How to motivate and retain top talent in the virtual workplace

Consider what motivates each individual and beware how online communication favors extroverts and excludes others.

Remote worker retention

If there is one lesson that leaders have learned in 2020, it’s that managing teams working remotely requires extra doses of communication, patience and empathy. Staying close to and in sync with your high-performing, high-potential talent in particular takes on added importance, too.

Though retaining top talent can be a challenge in the best of times, these days it’s vital to your success. So, when many of us are leading teams via digital platforms only, what are the best ways to motivate and retain your current and future superstars?

In order to keep your people motivated and connected, Spark Insight Coaching put together some tips and practices, to help you lead your employees—and especially your best people—into a more positive and productive 2021.

Recognize and reward.

The lines between life and work have become so blurred that it feels like work never ends. It’s no surprise that burnout and depression are at an all-time high.  For employees experiencing extreme stress, one leadership behavior that has proven benefits is recognition.

Now is the time to openly recognize and celebrate your team’s accomplishments at every level of the organization.  By doing so, you reinforce that all the hard work they’ve been doing behind the scenes matters and is valued.

It’s also important to carve out time to connect less formally, so every week includes some light-hearted moments with space to breathe and decompress. This doesn’t have to be a weekly Zoom happy hour. Consider what is really meaningful to each individual and create a plan that alternates between “togetherness” and giving them a much-needed break.

Practice individualization.

The most successful leaders are able to tailor their recognition to align with the form of motivation that’s most meaningful to their top talent. Consider what motivates each individual. Is it autonomy? Competitive comparisons? Quality time with the team? A weekly one-on-one?

Teams are made of individuals. Find ways to weave these personal preferences into how you recognize and reward hard work.


Try to be consistent, available and understanding in your interactions with employees. It’s important to maintain scheduled team meetings and one-on-one check-ins, as well as lay out clear guidelines for what success looks like. While Zoom can’t replace meeting in-person, speaking face-to-face on video enables you to read your employees’ body language and assess how they’re really faring. Many individuals are dealing with complex dynamics at home—working alongside spouses, juggling childcare and distance learning—that add to job stress and can impact performance. Compassion during this time will go a long way toward building loyalty.

Fight WFH fatigue.

Make sure you are listening for burn-out and underrepresented voices in the work-from-home world. Online communication favors extroverts who gain energy from social interactions of all kinds. Make sure there are options for asynchronous communication and don’t assume everyone brings the same level of energy to online formats and on the screen.

Consider alternating between conference calls and Zoom meetings. It might make a huge difference in distributing airtime more evenly. Participation and idea-sharing often come easier to people if they aren’t watching themselves or worrying about their appearance on camera.

Equipping your leaders with everything they need for success in the virtual world is of utmost importance and this looks different for everyone. Communication is key, as is staying close to your people as much as possible in our new reality. This requires frequently asking, “How can I help?” and allowing each executive the grace to answer this question honestly, knowing that you are authentic and responsive in your “ask.”  In the end, talent stays with managers who make them feel appreciated, cared for, connected and growing.

Mary Olson-Menzel is the founder and CEO of MVP Executive Search & Coaching, and co-founder of Spark Insight Coaching. 

Mel Shahbazian is co-founder of Spark Insight Coaching and is senior executive coach with MVP Executive Search and Coaching.

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