DISTRIBUTED: How to Spark Self-Motivation in (Almost) Any Distributed Employee


For countless decades, psychologists, geneticists and armchair scientists have debated about the impact of nature vs. nurture on human behavior. Although some research suggests characteristics like self-motivation and ambition are strictly inherited, we believe environment can also play a significant role in these traits. So while you may not be able to teach self-motivation to your team members, you can take steps to light the spark that already lies within…

“Ambition is energy and determination,” Dean Simonton, a psychologist at the University of California, Davis said in a TIME article. “But it calls for goals too. People with energy but no clear goals just dissipate themselves in one desultory project after the next.”

Light That Fire

We’ll be the first to admit that some employees just aren’t as driven as others. But when a remote worker seems to be completely unmotivated, it’s not necessarily his fault. He may be waning because his manager has failed to set clear expectations and deadlines for him. Often times, a little guidance is just the spark that an employee needs to light his fire.

Here at Intridea, if we notice a team member is fading, we make sure to give them explicit instructions and explain they’ll be held accountable for the quality of their work. By the same token, when an employee produces top-notch work, we shower them with praise.

We also ensure our employees understand their performance is measured by the actual work they produce; not the number of hours they work. We’ve found that newbie remote employees are often accustomed to the brick-and-mortar style of work, where clocking in and clocking out each day is good enough. Since there’s no need for a distributed worker to “show up” at an office, it’s all about the results they produce.

This is yet another reason to hire plenty of SMAIPs (Self-Motivated, Autonomous, Inquisitive People) for your team. (We discussed these highly desirable employees in our last two blogs.) These go-getters often serve as an inspiration for seemingly apathetic co-workers. No matter how indifferent they may seem, unmotivated employees will sit up and take notice when SMAIPs are consistently praised for their superior work—and this could be just what it takes to kindle their self-motivation.

Reignite Workers with Motivational Phrases

Whether you’re trying to motivate or congratulate employees, it’s important to choose your words wisely. Here are a few phrases we at Intridea use to push team members to try harder or praise them for a job well done:

  • “I know you’re capable of more than this.”
  • “I’ve noticed you haven’t been turning in your projects on time. Are you having any issues outside of work?”
  • “In the past month, your work hasn’t been as high quality as what I usually see from you. Is there something blocking your way?”
  • “I’ve noticed you’re falling behind on your projects. Can I help you prioritize?”
  • “I can see you’re swamped. How can I help?”
  • “The work you turned in on Monday was spot-on. Great job!”
  • “I’m proud of you. Keep up the good work!”
  • “Thanks for all your hard work. I really appreciate your efforts.”
  • “We couldn’t have done it without you!”
  • “Awesome job on that project! How did you do it?”

With the right words, plenty of encouragement and a clear set of goals, we believe you can inspire self-motivation in virtually any employee—even those who work from home in their PJ’s and fuzzy slippers.