The year 2020 has presented some… interesting challenges to say the least. But one of the most prevalent has been staying motivated at work. When you’re home, working in your pajamas and distractions just too close for you to ignore them, you have to think of new ways to be productive.

It seems like working remotely is going to be our reality for the rest of 2020 ― at least for the United States. We’re going to have to teach ourselves and our teams how to stay productive and motivated, even when we can’t be there face-to-face. 

Challenges to working online

To know how to fix a problem, we first have to address the issues. 

I had the opportunity to talk to Wendy Van DeLaCastro, the president of the Foundation for Lincoln Public Schools in Lincoln, Nebraska. She told me that, since the start of their quarantine, some of the hardest things to maintain among her team are collaboration and meaningful discussions.

When you’re communicating with a group of people over zoom or on the phone, you can get your message across, but it feels less personal than a normal conversation. Participants may not stay as engaged in the topic at hand so they may not put much thought into discussions and they may feel disconnected from the group.

She manages a team of eight people, and she works hard every day to make sure they each feel heard.

Communication, communication, communication.

Making sure your team feels like they have a voice is extremely important. It’s your job, as a good and effective leader, to listen and adapt. Working online isn’t easy for everyone. In order to make your team motivated and productive, accommodate your plans to fit how they work best.

Right before quarantine, Wendy Van DeLaCastro and her team were experimenting with an accountability program called EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System). It was a way to make sure everyone was getting their assigned tasks finished and accounted for while they were working apart.

“Because we had started this, working remotely actually made people more productive and on track, not less,” said Van DeLaCastro.

They would hold regular meetings over zoom to check in on projects and discuss the challenges they’d come across. But they also held daily “coffee breaks” where they met and talked about anything but work. 

“It kept us connected personally and allowed us to make sure everyone was ok during the crisis,” said Van DeLaCastro.

Due to these check-ins she had set up with her team, they were able to communicate with her that they were getting weary of the way they were forced to do business.

So she met with them and asked some questions ― What do you love about working remotely? What are you missing about working together? How can we bring the best of both back to our work when we come back together?

“What resulted was some really great ideas to dive deeper on. It also got some difficult conversations out on the table in a solution-oriented setting,” said Van DeLaCastro.

Give your team a shared purpose.

Establish goals and celebrate achievements. Even small teams can do amazing things when they’re motivated behind a mission.

Once Wendy and her team had that important discussion, they were able to focus and move forward toward a common goal. They had reaffirmed their objectives and each left with a clear motivation.

“We rallied and brought in over $400,000 in a very short amount of time to help students and their families impacted by the pandemic. Not only did we feel great about being able to help, but taking on a task like this sparked innovation unlike anything we have seen before. We got smarter, swifter, and more effective ― because we had to,” said Van DeLaCastro.

Changed for the better.

We’re all bound to come out of this crazy year a bit changed. There will be bumps and bruises along the way, but overall, we’ll gain a new perspective on our lives. At least I have.

I always assumed life was so stagnant before COVID. I thought that things about the world or about myself couldn’t change because it’s just “the way things are”. But I haven’t participated in what I called my “normal routine” in over four months, and I’m still completely fine. People adapt and change and can survive incredible circumstances.

When I talked to Wendy, she noticed a marked change in her team as well from before quarantine to now. 

“They are more self-directed, independent, communicative, and accountable to their own outcomes. They take pride in checking big accomplishments off the list and work hard not to let others down.”

We’re already halfway through this year. We’ve been through the “unprecedented times” and now we’re working on recovery and rebuilding. You and your team can make it out of this year better than it started ― you just have to do it together.