Burnout is Real: Five ways to keep a startup team motivated while working remotely

The pandemic caused companies large and small to test out their capability to become fully remote. Many realized during this great experiment that having fully distributed teams generated numerous long-term benefits. The most significant benefits are the flexibility it offers to employees to work from anywhere and the cost-savings to employers that don’t need to fund massive office footprints.

As the economy begins to open, founders are searching for answers around if they should keep their teams fully remote or at least have flexibility. Meantime, we are witnessing burnout at every level as the line between work and life is blurred. Most are wondering if the hours saved every week on commuting will make up for the elimination of boundaries and the end of the casual water-cooler conversations that were so valuable to the culture. Can you keep your team motivated if they are scattered all over the country?

In search of motivation

One of the most powerful components of a high-fidelity startup is the connectivity within the team. Early-stage startups require a problem-solving mindset that is constantly in lockstep with your teammates. Distractions and miscommunication can be poison to a startup culture. In a fully remote workplace staying aligned and connected is challenging and requires a company mandate to stay on track. Remote teams don’t have the luxury to just walk over to a teammate’s desk to discuss a problem or quickly huddle up in a conference room, and they can’t ask how things are going in the break room or walk and talk over lunch. Communication ends up being less serendipitous and more calculated. Before you know it, the barrage of Slack notifications and scheduled Zoom meetings rule your team’s life.

To keep your team’s level of motivation high, you have to recognize the effects of constant communication and the lack of casual communication. Teams need to understand that it is not only ok to step away from their screens during the day, but it is actually not ok to be glued to them. For the past year as teams deep-dived into being fully distributed,100% remote organizations, we built a playbook for how to keep your team motivated. Here are a few tips.

Five motivation tactics you can start implementing today:

1. Digital detox:

Digital collaboration tools are essential to maintain productivity when working remotely. However, the volume of incoming emails, Zoom calls, and Slack messages can quickly become overwhelming. To give people a break, schedule a mandatory day off or half-day and require that the entire team step away from their computers and get outside.

2. Five minutes late:

With communication being so incredibly important in the early stages, startups often find every minute of the day scheduled. Nothing is more draining than waking up and looking at back-to-back Zoom meetings for 8 hours straight with no time to breathe. Setting up your calendar to book meetings 5–10 minutes past the hour can give your team the little buffer they need on their busiest days to grab a coffee, snack, and maybe take the dog out before their next scheduled meeting.

4. No agenda

Without the “water cooler” and the ability to just say hi to their fellow colleague in passing, remote teams need to find a way to get their team to know each other when small talk is never on the agenda. To do this, ask your team to take 15 mins a week to chat with a fellow teammate and get to know them. The people or HR team can match teammates up randomly and ask them to find a time to connect. Company leaders should make these little interactions a priority because they can make a big positive impact on the culture.

5. Remote fun

Work happy hours and company events are harder to execute in a remote world. Getting the entire team to join a Zoom and socialize is not realistic without some creative thinking. Shasta’s Caitlin Swofford has worked with a number of our founders to share some ideas of creative interactive virtual meetups that your team will look forward to. Caitlin has also planned these events for the Shasta team including a virtual chocolate tasting, remote escape rooms, and sommelier-level education. Remote events can be challenging but with a little effort, they can be even more enjoyable than the standard office happy hour especially when significant others, pets, and even kids share the screen.

Choosing to go remote

The decision to go fully remote should not be made lightly. Founders should keep culture in mind in order to ensure their team stays motivated and feels like they are part of the vision and mission of the startup. Management needs to be relentless about perfecting communication amongst team members to ensure everyone is running in the same direction. With adaptation to new strategies, I think remote teams will be the future of enterprise technology.

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