10 actionable ways to boost your remote team’s morale


Jun 29, 2023

In a world where the physical confines of an office have become increasingly blurred, where 'business hours' span the spectrum of global time zones, and where our 'work neighbors' may reside thousands of miles away, one challenge stands out: keeping up your remote team's morale.

Whether you work at a fast-growing startup or an expansive multinational corporation, there are so many benefits to having a remote team. As a leader, you've likely already seen the cost savings and enriched talent pool that overseas hiring provides. But there's a trade-off when you hire a distributed team. How do you foster a cohesive, positive, and resilient team atmosphere when your staff are spread out across the globe, communicating asynchronously over digital platforms like Slack and Zoom?

It's a delicate balance—and one even the most experienced leaders are still fine-tuning. But there are ways you can ward off burnout, boost morale, and cultivate a well-integrated team regardless of geographic distance or time zone differences—and we have 10 of them below. Your remote team deserves to thrive in this ever-evolving future of global collaboration, where distance is simply a concept, not a barrier. Let's dive in.

What does employee morale really mean?

Before diving into strategies for boosting team morale, it's important to first understand what "employee morale" truly entails. In simple terms, employee morale is the overall outlook, attitude, satisfaction, and confidence that employees feel at work.

However, a simple definition doesn't necessarily do justice to the layers and complexities involved in employee morale. 

Daphne Pedersen PhD., Professor of Sociology at the University of North Dakota and Co-Editor at The Social Science Journal, puts it this way: "Employee morale is a set of attitudes that employees have about their work, the organization, and those they work with—coworkers and supervisors."

SoulWork founder Stephanie Heath adds, "Employee morale is how employees feel about coming to work each day. For most, this means feeling like they’re in the right role for themselves and their goals, how much they feel seen, acknowledged, and respected, and how much they resonate with the company as a whole."

But what's more important than how you define employee morale is the effect it can have on your workforce.

Why employee morale is your competitive advantage 

Caring about your team's morale and happiness is the right thing to do—but there's a business case for it, too. It's simple (and backed by years of studies and data): happy teams perform better and will remain at your company longer.

According to one study, four out of five employees would choose a job with flexible work hours promoting work-life balance over one with a rigid schedule. 30% of employees said they’d rather have better work-life balance than more vacation time.

The same study found that flexible schedules can also be a key to better employee retention—80% of survey respondents said they’d be more loyal to their employer if they were more flexible to employees’ needs, helping them balance work and their personal lives more gracefully. And considering turnover costs 21% of an employee's annual salary, it's much more cost-effective for businesses to keep employees than to replace them.

But good team morale affects more than just retention and turnover. An oft-cited study from Wharton Business School spent years studying the link between happy employees and shareholder returns. It should come as no surprise that the happier the workers, the more returns shareholders realized.

The reasons for making sure your team is happy and satisfied are clear. But how do you actually boost employee morale? We have 10 actionable tips and strategies below.

10 ways to boost remote team morale

1. Walk the talk when it comes to your company culture

A wide-ranging MIT study found that when asked about their companies' stated values—things like honesty, integrity, inclusivity, and innovation—most employees felt their companies' actual actions didn't stack up. Company values can influence your work environment and team morale, but only if you actually walk the talk and take actions that reinforce your work culture on a day-to-day basis.

The researchers on the MIT study found that the key to closing the gap between stated values and actual values was communication—companies that were transparent with their employees, even about challenges, tended to have less of a gap between their stated values and their employees' perception of their actions. 

But there's another type of communication that the researchers found could really help boost employees' perception of whether their company lived by its values: providing behavioral guidelines. Two companies that were viewed positively by employees as examples of living their stated values, Amazon and Nvidia, provided their employees with concrete guidelines on how they could incorporate company values into their own daily actions.

By clearly communicating with their employees about how they could each live the company's values, these businesses walked the talk—and were seen more favorably by their employees because of it.

2. Make meetings afternoon-only

Studies show that the average office worker spends 12 hours each week preparing for and attending meetings.

There's a lot of talk about reducing time spent in meetings to combat Zoom fatigue and prevent disruptions to employees' flow. But you can take that advice a step further and completely optimize your company's meeting culture to boost team morale.

Scheduling company YouCanBookMe analyzed more than half a million meeting invites and found that the optimal time for a meeting (either in person or via video call) is 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon. Researchers hypothesized that meeting attendees loved that time slot because it's early enough in the week for employees to still feel energized, and late enough in the day for them to prepare without feeling like it takes over their entire workday. 

Unfortunately, most knowledge workers need to attend more than one meeting per week, and they can't all be scheduled on Tuesday afternoons.

"I know when I’m attending meeting after meeting, my mindset shifts to become task-oriented versus thinking critically and novelly," Kris Duggan, owner, co-founder, and CEO of BetterWorks, told Business Insider. "Attending meeting after meeting forces you into checklist mode. When you’re running a business, at least part of your day has to be devoted to the future of the company and attending to meeting ambitious goals. Unless every meeting remains focused on those things, it’d be impossible to achieve everything at the same time."

That's why Duggan implemented a rule in his company: Meetings in the afternoon only. Mornings are reserved for deep work—giving everyone plenty of time each day to hit their flow state and accomplish critical tasks.

3. Create communication guidelines

The rise of remote work is possible because of all the different communication tools we now have at our disposal. But without clear guidelines for making the most of those tools, they can create disconnection and misalignment—or even burnout, frustration, and confusion.

When teams communicate using multiple tools and platforms, they develop tacit habits and culture that leave room for misunderstanding—and can leave new team members in the dark about how to communicate. Instead, remote companies need to create standards for communicating with different platforms, document them, and make them accessible to all employees. These should answer questions like:

  • How quickly to expect a response for different communication channels (i.e. a few hours for a Slack ping versus two business days for an email).
  • Which platforms to use for different kinds of requests (i.e. DMs for a one-on-one or quick check-in, or a message to a Slack channel for team updates).
  • Where to go for non-work related chatting (like a water cooler Slack channel or the break area in a virtual workspace).

Communication guidelines should be tailored to each company's communication needs and preferred tools. But the overarching goal should be to make it clear to employees what communication channel to use and when, eliminating anxiety and guesswork. Then, store your guidelines somewhere central (like Notion or another knowledge sharing platform) so all employees can access them as needed.

4. Be intentional with virtual team-building activities

During the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual happy hours and coffee breaks became ways for remote employees to stay connected while isolating. But now, as we move into a future where remote work is the norm, we need to recognize that finding digital ways to continue events we enjoyed in-person isn't always the best way to build team rapport—and drinking on a Zoom call with your colleagues can be downright awkward.

Instead, intentionally seek out team-building games and activities that are remote-first, or designed to be done virtually. Here are a few ideas:

  • Virtual "office tours." Each participant takes turns giving a tour of their workspace or home. This allows remote team members to share a bit of their personal life and surroundings, facilitating a deeper connection among the team.
  • Photo sharing. Create an icebreaker prompt like "Your favorite vacation" or "A hidden talent." Team members then share a picture and story related to the prompt. This encourages sharing and helps employees to get to know each other on a more personal level.
  • Project showcase. Allow team members to present a project they're proud of—work-related or personal. This not only fosters pride and confidence but also helps co-workers appreciate each other's skills and passions.
  • Virtual book club or film club. Pick a book or a movie to enjoy separately and then discuss together. This allows for intellectual stimulation and engaging discussions.

Remember, the effectiveness of team-building activities often depends on the willingness and enthusiasm of participants, so consider your team's interests and preferences when planning events.

5. Respect your team members' time and work-life boundaries

Work-life balance can be a significant challenge for remote teams, and leaders play a key role in setting the tone and expectations for maintaining boundaries that respect all team members' time and well-being.

Remote work doesn't mean 24/7 work, and these tips can help establish (and model) policies that encourage employees to strike balance between work and personal time:

  • Set clear expectations. Articulate what is expected in terms of working hours, availability, response times, and goals. This will help employees to manage their time effectively and reduce the pressure to be 'always on.'
  • Be mindful of schedules, time off, and notification preferences. Be mindful of employees' time zones when scheduling meetings and avoid setting them outside of their regular working hours. If a team member sets their status as 'away' or 'busy' on your team's communication platform, respect that boundary and encourage the team to do the same. Encourage employees to take time off for vacations, and importantly, model this behavior yourself. When leaders don't take breaks, it can inadvertently create a culture where employees feel guilty doing so.
  • Give team members the right to disconnect. Create a policy that allows employees to disconnect from work-related communications outside of their working hours without any repercussions.
  • Provide wellness resources. Consider offering subscriptions to wellness apps, virtual yoga classes, or mental health services to help employees manage stress and promote work-life balance.

6. Use SMART goals to set clear, achievable goals

In a wide-ranging survey of employees, Effectory found that those with a clear understanding of their tasks, responsibilities, and processes at work were 53% more efficient and 27% more effective than peers who lacked clarity around their role and goals.

That's why goal-setting is crucial—and using a framework like SMART goals can help employees more clearly understand their paths forward.

The SMART framework means setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. It clearly defines goals, creates steps for working toward them, and provides deadlines to encourage forward motion. One study found that participants who used SMART goals were 33% more likely to achieve them than participants who didn't use a goal-setting framework.

7. Provide transparent pathways for employees to advance and grow

In a physical office, employees often have more opportunities to engage with leaders, showcase their skills, and understand the dynamics of advancement by observing others. In remote settings, these opportunities can be diminished. Remote workers can also struggle with feeling isolated or disconnected from the broader goals of the organization. 

Clear, explicit career pathways can provide a sense of direction, purpose, and motivation for remote employees, tying their daily tasks to their long-term professional growth. They also signal to employees that the company is invested in their growth, promoting loyalty and retention.

And on remote teams, especially those spread across different geographies and time zones, it's up to leaders to make sure all employees, regardless of location, have equal opportunities for advancement. 

8. Recognize team members' achievements

Recognizing and celebrating employee achievements is a powerful morale booster. There are many ways leaders can acknowledge their remote employees:

  • Shout out accomplishments during team meetings. Publicly commend team members during virtual meetings. Share specifics about their achievements, how they have contributed to the team or project, and why they're appreciated. This not only recognizes the individual's effort but also highlights the behaviors and attitudes you value.
  • Send personalized notes to employees. A personalized note from a manager or leader acknowledging an employee's accomplishment can be extremely motivating. Boost employee engagement by reaching out personally when you notice a member of your team doing great work.
  • Make social media announcements. With the individual's permission, share their achievements on your company's social media platforms. This public recognition can be a proud moment for employees and helps build your company's brand as one that values its people.

9. Get together in person

The future of work is global, thanks to remote work. But sometimes—especially when it comes to fostering a warm, connected team—there's just no substitution for meeting in person.

Remote first companies can plan and sponsor in-person meetups at all levels to help boost morale, strengthen relationships, and enhance collaboration.

Local gatherings can allow team members who live near one another to get together and catch up over lunch, coffee, or local outings.

Departmental or project team retreats can replicate some of the spontaneity and teamwork of an office setting.

And many remote companies host an annual or semi-annual off-site meeting, where the entire company gathers in one location. This can be a mix of work sessions, team-building activities, relaxation time, and celebrations. It allows employees to interact with people outside their usual teams and feel a greater sense of belonging to the company.

10. Ask employees what they need

As a leader, one of the simplest and most straightforward ways to positively engage with your employees is by simply asking them what they need. This approach not only demonstrates that you value their input and well-being, but also provides insights into the resources and support that will most benefit them.

Team members can often pinpoint what will make their work lives easier, more productive, and more enjoyable. This could be better tech support, flexible work hours, professional development opportunities, or changes in communication methods. By giving your team a voice, you can better understand their unique challenges and preferences, building an environment that caters to diverse needs and boosts overall morale.

However, collecting, managing, and analyzing employee feedback at scale can be a challenge, especially for larger organizations. That's where Rippling comes in.

With Rippling Pulse, you can gather and analyze employee feedback on a company-wide scale. With features like customizable surveys and real-time analytics, Pulse enables you to efficiently collect feedback and gain a deeper understanding of your team's needs and concerns.

With the insights gained, you can implement changes that directly address your team's needs, fostering a more supportive, engaging, and morale-boosting work environment for your remote team.

How to boost remote team morale: 10 actionable strategies

  • Walk the talk when it comes to your company culture
  • Make meetings afternoon-only
  • Create communication guidelines
  • Be intentional with virtual team-building activities
  • Respect your team members' time and work-life boundaries
  • Use SMART goals to set clear, achievable goals
  • Provide transparent pathways for employees to advance and grow
  • Publicly recognize team members' achievements
  • Get together in person
  • Ask employees what they need

Effortlessly manage your global workforce with Rippling

When you need to hire, pay, and manage people around the world, you need Rippling. 

No other HR system can support a global workforce right out of the box. With Rippling, you can:

  • Manage your domestic and international workforces in a single system.
  • Customize policies and documents by country so your wages, overtime rules, and leave policies stay compliant with local laws and regulations.
  • Remotely manage your IT—like devices and apps—in the same system.
  • Pay all your workers in their local currency, without waiting on bank transfers or currency exchanges.

Rippling is the only platform that can scale your international workforce, allowing you to hire globally with ease.

Disclaimer: Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting, or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide or be relied on for tax, accounting, or legal advice. You should consult your own tax, accounting, and legal advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.

last edited: March 26, 2024

The Author

Christina Marfice

Christina is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in Chicago. Having lived and worked in Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, she’s bringing her expertise on hiring in Latin America to Rippling.