The transition to mass remote working has inevitably had a knock-on effect on motivation and productivity. According to a recent survey carried out by Unipos, one in four workers believe that their productivity has fallen while working from home. Nearly 47% of those who’ve seen their productivity drop attributed it to communication difficulties, while 45% said they missed being able to share ideas and feedback with colleagues.
However, when handled properly, the evidence suggests that remote working can have a positive impact on business outcomes. The Harvard Business School ‘Work From Anywhere’ report revealed that working from home led to a 13% performance increase, compared with working from the office. With this in mind, how can businesses properly manage this transition to remote working and ensure motivation remains high? To answer, we need to first turn to what we know about motivation, before deriving how to make a successful transition to remote working.
The psychology of motivation
One simple way to codify what motivates humans is the RAMP model. In this model, humans have four intrinsic sources of motivation – that is, motives that come from within us and that we pursue as goals themselves. They are:
- Relationships: the desire to be respected and connected to others
- Autonomy: the desire to have freedom and discretion in one’s life
- Mastery: the desire to improve skills and develop expertise
- Purpose: the desire for meaning.
If humans feel that a task satisfies some or all the RAMP criteria, then they’ll feel more engaged in that task. Rewards that come from outside of oneself and are a means to an end, such as money or status are called extrinsic motivators. These may help provide compliance or low-level bursts of energy, but in the absence of any intrinsic motivators, even the most well-remunerated person will struggle to stay productive and focused.
While being remote doesn’t pose a challenge to the opportunities for autonomy and mastery at work, it does pose a potential threat to relationships and purpose. Working remotely can easily lead to isolation from colleagues, and also result in teams feeling disconnected and without a clear link to their overarching goal. Given all this, what can organizations do to maintain relationships and purpose amid mass remote working?
Maintaining remote relationships
If you’ve recently moved to a remote work setup, your challenge now will be to create the same sense of community within your culture that you had before. In the absence of the spontaneous personal interactions that make the in-person workplace sociable, you should look to specifically create social interactions that are not related to work. Take the time to set up a weekly happy hour over Zoom or Teams, create a channel in Slack for people to share what they’re streaming or reading now, or encourage a space for the use of GIFs and memes where appropriate – all just for fun. This helps personalities emerge from the virtual environment, and the familiarity that comes from this helps build trust and motivation for your staff community.
Another pillar of working relationships is recognition; peer motivation, employee recognition and appreciation are extremely effective ways to motivate teams. Celebrating the successes and recognizing the efforts of teammates not only builds up self-esteem, but also improves their feelings of solidarity with and acceptance by their peers.
A trap to avoid when working remotely is the tendency to drift away from collaborative working. While it can be difficult to discover what remote communication and collaboration tools work for your particular team, the benefits are clear – it has been found that employees who work collaboratively stick at their project 64% longer and have higher engagement levels. When assigning a task, you should try to see it as a prime opportunity to bring a team together.
Creating a sense of remote purpose
To make sure that your team feels it has a sense of purpose, it’s worth beginning by stating it outright. You could take this opportunity to go back to your core set of values and ask yourself if they need a refresh in the context of working remotely. And rather than just being a matter for leaders, it’s worth getting your employees involved in the process of deciding values. Once formulated, you should dedicate time in meetings to remind your team of the impact their work is having on your customers, users, the business, or a particular social end. Make sure that every team member feels that their work is an end in itself.
Consulting employees across the board is key to also ensuring purposefulness is instilled among teams. If an employee feels they have a stake in the development and future of the business, then they’ll be more inclined to think that their day-to-day work is purposeful. Take the time to get employee feedback – ask how they are doing, what you can do for them, and where you might be falling short. If you make this a regular conversation, employees will be increasingly comfortable telling you the truth and will become more active stakeholders in your organization. This has a marked effect on productivity, with employees who feel their voice is heard being 4.6 times more likely to be empowered to perform their best work.
Particularly in the absence of a physical office, encouraging relationships and purpose relies on leaders taking intentional and thoughtful steps to nurture their teams. Through thinking consciously about ensuring that employees are well-connected and feel their work is meaningful, you will help them stay motivated and allow them to thrive in a remote setting.