37 Ways to Motivate Your Team (Virtual or Otherwise)

Encouraging your team to do their job, perform well or even just hang in there during a difficult period is tough. It’s one of those things that are hard to learn in a business management class. If you run a business, virtual or otherwise, this list is for you:


Money is by far the easiest way to encourage your staff. So let’s get this list out of the way before we get to the real goodies. Remember, I got 37 of these bad boys!

1)     Give a Raise. Since the dawn of time, bosses have been giving raises. Sometimes this is due to inflation, sometimes this is due to merit, sometimes it is due to the guilt of the boss that you are working too hard. It is, by far, the easiest to accomplish but doesn’t do a whole lot to motivate people. And it rarely keeps any motivating juice after the check is cashed.

2)     Commission. Traditionally, commission is part of a salary package but don’t let that limit your thinking. If your dishwasher comes in with a multi-million dollar idea that saves your company, you should give him a commission on the idea. In my business this means if one of my writers brings me a new client on a plate, they typically do as much of the client’s work as possible plus they get a cut of the profits as a commission.

3)     Buy Lunch or Dinner. As a virtual business owner this means I send out gift certificates or a Paypal transfer. After a really tough week, I want to buy everybody ice cream. If we worked in a real office I could just get some ColdStone; but a gift certificate works and it conveys the same message.


Personal Touch:

These are the “low-cost” options but that takes some real effort. Unlike sending out gift certificates, each of these points takes some background knowledge of each team member. If your company is more than 50 people… you might want to delegate this to management.

4)     Handwritten notes. Go to Hallmark, buy a few packs of thank you cards and include the card in your next payroll. Or, just send it on a whim. This comes better at strategic points in your employee’s life. So instead of blasting all of them, keep the cards at your desk and once a week (put this in your calendar!) ask yourself who did an awesome job and send that person a card.

5)     Simply ask “How are you doing” and set aside the time to hear the full answer. I’m not above making a Skype call just to check in.

6)     Never, ever, ever send out a mass “thank you” email. It’s tacky and a lot of people won’t like it. Rather, send out individual emails. And no, don’t use your email software to “personalize” the names.

7)     Use the language of your team members. My staff is around the country so I try to keep my Kentucky slang to a minimum when conversing with Michigan. You can always be casual with team members, but don’t start text speaking with 50-somethings. It’s offensive.

8)     Find projects slightly outside of the normal routine but more in line with team members’ outside interests. Especially in a smaller company, there is always something to get done – who says it has to be the same person all the time?

9)     Make a note on a paycheck about something stellar the person did that pay period.

10)  Gives thanks to all involved.  If your company had a particular hard month with tons of overtime, send a thank you letter to the spouse of your team member for the support.

11)  Pass along articles or links that would be helpful to your team member. Note: this can be to do their job better or just for anything. “I saw this and thought of you” is a great thing to read.

12)  Let people in on your personal plans for them. Have a team member that you want to put on the fast track for management? Let them know where you see them in six months and how they can get there.

13)  Research a unique prize for each team member and then buy it when appropriate. For example, maybe you have an endurance runner on your team: send them runners socks or a gift certificate. Or you have a die-hard redvsblue fan, buy them some swank.


These are the ways you can encourage your team by giving them some glory. Give them the tools to look and feel awesome. Or, put them in a position that they will be praised. Keep in mind that this isn’t a great thing for all team members, so be mindful of who you “encourage” with these:

14) Empower your team members to “own” projects and customer issues. This is a hallmark of Marriott management and it is amazing. Give guidelines like, “if you can solve the problem with $100, solve it without a supervisor” so your team members can feel empowered.

15) Give your team members room to impress you. This is easier said than done in a virtual environment. You can’t see them so you have no idea if they are going to hit deadlines, until they do. Give them more work then you expect and just wait. You might find they are beyond impressive!

16)  Have a company-wide contest for the most sales, leads, performance, etc. The winner gets bragging rights or a new car. That part’s up to you.

17)  Create a group contest where the groups choose their leader. This is great on a lot of levels including gauging the leadership skills of team members.

18)  Share their goods on social media. Is someone in your office running a race for charity? Share that on your company social platforms and give them virtual kudos!

19)  Random Act of Bonus. I love this idea. If you see something or notice something that a team member does that is great or is simply something you would like to encourage in other team members, give them a little bonus. Even $50 can motivate the team and give some glory to the recipient.

20)  Document client feedback and let the company know which team member did a good job. Share testimonials on your site, in your company newsletter, anywhere.

21)  Create a place for your employees to interact with one another. An internal social network, a bulletin board, even an employee-only newsletter.

22)  Ask a team member to do a presentation or training on something they are awesome at doing. Even if it isn’t 100% work-related; but make sure to promote it enough that there are plenty of visitors.

23)  Invite team members to join in the brainstorm of company-wide projects. Who cares if it is outside their “job description?” They can provide some great perspective.

24)  Send a team member to a convention or training and ask them to come back and recap what they’ve learned.

General Goodness:

These are the things that keep all your team members motivated. They should be implemented as soon as possible and keep a steady morale.

25)  Create company wide rules, and keep them for everyone: including yourself. Fairness is a hallmark of American culture. Use it.

26)  Be proactive about holidays or other events you know people will be wondering about. For example, if you have a holiday coming up ask about who wants time off, etc.

27)  Invite a speaker to a company meeting to discuss things that are important to your team members. For example, our company has mostly freelancers as team members, so we bring in a CPA to do a virtual training twice a year so people know how to plan for and do taxes. It’s not required, but it shows your team that you care about them outside of work.

28)  Have quarterly goals and make them known to your team. You don’t have to open the books, but giving people a snapshot of the progress can be motivating. Especially when you emphasize how they have impacted the good!

29)  Provide resources that help some of your team members. For example, provide childcare services or 401K matching. This is going to drastically change company to company, so get a pulse of their needs and then fill them.

30)  Be mindful of your criticism. Keep track of your discouraging remarks. It can’t be all roses and bonuses but being intentional of sprinkling compliments with your criticism keeps you from being bossy.

31)  Let people in on your priorities. If you really want to land a specific client or you really want to get everything done in time for a special event, let your team in on the background chaos. Never complain to your team, but showing them some skin never hurt.

32)  Defend your team at all costs. This is huge and will help you keep morale. If your team knows that you will always defend them (to clients, to one another, etc), they will trust you.

33)  Don’t filter feedback. Okay, filter a little. If you are in a service-based business and a client comes screaming about something your team member did, make sure they know the concise issues brought up. Take out the angry words and hateful tone but if the meat of the feedback is “X wasn’t done” or “this needs X” then you owe it to your team member to pass that along.

34)  Re-adjust based on performance. You or your managers should know the pace of your team members. In writing, this is super easy. I can see the amount of words coming in each day for each writer. After I take into account the complexity level of their assignments, I know whether they are at a good pace. Once they slow down I investigate. Do they just hate that assignment? If so, can I give it to someone else? This helps moral…. and your bottom line.

35)  Have a truly open door policy. In a virtual environment, this means team members have my cell phone and Skype. For you, it could just be having your door open. Be sure to let people know what works for you.

36)  Don’t ask your team members to do something you wouldn’t. Unless it is something you truly wouldn’t know how to do based on a lack of skill.

37)  Admit your limitations. For me, I let my writers know that I am not a strong bulk writer. For you, this can be anything that overlaps you and your team’s skill set.

Wow! That pretty much wraps it up, huh? I love customer service, but I love team service even more. When you can motivate your team you are helping them help you. Small business development is more than just software or technique. It’s the people you are bringing to the next level.

I hope that this motivates you to motivate your team!

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Amie Marse is the founder of Content Equals Money. She lives in Lexington, KY with her two dogs: Billie and Lily. She has been writing content for her web based clients since 2005. She launched Content Equals Money in Oct of 2010, home of conversion focused content writing services. She loves to chat about small business development and how to make content equal money!

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    1. For me, the best among the suggestions you gave is “Research a unique prize for each team member”. Nothing can have a more personal touch than that.
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