Keep Employees Motivated While Isolated

As we are all well into the remote working life, the new work paradigm has likely become routine. We have all the tools we need, communication processes have taken shape, video calls are old hat, and the “home office” is established. Yet even though remote working for most of us has hit its groove, there is still the need to keep employees motivated while isolated. And motivation is more important than most executives realize.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) conducted a five year study encompassing more than 50 companies and 20,000 employees to measure workplace motivation. When looking at working at home versus working at an office, they found that motivation dipped when working from home. And when factoring in whether or not the employee has a choice about working from home, when they have no choice, motivation drops 17 points on their scale. The difference between the highest performing companies and the lowest performing companies.

They found three elements that negatively impact motivation, all of which apply to our current stay-at-home situation. The first two are emotional pressure and economic pressure. Some people have been laid off, others are furloughed, while others are still working but unsure of the future the longer the pandemic goes on. As the virus we are dealing with is new, there is a lot of misinformation creating anxiety. There are also the limitations on visiting family and friends creating feelings of isolation. The emotional pressure is compounded by the economic pressure, even as many lenders provide relief for the next few months. The third element is inertia. Over time, apathy sets in for even trying as people start to wonder, what’s the point.

On the bright side, they also found three elements that positively impact motivation. They are Play, Purpose, and Potential. These elements provide people self-worth and an ability to contribute to something bigger than themselves. It’s important to provide an environment where they can thrive, even when everyone is apart. Just look at the number of people who have found creative ways to do what they do on YouTube. For example, fitness instructors are sharing free classes from their home, yard, or rooftop. Schools are offering virtual classes online across the country.

As leaders, you also need to ensure that you are enabling your team to problem solve together, mentor each other, and connect with one another. There is a tendency for employees to focus on tactical items when working alone, things they can check off of a to-do list. This means they are not focusing on strategic items that may be more important. To keep people motivated, they must be engaged in their work.

According to HBR, “The most powerful way to do this is to give people the opportunity to experiment and solve problems that really matter. These problems won’t be the same for every team or organization. They may not even be easy to identify at first. Your employees will need your help to do this. Ask them: Where can we deliver amazing service to our customers? What’s broken that our team can fix? What will drive growth even in a time of fear? Why are these problems critical, valuable, and interesting?”

One way to make this actionable is to measure their motivation and include everyone in the process. Seek feedback, ask questions, look for suggestions on how to keep everyone engaged, and most importantly, listen to what your employees are telling you. This is a bottom up initiative. Additionally, during weekly check-ins, don’t just focus on the tactical elements of the role, keep the strategic longer-term work front and center. Ask how they are progressing, what challenges they are experiencing, and how you can help. 

If you encourage your teams to adapt and experiment, you can see an increase in motivation and productivity. If you languish in the unknown, without setting direction and providing support, you can expect to see a decrease in motivation and productivity. As leaders, you set the tone, and this pandemic is an opportunity to create a competitive advantage. 

If you have questions about motivating your employees or you’re interested in building a culture or engagement, send us a note. A keystone of our approach is helping our clients build an enviable culture and our executive recruiters are looking forward to working with you.