Emotional and economic pressures are now soaring. People now worry about losing their jobs, paying their rent, protecting their health and coping with the effects of social isolation measures. Headlines about the rampant spread of Covid-19, questions on how to safely get groceries, and fears for relatives are also deeply distressing. Apathy among employees is bound to increase as people wonder if there’s any point in even trying. Loneliness, mental health concerns, sadness and the stress caused by constant fear and uncertainty now confront a vast number of persons across the world, many of whom are being advised to work from home to help curb the spread of Covid-19.
With many employees at home it is easy for remote workers to develop feelings of isolation and disconnect from their organisation as they can no longer interact as effortlessly with co-workers and enjoy the social and psychological benefits of camaraderie and office banter which come with working outside the home. It is also hard to ignore the challenges of working at home, especially for those who may have elderly family members or young children under their care. Many remote workers are now required to simultaneously fulfill the role of caregiver, teacher and parent, while at the same time trying to stay productive at work. The added stress of these responsibilities and distractions can contribute to low motivation among at home workers.
In addition to the difficulty of staying focused and managing distractions in the home environment, as well as the mental and emotional challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, there are various technical and logistical issues with online collaboration/communication such as internet connectivity problems, difficulties with learning to maneuver new online platforms and productivity tools, and delays in communication due to differences in individual work schedules. These can frustrate employees, thereby negatively impacting morale and reducing motivation.
Many employers have overcome this obstacle to having their teams work remotely: they have ensured workers have set up their tech tools, sorted their schedules, and permanently logged into their video conference accounts. But these are just the first steps towards creating an effective work environment for remote employees. The next question we must ask is: How do we motivate people who work from home?
Working from home has been found to be associated with lower levels of motivation among workers. One study conducted between 2010 and 2015, which involved more than 20,000 workers around the world in more than 50 major companies, explored whether working from home impacts employee motivation. This study was published in the Harvard Business Review and showed an overall lower level of motivation among persons working remotely than those working in an office.
Upon measuring the total motivation of people who worked from home versus the office, it was found that working from home was less motivating. Even worse, when people had no choice in where they worked, the differences in motivation were enormous.
So, what can be done to boost motivation among remote workers? Keeping employees motivated during the pandemic essentially comes down to two things: connection and recognition.
With respect to connectivity, employers and managers should develop communication processes that allow them to touch base with employees in meaningful ways. These could include scheduling virtual coffee or lunch chats to check in on wellness and mental health, workload challenges, and issues around balance while working from home.
Also, consistent recognition has an immense impact on employee morale and happiness, which are central to motivation. How leaders recognize employee performance and a job well done during the pandemic will directly impact employee engagement in both the short and long term. Research shows that frequent and consistent recognition fuels employee motivation with 40% of Americans saying if they were recognized more frequently, they would put more energy into their jobs.
Living and working through a pandemic has been quite a challenge for many people. From new and intensifying financial pressures to aggravated mental health concerns, today’s employees struggle against a great number of obstacles as they try to stay motivated while also adjusting to the “new normal”. In these trying times, employers must now assume a more active role in encouraging their workforce to stay committed, connected and engaged as we all contend with the impacts of social isolation and remote employment.
Contributor: Sadiyah Mohammed