How to Encourage Your Team When They’re in the Thick of a Project

It’s an all-too-familiar scene: You’re leading your remote team through a major project–and you’re worried they’re losing steam. Maybe you’re preparing for a flip-the-switch rebranding project that requires lots of layers of review. Maybe it’s annual report season, and changing conditions have forced production out another month. Whatever the project, it’s high stress and high stakes. Tensions are high. And all the while, a series of unrelated tasks is piling up for each of your employees, each of whom wears multiple hats within your organization. 

You know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but your employees are tired and morale is low. You’re wondering exactly how to encourage a team of remote employees, and what you can do to help them get through this difficult-yet-critical time. 

Fortunately, there are lots of ways you can help boost your team’s energy and spirits. In this piece, we’ll explore five ways you can motivate your team when times are tough.

Have (and Communicate) a Clear Plan

There’s nothing worse than a long-term project with no clear-cut deadlines for deliverables. That sets your team up for a whole host of problems–from scope creep to procrastination, anxiety from uncertainty, and everything between. Whether you’re just starting out on your project journey or you’re two months in and just realizing your team is struggling, it’s never too late to map out your project a bit and help your team visualize steps in their journey. 

Set up your schedule with both major milestones and smaller steps that your team will complete along the way. Take time to acknowledge when you’ve hit a new step or milestone. This will alleviate a lot of stress for your team.

Give Them Space

Remote workers already worry about misperceptions where the nature of their work is concerned. They tend to overcommunicate, over-deliver, and worry nonstop that you’ll think they’re not doing their jobs. If you have a team you trust, be sure you’re not micromanaging them. If you’ve communicated their deadlines and deliverables well, you should be able to feel confident that they’ll flag any issues for you and, otherwise, will get their jobs done. 

To that end, set up a system of communication where your employees feel empowered to come to you with questions or for motivation–but where you’re not continually checking up on them. Give them ample opportunity to consult you as questions arise. You might find your employees are more likely to come to you with potential problems that you can troubleshoot together.

Celebrate Victories Great and Small

Do you and your remote team define victory as project completion? If so, it’s time to break that down. Sure, you’re all working toward that major goal, but there are lots of opportunities to show gratitude for, and celebrate, all that your employees are achieving on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. 

Did some of your employees go above and beyond their hourly responsibilities for website quality assurance testing, or to proof copy for your new digital report? If so, call them out in your next meeting. Offer them a small reward–it could be something as simple as allowing them to take a half-day at the end of that week, or something more tangible like a digital gift card to a coffee shop near them. Show them that you noticed the effort they are putting into this project, and that it means a lot to you. Employees who feel appreciated are happier and may take more pride in their work. 

Do The Hard Work With Them

If your employees feel like they’re doing all the heavy lifting on this project with no elbow grease from leadership, they’re likely to feel frustrated, misunderstood, and tapped out. It’s important that you show your employees that you’re working right alongside them, that you hear their concerns, and that you consider yourself an equal member of the team. If your employees are working late, check in with them and offer support. Make yourself available to all team members, but make special time to connect with the remote folks who are heavily involved in the project. Perhaps that means video one-on-one meetings or weekly motivational check-ins. You could even create a method of communication specific to that particular project (perhaps an email thread, Slack group, or Basecamp project) and communicate content both serious and silly. (After all, nothing shows that you “get it” like a well-timed joke or meme.)

Enforce Work-Life Balance

For remote workers–and especially for remote workers who are in the throes of a difficult project–work-life balance is the first thing to go. If you notice any of your employees burning the candle at both ends (i.e. delivering on deadlines late in the evening or early in the morning, or answering emails nonstop), check in with them. Explain that you see how hard they’re working and that you value their dedication, but that you care about their mental health and want to help them feel like they can get some space from work. Offer what you can: Perhaps it’s something simple like giving them permission to turn off their email after hours, or maybe it’s helping them balance their workload and taking things off their plate so they can focus on organizational priorities.  

Big projects can make or break a team. But if you handle your next major project with empathy, communication, and a clear plan, you’ll find that your team completes this project with more energy and motivation than ever before. 

Photo by Jo Szczepanska