Business owners, this is how to keep your team motivated

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The work from home setup was an exciting novelty but its shine has certainly worn off at this point. Now, you find yourself and your team going through the motions; maybe you’re not failing business-wise, but you’re certainly not succeeding.

The truth is, a lot of people are suffering from lockdown fatigue, the stress of sudden and ongoing lockdowns and the feeling that this uncertainty will last forever is crippling motivation. 

While remote office work initially offered flexibility and more time to spend on home life, people are now missing social interaction and a professional change of environment. Studies show that remote work doesn’t work for everyone, as many businesses and industries rely heavily on social and personal interactions to boost their sales and add value to their clients. 

After so many stop-start lockdowns, businesses are looking forward to getting back to the office and regaining momentum. In the meantime, small business owners and employees alike need to battle the “just get through” mentality and overcome the lack of motivation and failing sense of purpose while everything remains at a standstill. 

A bored or unmotivated team member can become a liability. As a leader, you need people pushing the business forward, not pulling it back, which is why you need to be able to turn things around early. If you can manage your team’s motivation now and push through this rough patch of lockdowns, you will have your systems and people in place for the restart.

While everyone else is counting their losses, this is a crucial time for leaders to truly inspire their team, and potentially attract even more high-achieving team members if they’re going through a growth period in business.

The challenges of keeping your team motivated while working remotely 

Knowing how to keep your team motivated is a crucial element of any small business operation and something most business owners find value in investing in. But adding the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing lockdowns, and the remote work setup means those old systems for engaging and rewarding your staff just aren't working anymore.

One big factor that some staff (and leaders) are taking to heart is a lack of a growth plan. Those wanting to build their careers and step up to bigger roles and successes are trapped in a period of waiting. 

This becomes more problematic when your high-achieving and most productive staff members start to lack motivation, as their drop in performance can have a ripple effect throughout the team.

Working remotely can exacerbate the situation if staff members start feeling more isolated and disengaged, leading them either to procrastinate or overwork (both of which are not ideal).

Other challenges you and your team may face in lockdown standby are:

  • Becoming easily distracted - Separating personal and professional lives at home can be hard with so many distractions such as house errands, loud neighbours, home-school, unstable internet connection, etc.
  • Lack of time management - It can be a big adjustment for people who are used to clocking in and out at a set time. Structuring their own work schedule can be overwhelming.
  • Lack of socialisation - We need human interaction and socialisation. Working from home can reduce opportunities to collaborate with others.

For a small business owner, overcoming these obstacles and staying motivated yourself is the important first step because this allows you to lead your team and help them regain motivation in their own work.

When you consistently set goals for yourself and your team and stay focused on realising your business visions, you create a purpose and plan that can get you all moving again. Be sure to include motivation strategies as part of your goal-setting action steps.

5 ways to keep your team motivated

To have a positive impact on your team's work drive, make sure that your strategies are team-inclusive and allow them to execute the steps themselves with real success, as opposed to something dictatorial or abstract. Here are five tips small business owners can apply to get their team motivated again.

1. Make your team members’ work more engaging

By boosting the engagement level of work tasks and projects, you’ll switch on your team’s creativity and get them looking at new angles. 

One option is to use gamification to keep things new and exciting and promote productivity. Gamification is the application of game-playing elements to nongame environments and is typically seen in reward programs like collecting stamps or badges. But it can be used for employees too. Developing individual and team-based goals can encourage your staff to do their best in their tasks and collaborate with each other.

It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all motivation strategy. When you accept staff feedback, you show that you value them and what they have to say. By leveraging their learning and communication styles, you can better identify which tasks are suited to each staff member’s strengths while developing them professionally in the long run.

2. Stop trying to force motivation

Forcing your staff to stay motivated can be counterproductive if you don’t take the time to address why they’re feeling that way and how you can help them overcome the challenges they’re facing. 

When motivation drops, a poor leader will use a verbal “stick” to berate the team into feeling motivated until the work environment turns toxic, which inevitably impacts the business for the worse. 

Here are signs that a business owner’s management style is toxic:

  • They’re self-centred
  • They’re controlling micromanagers
  • They use fear to “motivate” people
  • They disregard work-life balance 
  • They’re “always right”

Any of these toxic behaviours will definitely make a staff member feel discouraged (until they possibly leave to find a better workplace), so it’s important to use strategies that nurture a team rather than being dictatorial about keeping them motivated. If you are having trouble getting out of your toxic patterns, consider getting help from a qualified small business coach to undo the damage and create a healthy work environment. 

You can encourage your team to pursue their individual goals outside of the business. This helps you build a stronger relationship with them and also motivates your staff to do more quality work for your business. 

A good leader develops others into becoming leaders, not minions. Give them opportunities to lead smaller teams and empower them so that they gain more motivation and are more invested in the company.

3. Encourage your team to collaborate with each other (and with you)

Collaboration is important in business because it helps you: 

  • Solve problems faster - You can ask for different perspectives from people with different knowledge bases and skillsets, which allows you to resolve a given issue much faster.
  • Bring people closer together - This allows staff members who don’t normally interact (i.e. they’re from different departments) to work together and socialise.
  • Boost morale and productivity - Giving the team regular opportunities to collaborate with each other allows them to trust each other more and encourage each other.
  • Learn from each other - Collaboration gives your team members a chance to learn from each other’s workflow processes, successes, and failures.

Business leaders should encourage collaboration in their day-to-day work lives to create a more productive team. In a remote office setup, it’s much more difficult to maintain this—especially when the team starts expanding.

There are four categories of practices you can address to help your team become more communicative and collaborative: 

  • Executive support - Teams do better when managers and supervisors foster social relationships and demonstrate collaborative behaviours themselves.
  • HR practices - This includes formal and informal training such as professional development of staff members and community-building activities.
  • Team leadership - It’s important to assign the right leaders to manage your team once your business starts growing. They need to be task and relationship-oriented so that the team is engaged and motivated.
  • Team structure - There needs to be a clear assignment of roles and responsibilities so that members can be accountable for their own work.

4. Enable your staff to grow

You need to consistently provide developmental opportunities for your staff so that they can grow while still feeling invested and interested in the work they do to help your small business succeed.

Professional development can be a challenge in the current COVID-19 climate, but it is essential that you find creative ways to ensure that your team’s skills and knowledge stay relevant and up to date within their respective industries, helping your business move forward in the process. 

Once word gets around about the kind of workplace you’re building, you can attract and retain highly skilled staff members and provide business continuity.

5. Be an authentic leader

If your staff are intelligent and high-achievers they don't need to be motivated by “rah-rah” pep talks.

As a business leader, you need to be a straight shooter and walk the talk. If you keep insisting that your team should set goals for themselves, but they see that you don’t establish any for yourself or the business, then why should they? 

By following the motivation strategies you’ve given them yourself, you build your credibility and your staff’s trust and loyalty. 

Show your team that your business goals (and their individual goals) are still worthwhile and important, even if the world seems to be crumbling. This leadership style can create a positive work environment that will help you better support your team when they’re feeling unmotivated.

Letting your business productivity plummet during lockdown is going to have long term effects on motivation and efficiency, even when we get back to full speed. Now is the time to get your business team motivated and on track with completing your business goals. 

When you give your team engaging work and push them to increase their skills through development programs and training, they will rise to the challenge. It’s up to you to lead the way by finding your motivation and powering forward. If you are really stuck, a business coach can get you back on track and help with outlining your goals and vision.

If you need any advice or suggestions for developing these strategies in your workplace, talk to our business sherpas or head to our Evolve to Grow website. 

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