In today’s global and distributed business economy, virtual teams are becoming the norm. In fact, 43 percent of employed Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely in 2016. And as more and more companies begin to embrace this idea, expect that number to increase significantly.

While having a remote team has numerous advantages, the biggest hurdle to overcome is keeping this remote team motivated and energized. It’s not like you have the option to pop-in their office or conduct team-building exercises.

Thankfully, motivating from afar and helping your virtual team stay energized is possible. Here are a few tips that I’ve used over the years:

Create a blueprint.

“A healthy, functional team, whether working together in an office or remotely, not only has shared goals and objectives, but they also have clearly defined individual roles,” writes Shannon Durio over at OneSpace.

“Strategy drives successful performance, and when you are managing virtual teams, a clear plan of attack is even more important. Establish expectations up front to avoid inefficiency.”

“For example, while flexibility is a perk of working remotely, it may prove beneficial to decide (as a team) certain hours of the day when everyone is expected to be available for discussion and collaboration. It also may be helpful to talk through timelines for deliverables so the team understands all of the moving parts and how missed deadlines can bottleneck a project.”

After the strategy and benchmarks have been determined, keep them in one central location. “Although your team may not be co-located, the road map should always be easily accessible to all,” says Durio.

Make communication a priority.

Workplace communication is extremely important. That’s because it allows your company to remain productive and operate effectively. Of course, communication can be a challenge when working with a team from afar.

The good news is that you can still make communication a priority by doing the following:

  • Create opportunities for team members. Since your team isn’t running into each other at the office, you need to create this virtually. You can do this by using online chat rooms like Slack, video conferencing from Google Hangouts, or project management software like Basecamp.
  • Always keep a chat room open. Once you’ve found your preferred communication method, keep a business chat room open. This way your team can pop-in whenever they’re online to discuss ideas or ask for advice. You can also create a chat room that’s dedicated to non-business discussions.
  • Choose the right communication style. This can change depending on your needs. Email works just fine for most communication, but for urgency, chat programs are preferred. Phone calls or video chats should be saved for meetings or when discussing more serious issues.
  • Collaborate on documents and spreadsheets. I use Google Drive since it allows me to create and share documents with my team. Once it’s in their hands, they can edit the document or spreadsheet. It’s a simple, yet effective, way in building a community.
  • Utilize screen sharing tools. Sometimes you can’t explain what you need in a text. That’s when tools like Join.me come into play. You can use it to show your team exactly what you’re doing — and vice versa.

Use gamification.

Gamification is applying game playing techniques to non-game environments. For example, there’s a startup called EvaluAgent that uses points and rewards to make boring tasks in call centers more interesting.

When you have team-based goals and competitions, you’re creating a sense of inclusion. In return, this strengthens collaboration and cooperation. As an added perk, gamification can also help skill-building, engagement, and productivity

Don’t hoard information.

Think about the time you couldn’t make a friend’s party because you had prior obligations. It wasn’t that big of a deal until you heard how much fun everyone had.

Now translate that fear of missing out in the workplace. Since you and your team aren’t in the same location, there will be times when information will slip through the cracks. The problem is if this because constant, your team will have hard time trusting you.

It’s easy to understand why. They’ll believe that you’re not being transparent by keeping information to yourself.

To prevent this from happening create a shared file site (Google Docs, Basecamp, Dropbox, etc.). This is where any and all relevant information will be stored. This way when your team needs this information they can easily access it on their own.

Have clear and detailed deliverables.

Hopefully you know that you just can’t tell somebody to do something and expect that be an effective way to manage. It’s pretty vague, right?

At the same time, you can’t be involved with every detail because you’re a control freak. Micromanaging, then, isn’t the way to go either.

Instead, provide detailed descriptions of the tasks. I’ve found sharing examples of the expected outcome also goes a long way. However, you also want to give your team the freedom to execute it their way.

Develop accountability.

“When you manage a virtual team, you need to make sure that everyone’s time is accounted for,” suggests Miranda Marquit for Due.

“Now, this isn’t about tracking every hour someone works or trying to force people to work eight-hour days. It’s about true productivity.” Productivity isn’t about hours worked, either. “It’s about what you accomplish with those hours.”

Furthermore, “Accountability measures aren’t about making members of your remote team clock in and out. It’s about using tools that measure their progress in essential areas. This includes making sure they get their projects done, and still leaving time for them to communicate with others, and do the housekeeping things (like email) that also come with the territory.”

Miranda’s suggested tools are:

  • Jell. This a to-do list that your team uses to update other of their planned tasks for the day.
  • 15five. This allows your team to set weekly or monthly goals that they evaluate themselves.

“The idea is to make sure each employee has ownership of his or her schedule. You don’t need to track hours and insist on a set schedule if you have accountability measures built in,” adds Miranda.

Shared learning experiences.

This could be attending an online course or webinar together or starting a company-wide book club. There aren’t just great team-building exercises, it’s also a way to motivate your team since you’re encouraging them to strengthen their skills.

To fortify the bond of your time, encourage them to discuss the webinar, for example, afterwards. This could be through a conference call or instant messaging. The idea is for everyone to share their key takeaways.

Overlap work hours.

This can get tricky since you’re dealing with time zones. But, it can be beneficial to spend around three hours a day where a majority of the time is online at the same time. It’s another simple way to build comradery. It’s also the quickest way to handle any problems.

Create a virtual happy hour or coffee break.

Teams need to bond with each other outside of their work roles. Of course, when you’re working with a virtual team, that’s not always possible. After all, your team is probably scattered across the country — if not the world.

One way to get around this is by creating a virtual happy hour or coffee break. This is simply designating a time when your team connects via chat, conference call, or media. During this time the team discusses whatever they like while sipping on their favorite beverage.

It may sound a bit hokey, but it’s a great chance for you time to bond and unwind.

Offer rewards and incentivizes.

Rewards and incentives are popular strategies for motivating employees who’ve gone above and beyond. Of course, they work when addressing an underlying need.

For example, if one of your team members has expressed an interest developing their skill you could send them to a workshop. If another team member states that their laptop has been buggy, go ahead and send them a new or a gift card to Best Buy.

Provide acknowledgment and recognition.

According to David Sturt, executive vice president at HR consulting firm O.C. Tanner Co., recognizing your team is the easiest thing for you to do as a boss.

In fact, in a survey conducted by his company, “Seven out of 10 employees who report they’ve received some form of appreciation from their supervisors say they’re happy with their jobs.” Without any recognition, only 39 percent say they’re satisfied.

“The same study found that a new leader can foster an immediate boost in employee job satisfaction — by 31 percentage points — just by recognizing those who have never received any appreciation from their superiors,” adds Sturt.

If you want to provide recognition, there are some tried and true methods. You could write a handwritten thank-you note, give a shout-out in a newsletter or social media post, or provide a “years of service” award.

Another effective method that works particularly with virtual teams is starting each meeting by having each member share two specific acknleledgemnts. One will be for themselves, while the other will be for someone else.

Conduct a virtual poll.

Most virtual meeting software comes equipped with a polling feature. If not, you can use tools like Wiggio to ask your team questions to better understand their attitudes and preferences. For example, you could ask their prefered communication method or best time to meet every week.

The cool thing about polls is that they don’t have to be strictly work-related. You could ask what your team is doing for a holiday-weekend or who they think will win the Super Bowl.

Once the poll is over, don’ forget to display the results of the poll. It’s a simple way for them to see the similarities and differences within the group.