigsaw puzzle and that they are still an important part of a team.

How do we balance this high-tech world with our need for high touch?

  • Ensure that you communicate what is happening in the business and why – regularly. This is not a once-off tick box exercise. Share with your teams the trends and changes coming and ask for their input in adapting to them.
  • Have regular team check-ins with cameras on! Body language accounts for 55% of effective communication.
  • Clarify your expectations of your team and their expectations of you.

Flexibility and Feedback 

While regular team communication is important, so is individualised feedback on performance. We all enjoy an appreciative pat on the back and while considered criticism is not as welcome, it is necessary to ensure quality and productivity.

  • It’s important to move away from time and task-based management to measuring output and quality. Unless the nature of the job is such that the person is required to be available during specific hours because it is customer-facing, allow for flexibility in working hours. Having the opportunity to work around the school run or dentist appointments makes for less stressed employees.
  • If employee A is a quick worker who produces high-quality results, then it stands to reason that their reward could be shorter hours or at least a benefit of some sort.
  • Avoid micro-managing. Delegate a complete task with clear expectations and signal that you believe the person can achieve it. Check-in and offer support with broad guidelines but try to avoid telling them how to do something.
  • Demonstrate that you care by checking in regularly to see how an employee is feeling about the work and what support they may need. Don’t leave it until they drop the ball. A good coach knows the individuals within their team and when they are not performing at their best.
  • Give recognition when it’s due and do so publicly. This has the double effect of motivating the recipient to continue the good behaviour, whist inspiring others too.
  • Remember that feedback is a two-way street. Be open to requests, suggestions, and even complaints. If more than one person expresses frustration or that they are battling with the workload, this is a signal that something needs your attention. 

Have a Break, Have a KitKat

You may remember the adverts for KitKat, in which the person immediately relaxed once they unwrapped their chocolate bar and took a break. People need regular breaks from work and especially their screens to stay energised. A physical get-up and move around is vital for health, as is the mental break.

  • Think about how you can create a process that will ensure your team takes frequent breaks. Not only is it healthy and possibly fun, but the discipline of doing it will keep your team engaged and motivated. 
  • Introduce fun and humour wherever possible. e.g., the first 5 minutes of any meeting is reserved for chitchat and personal catch-ups; play games; introduce challenges that have fun rewards.
  • Schedule online play… it can be as simple as everyone e-meeting with a cup of coffee and no work agenda or a formal team-building session such as an online, facilitated cooking course. Surprise your team with a delivery of goodies. (This can work well to celebrate birthdays, or a goal achieved).
  • Avoid the trap of scheduling back-to-back meetings that leave people tired and frustrated because they don’t get time to complete tasks.

Experiment and Learn

To develop a growth mindset, we need to embrace failure as a learning experience. If we create an environment in which people are encouraged to take a risk or try something new, then we must be brave enough to accept that sometimes they will make a mistake.

Your team check-ins should include questions such as:

  • How did we do last week? What did we do well, what didn’t we do well and what can we learn from that?
  • What can we put in place to improve?
  • How can we support each other better?


In essence, being a good manager in a remote world requires a concerted effort on your part to stay in touch, in tune, and available, even if it is via a screen.


By Janet Askew

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