12 practices for how to build team morale remotely in the long-term, not as a short-term enthusiasm blip.


Now, more than ever, the question, “How to build team morale remotely?” is one you may be asking yourself.

From your team’s body language on Zoom calls, you can just tell. Folks look work thin. Energy levels are depleted. And if you let yourself admit it, you feel depleted as well.

You’re not alone. Thirty-nine percent of managers in a recent KYT Workshop Live! session with hundreds of managers from around the world, described the current level of morale in their team as “low” (out of 140 participants in the poll).

These are uncertain times. Amidst the pandemic and US election and everyone now working remotely, a swirl of fear, anxiety, and malaise have seeped into many teams. A heaviness is felt by many.

As a leader, it feels pressing: You want to turn things around, of course. To lift your team’s spirits and to figure out how to build team morale remotely.

But how exactly?

Here, I’ll share some specific practices for how to build team morale remotely, based on research from the past 20 years on morale – along with our own research of working with 15,000+ people over the past 6 years. A heads up that it’s a long read – but it’s because I wanted to do this critical topic justice.

Let’s dive in.

Defining “team morale”

Before talk best practices for how to build team morale remotely, let’s get clear on what we’re trying to improve, in the first place.

You can’t improve what you haven’t properly identified. As a result, we have to properly define what team morale is, first.

Morale is the outlook and sentiment of your team. It’s the way people feel about the team and the company.

Morale is not is the engagement of your employees. Employee engagement is the level of involvement and enthusiasm of your team. Nor is morale equivalent to motivation. After all, motivation is our own drive and willingness we have in the workplace. It’s our inner impulse that encourages us to do – or not to do – something.

Above all, we must not conflate morale with culture. As organizational scholar Edgar Schein delineated, culture is comprised of artifacts, beliefs and basic underlying assumptions. And while morale absolutely influences these elements and culture as a whole, team morale is a team’s sentiment – it is not culture, in itself.

To be clear: Morale impacts engagement, motivation, and culture, but it is not a sole predictor of any of them.

You’ve likely observed this firsthand. For instance, a team has high morale –but their culture is toxic to outsiders. Or perhaps, a team has low morale –but they have high engagement out of fear of repercussions if they don’t.

This distinction of morale is massively important. It helps us realize that team morale is only a lever, an input, toward certain outcomes that we want to achieve. This helps us avoid optimizing for the wrong thing.

On its own, high morale doesn’t get you anywhere. Rather, if we want to improve team morale remotely, that improvement in morale must serve a bigger idea. Perhaps it’s in service of a healthy culture or in service of hitting annual goals, or in service making progress toward your vision.