How to manage and motivate a remote workforce during a crisis

Need to know how to manage and motivate remote employees during a crisis? Small business leaders share their advice.

by Diane Faulkner
updated May 11, 2023 ·  3min read

A crisis, by definition, doesn't happen often. When managers find themselves in the midst of one, they may experience an upended workforce, many employees working from home, some on furlough or laid off. When that happens, they need to refocus their managerial and motivational efforts to leading a remote workforce through the crisis and out the other side.

Here are some things business leaders are doing to forge through the COVID-19 crisis:


How managers communicate with remote workers

Because there is no "managing by walking around" when supervising a remote workforce, managers need to figure out ways to communicate throughout the day. While it's tempting to use text messaging to check in with remote employees to see how things are going, managers need to realize two things: one, texting is intrusive and breaks concentration, and two, there are no non-verbal cues for employees to pick up on. People rely on body language, eye contact, facial expression, and tone of voice to discern emotional signals when communicating.

In fact, 93 percent of communication is non-verbal. When one or more of those indicators are absent, people tend to fill the void with their own perceptions, and during a crisis, those perceptions are more likely to be negative.

Kevin Miller, founder and CEO of The Word Counter, manages his remote teams by doing two things. "First, we do daily [morning] standup meetings to discuss what we did yesterday, what we are working on today, and talk through any issues we are experiencing. Second, we do all of our meetings via Zoom to keep each other accountable." Video conferencing apps like Zoom allow non-verbals to come through, so there are fewer miscommunications.

When full-blown meetings are not necessary, but the information is needed, Jayson DeMers, CEO of EmailAnalytics, suggests using chat programs like Slack or Google Hangouts. "Every team member can communicate readily throughout the day [and this] helps to increase accountability and foster easy communication."

When someone is urgently needed, however, a text message or phone call is the best option.

How business leaders motivate employees

"Give remote employees a daily or weekly list of tasks to accomplish," DeMers advises. When employees know they need to produce a list of accomplishments or completed tasks, this motivates them and makes sure they have things to report on daily or weekly calls.

Relinquishing control is difficult for some managers (read: micromanagers), but it's a necessity for successful remote working relationships. Let employees take control of projects and trust they will come through.

"In my experience," Matthew Ross, co-founder and COO of The Slumber Yard says, "letting your employees feel control significantly boosts motivation. When [employees] have ownership over something as opposed to just receiving and executing orders, they take their responsibilities much more serious." And consistently compliment employees when they do something positive. "Sometimes, I'll give a small token of appreciation, but other times, it's just a simple, 'awesome job, keep up the good work' type compliment."

Since managers can't physically see productivity, apps like and Hubstaff, which give managers screenshots as well as in-depth reports and timesheets, allow managers to keep tabs on remote workers without being intrusive. Drive collaboration, transparency, and teamwork with apps like Koan.

Dealing with changing work schedules

During a crisis like COVID-19, whole families are sheltering in place. Remote workers who are parents will need to carve out time during the day to home-school children or participate in activities with non-school aged children to keep them settled. Parents may have to work in shifts. This is another way productivity apps can help, as employees, especially non-exempt employees, can sign in and out throughout the day as they work and keep track of their hours.

Just because employees are working remotely doesn't mean the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state wage and hour rules don't apply. They do. Non-exempt workers will still need to be paid overtime should they work more than 40 hours in any one workweek, except where daily overtime rules exist, like in California. And if your policy is that non-exempt workers need permission to work overtime, the policy still applies.

In these unprecedented times, remote working is very much a work in progress. DeMers suggests sending teams helpful tips about people working from home to help productivity. Provide a small budget to use for online classes. The Word Counter offers its employees $1,000 to spend on online courses of their choice that connect to their functional areas.

In the end, good managers adapt to a crisis, and they help their employees adapt, too.

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About the Author

Diane Faulkner

Diane Faulkner is a ghostwriter, content marketing strategist, and editor based in Jacksonville, Florida. She specialize… Read more

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