How to harness peer motivation when you work from home

Written on 
June 8, 2020

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Research shows that we work better when we feel visible – when our work, efforts, successes and failures take place in the presence of others. It seems to magnify the importance of our work, and in turn pushes us to work harder. But remote work is by its nature socially isolated and individually experienced, meaning we can quickly become disconnected and lose group perspective. So how can distributed teams overcome their physical separation to harness peer motivation?

The importance of peer motivation

Collective encouragement and mutual excitement for the thrill of shared success is extremely powerful for teams. Team spirit and peer pressure (the good kind) have actually been shown to motivate employees more than money.

“Peer pressure is a strong motivating force, and workers’ willingness to please people who mean something to them is often a stronger motivating force than financial rewards.”

- Greg Stewart, Professor of Management and Organizations in the UI Tippie College of Business

In one motivation study involving 1,200 employees, 83% of participants said recognition for their contributions was more fulfilling than any rewards or gifts; 76% found peer praise very motivating; 88% found praise from managers extremely motivating; and a huge 90% were inspired by a “fun work environment”.

While it’s no surprise that we tend to work harder when we feel people are watching, it does present problems for those of us currently working alone. Without anyone about to recognize how hard we’re working or celebrate our successes, our motivation can quickly falter. So how can colleagues working from home continue to access peer motivation and spur each other on?

How remote workers can use peer motivation

Peer motivation can still exist within the virtual space – it just requires the right tech infrastructure, team-wide effort, and open-mindedness. Half of our team here at Memory works remotely full-time across the globe, but our sense of community and camaraderie is very much alive and kicking. Here are the main approaches we use to keep our work transparent and our successes collectively felt.

Find tools that keep everyone’s work visible

It can feel crushing to work hard on a task for days or weeks, only for it to go unnoticed. It’s also just basic good practice for managers to have a hold on who’s doing what, and whether people are working beyond their capacity. There are a ton of smart tools out there that make it effortless to keep everyone’s efforts visible. Task management tools and team planners are a good place to start. For more granular detail, try an automatic time tracking tool like Timely. We use it to visualize all our work, stick to our weekly hours, keep overtime in check and be more considerate with our planning.  

Hold weekly “show and tell” virtual team catch-ups

Once a week, set up a weekly video conference or chat where teams can showcase what they’re working on in detail, share what they’ve learned, and talk about any challenges or set-backs they might have faced. This doesn’t only give employees a chance to share the work they’re proud of and receive recognition, but it also helps to keep them accountable. Plus, the added social aspect helps foster a sense of belonging – a big motivator in and of itself. We apply this same approach to our monthly all-hands meetings, as it allows teams who don’t typically work together to celebrate each other’s successes.

Encourage people to self-advocate

It sounds counter-intuitive, but remote peer motivation relies to an extent on every individual regularly blowing their own horn. With no-one in the room to witness the completion of an important task, being able to self-advocate is enormously beneficial. This doesn’t come easy for many people, but you can normalize it to an extent by creating dedicated channels for celebrating accomplishments. We have running Slack channels for broadcasting team efforts – like publishing a new marketing page, nailing a tricky bug fix, sharing customer feedback and broadcasting new sales – as well as a global #FridayWin roundup. These mechanisms help to ease the awkwardness of patting yourself on the back, providing a simple structure for everyone to follow.

Use Objectives and Key Results

Collective effort is a huge part of intrinsic group motivation, so it’s important for people to see exactly how their work is impacting shared team goals. Setting OKRs can help provide a simple framework for all team work, and help bring disparate company efforts together. Being measurable, OKRs help us understand how our work contributes to the bigger picture, letting us know that we’re adding something meaningful. They help everyone quantify their achievements and see what they’ve accomplished, both individually and collectively.

Connect your WFH experience

Despite all of these mechanisms, working from home ultimately still involves working on your own. There’s a huge amount of individual learning linked to that, as people figure out boundaries, structures and routines. But these individual experiences can be connected to bring your team closer together. Try reserving the last 15 minutes of your weekly team meetings to exchange experiences; feeding back on how you’re all feeling, what approaches have and haven’t worked, and what new ideas you can try together. Protecting space to just listen to each like this is essential for strengthening group empathy and support.

⚡️ 4 ways to keep remote work visible

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