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Improving Motivation Virtual Teams



The Importance of Motivation in Virtual Teams


Virtual teams are made of people that work together electronically and get to meet face to face infrequently. The challenge of interacting with team members virtually may cause lack of workflow and feedback.  Even though virtual teams may have technology tools that allow for easier collaboration and virtual teams much more feasible, still it is a challenge to keep the members connected and motivated consistently.


Motivating team members is needed irrespective of the nature of teams, virtual or same physical location teams. There are certain basic differences in the nature of the teams that makes keeping virtual teams motivated more challenging than the same physical location teams:


  • Physical Presence: The mere physical presence of a manager keeps teams active and attentive which is not possible in virtual teams. 
  • Being physically away, virtual teams do not see their mangers as often as same location teams: being physically away, same kind bonding won’t exist. On line solutions can help notify employees about recognition but it is not same as talking to person directly. 
  • Managers don’t have opportunity to see facial expressions: This makes it challenging for the managers to understand how the team members react for a particular action by the manager/management/company.


The above factors will make it more important for managers of keep virtual teams motivated to be contributing for team’s success continuously.



Motivating Virtual Teams


Motivation is essential for getting members of any team to collaborate and be produce intended goals of any organization. Motivating virtual teams needs an extra effort by the team management because of the physical distance. It requires special effort by the team management to “connect” with virtual team members located at a different physical location. Instead of just walking by and giving patting to a member in same location environment, the team lead has to call up and talk. The conversation has to be continuous for conveying to virtual team members that the effort of each member is essential/recognized and cared.


An organization/Project manager needs to demonstrate and show to the virtual teams that organization understands the special needs of virtual teams and provide the required infrastructure that the virtual teams need (1). The organizations will need to build work culture and infrastructure where virtual teams can function at the same level and way as that of in location teams.


  • Providing the PCs equipped with web cams or any other video enabled devices to enable the virtual team mates can see the faces of each other during meetings or individuation telephone conversations. Having face behind the conversation will make the virtual environment little closure to in location, as well as it helps the team members to get the cues from facial expressions of other members during conversations.
  • Making it a culture for teams being sensitive about the time differences/zones of individuals while scheduling meetings.
  • Creating internal Facebook like systems will help so that remote workers can share with and learn about fellow employees and team mates (2) 


Recognizing motivational needs - Different things motivate different individuals

Not every individual has the same motivational needs and while a certain incentive would work for one team member it would not motivate the other.


“Money” not a universal motivator

Even though money can motivate a lot of people, giving money will not have same motivational impact on every member of the team. For instance, if a member is financially insecure he will value a raise more than anything else, but the same raise will not work on a financially secure member, he can be concentrating on job security or his own safety, therefore it is of utmost importance to get to know your team. Once you have worked out where they stand on the hierarchy of needs, you can work out the best motivational incentive for them. Macro-management does not pay the dividends (3).


Incentive or reward

The virtual teams will need to be rewarded on par with in location teams. There is no need for any extra tangible/intangible rewards for virtual teams compared to in location teams. In fact providing extra rewards or benefits only for virtual teams could be demotivating for the in location teams and can become harmful to the organization. Having said that rewarding the virtual teams is same as that of in location teams, all the rules of motivating teams with a fair and appropriate reward structures apply.


Improve the Quality of Communications

Virtual teams may consist of members that consist of different native languages. To improve the quality conference calls, the group can do the following:


  • Have additional IM window open during the conference call, where the member can type out their key points and explain while they are on the call
  • Type out blog updates that covers what the conference call highlighted


Written communication can improve the quality of communication by allowing the team members understand each other and decrease confusion.



Motivation Determined by Individual’s Nature 


What can “Motivate” an individual depends on individual’s nature, personality characteristics or behaviors.  People’s motivation can come from intrinsic or extrinsic source, which depends on several factors such as person’s characteristic, needs, job, organization, and culture.  In terms of getting motivation, there are two types of people. People who are Intrinsically Motivated and people who look for external sources for motivation.


Instrinsically Motivated (4)

Some people are more likely to focus on intrinsic source because they are interested in the work itself that may gain them a lot of experience or it’s challenged and believed to be important. In addition, those tasks may provide them with their own sake. They get feeling of achievement and the feeling of accomplishment when they work with those tasks. The intrinsically motivated is the thing like enjoyment, challenge, fulfilling, and interest. 


Extrinsically Motivated (5)

With extrinsic motivation, persons response very positively to the external factors or reward such as praise, money, benefits, or vacation time. Furthermore, people are extrinsically motivated if their reason at work is positive/poor performance review, opportunities for increasing bonus and the needs. Thus, some people are focus on extrinsic source because the rewards will provide them with satisfaction and pleasure that the job or task itself will not provide.



Motivation Differs for Different Generations


A generation gap at work can have a serious impact on employee motivation. Each generation grew up in a different time, with different values. Managing this gap can be quite a challenge if you see every employee through the eyes of your generation. Below sections would give you some guidance and tips on how to manage the generation gap.


Generation Y (6)

The generation composed of people born between 1981 and 1995 is informally known as the "plugged in" generation because of their familiarity with computers and the Internet. Generation Y are used to getting results at a touch of a button, they also require the most feedback of any of the previous generations. Members of this younger generation are more in tune with how the company is performing and are curious about how they can grow with the company.  

This need for constant feedback is also driven by their interest in bettering themselves and getting ready for their next position in or out of the company.


Tips for motivating Generation Y (7):


  • Provide mentors. They enjoy interacting with older generations, and learning in a hands on manner. It will also help you to close the generation gap.
  • They like to be challenged. Assign them to projects where they can truly learn.
  • They like to try new things. Boredom is your, and their, greatest enemy.
  • Let them work with their friends, as they are sociable and sharing.


Generation X (6)

Generation X, are people born between 1967 and 1980. Generation X are similar to Gen Y in that they both require more feedback than baby boomers and traditionalists. Like Gen Y'-ers, Gen X'-ers are keyed into technology and see their job as a career step instead of a destination.


Tips for motivating Generation Xers (7):   

  • Act with integrity and you will close the generation gap.
  • Provide family friendly environment and be flexibility in working hours etc.,
  • Give surprise rewards for unusual achievements
  • A little humor, something silly, practical jokes, a little bit of irrelevance will help to create a stimulating and productive work environment.
  • Use reverse mentoring system in which younger employees are assigned to older executives to get them up to speed with technology.
  • Don’t look over their shoulders, it irritates them.


Baby Boomers (6)

Baby boomer generation are people born between 1946 and 1964 -- are typically considered more conventional. The conventional types of feedback, such as annual or quarterly reviews, usually suffice.

The so-called "me" generation are more willing to stay at a job longer than Gen X'-ers or Gen Y'-ers, but they don't want to be slaves to their job like their parents. They are more motivated by the opportunities to shine within the company, and their interest in business-self-help books and tapes reflect this.


Tips for motivating Baby Boomers (7):     


  • Make rewards and recognition public
  • They will rely on you to generate energy and dynamism.
  • They want to be involved in all decisions. They are passionate about transparency and democracy in decision making. Include them at all stages.


The Traditionalists (6)

The generation composed of people born between 1900 to 1945 is the smallest slice of the work force. Their loyalty to the company is largely driven by their experience during the Depression and World War II.  When it comes to feedback, they believe in the mantra of "no news is good news," Pargman said.


Tips for motivating Traditionalists (7):


  • Make changes slowly. Don’t surprise them.
  • Make announcements well in advance
  • Alert them to your experience and credentials.
  • Look the part – always aim to be a degree more formally dressed than your team (if the majority comes from this generation).
  • Use surnames and titles. The Silents and GI’s prefer formality. Ask their permission before you address them by their first names.
  • They prefer clear lines of command. Stay away from matrix structures and cross functional teams. Ensure that they all report to only one boss. 



Collaboration Tools to Motivate Virtual Teams


When corporations implement carefully planned social networking tools amongst employees, the corporates can enjoy lasting financial and business benefits. Following are some of the tools in the market that can help corporations to establish social networking and bring together virtual teams together even if the employees are distributed all over the world:



Ning is a platform for creating social networks. Many of the Top organizers, marketers, influencers and activists use Ning to create an online destination that weaves social conversations in content and inspire actions. The Ning platform allows corporations of shapes and sizes to build custom and powerful social websites. Following are some of the nice features provided by Ning platform:


  • Unique member profiles
  • Controls for Moderation and privacy
  • Invite and Share using a rich featured invitation Engine
  • Latest Activity to let the network know what is happening
  • RSS Feeds
  • Discussion forums



SocialGo is another platform for building full featured social web site for a group, business or interest. On SocialGO platform the all features are managed and configured through Admin Center. Features can be added at any time by visiting Widget Store. SocialGO keeps adding features all the times. Some of the notable features on SocialGo are:


  • Profiles
  • Messaging
  • Events
  • Forums
  • Media
  • Integration with other media tools



KickApps with an incredible range of built in applications and features, gives corporations the power to build virtually any social media experience for employees. Following are some of the features of KickApps:


  • Branded Community
  • Website with Social Features
  • Contests and Sweep stakes
  • Custom Video social players
  • Unique social solutions



Conenza is web based social networking tool that allows corporate employees to establish powerful connections and turn them into rewarding communities.  Conenza allows corporates to:


  • Connect and engage global work force
  • Enhance communication and collaboration
  •  Increase efficiency and innovation
  • Transform Corporate alumni into strategic assets



Why is it Hard to Motivate Virtual Teams


As we are aware most of virtual collaboration comes in the form of telephones, emails, and internet connections. According to the interaction associates “humans take in 65% of their information in communication through their eyes by interpreting the body language of the speaker” (8). Because of this, workers tend to lose a sense of interest and connectedness during virtual collaboration and their ability to collaborate effectively tend to be weakened. If the ability to effectively collaborate is jeopardized then motivation for virtual collaboration will be lost. 



Steps to Avoid the Pitfalls in Virtual Teams


Improving quality of meetings is one of the things that can improve functioning of Virtual Teams. Creating better virtual meetings is good, but it is difficult to have Virtual Meetings when no one is in the same room.  In this section, it will provide best practices for Virtual Meetings


Start meetings on time 

Everyone should attend a virtual meeting 5 minutes prior, and it is crucial to start a virtual meeting on time.  If someone will be late, he should tell the leader of a meeting at least 1 hour before (9).


Create an atmosphere of trust 

Building trust is a prerequisite for having better virtual meetings (10) and creating teamwork of virtual teams.  There are several ways to create trust in virtual meetings (11):


  • Meet face-to-face in the first meeting if it is possible
  • Start with a weather report or personal information which is non-work related topics in weekly virtual meetings
  • Create trust by being open and honest with other virtual team members.
  • Discuss digital photos of team members in virtual teams


Be there and no one mutes their phone

During virtual meetings, team members should stay in one place, and no one mutes their phone.  Mute will degrade presence. You can’t focus on the meetings if you mute or drive during virtual meetings.  In addition, it will waste a lot of time.


Set clear realistic goals

It is necessary that every virtual meeting must have the goals, and each member in virtual teams should set objectives for themselves.  Planning will help virtual teams to set realistic and clear goals.  Moreover, the goals have to be SMART- Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Time-related. 


Have a shorter meeting

At the beginning of the meetings, promise that meeting will end about 10-15 minutes prior so you have time to do something else, and it can motivate your team members focusing on virtual meetings.


Individual recognition and value group members

Although teams have a virtual meeting only once a week, connecting group members as individuals is very important because everybody likes to be valued and recognized for their contribution.  This recognition can build personal relationship between the virtual members.  Additionally, you need to communicate respect and value toward each group members (12)


Use participant’s names

This will play off of individual recognition. Using their names during meetings will establish a level of trust and connectedness between group members and help build the feeling of inclusion. When you establish a feeling of inclusion in the meeting, members will be motivated to collaborate.


Plan ahead

Have an outline of the meeting ready for every member. Meetings with a lack of direction will create an atmosphere of disorganization and lead to a motivation breakdown. Providing an agenda beforehand also provides members with the chance to look over the topics and come up with ideas or comments for the meeting. Let them be involved in the meeting process (11)


Poll the group

During periods of the meeting pause and ask for the input of the other members. Calling on colleagues by their name to participate lets them know their opinion is valued. This level of inclusion motivates other members by letting them know that what they have to say matters to the group. 





(1) Leetham, Charly. 2010. "Small Business Success: Working With Virtual Teams", http://askcharlyleetham.com/services/business-coaching/small-business-success-working-wth-virtual-teams 


(2) Incentivemag.com members. 2009. "Ask the Expert", http://www.incentivemag.com/Incentive-Programs/Expert-Opinions/Ask-the-Experts/Articles/Ask-the-Experts,-November-2009/


(3) Baar, de Bas. 2008. "25 Sure-fire Ways To Motivate Your Team Members", www.basdebaar.com


(4) Bainbridge, Carol. "Intrinsic Motivation", http://giftedkids.about.com/od/glossary/g/intrinsic.htm 


(5) Bainbridge, Carol. "Extrinsic Motivation", http://giftedkids.about.com/od/glossary/g/extrinsic.htm


(6) Szakonyi, Mark. 2008. "Different generations require different feedback, motivation", http://www.bizjournals.com/jacksonville/stories/2008/01/07/story7.html


(7) Sustainble-employee-motivation.com members. "The Generation Gap And Motivation", http://www.sustainable-employee-motivation.com/generation-gap.html


(8) Interaction Associates, Inc. 2007. "20 Simple Ways to Improve Virtual Meetings", http://www.interactionassociates.com/pdf/IA_20_Simple_Ways_To_Improve_Virtual_Meetings.pdf


(9) Azzarello, Patty. 2010. "5 Ways to Motivate Virtual Teams", http://www.successful-blog.com/1/5-ways-to-motivate-virtual-teams/


(10) IBM Business Consulting Services. 2004. "Trust-building for a virtual team", http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:ZM1Z8v_eaCEJ:www-935.ibm.com/services/us/imc/pdf/g510-3949-trust-building.pdf+trust+in+virtual+teams&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESj2OPtoAUhJvelpKx6WBzgoc5bDlkiTO3DeoF9fgZMm3X2T26Z2-IE-E5f7IeZsjFvzkVkAMdOlh6GZEzylCLdS7RiIZmLPkslshCtk1O32G6b-dQpnysmdxFNKXTWxLElMOTD4&sig=AHIEtbQixdrebzVRtPx-ifMUAZOvM70Mtg 


(11) Parsons, Sue. "Motivating Your Team", http://www.thepersonaldevelopmentcafe.com/team-building/team-building-articles/motivating-your-team.html


(12) Scott, Heidi. 2011. "5 Keys to Building Real Trust in a Virtual Group", http://learningpursuitsblog.com/2011/04/04/5-keys-to-building-real-trust-in-a-virtual-group/



Comments (1)

terbush@... said

at 9:56 am on May 11, 2011

You don't need to define collaboration or virtual teams. If people want the definitions you can send them back to the text on this site. Start with motivation. References should be in-line (in the material with the citation at the end). I was hoping for a listing of your resources at this point.
Be sure to give me a link to the Everything page.

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