In these challenging times, how can you best motivate employees who are now isolated, and working full time from home?

Motivating employees on the best of days can be challenging, and now leaders are tasked with keeping their teams functioning at the same level without any in-person interaction. Drawing from employee engagement in traditional work, there are three main factors that leaders can focus on:

  1. Stay connected and show appreciation. Communication is key, especially when working remotely. Schedule weekly meetings to provide updates, and keep open lines of communication. People will all react to working from home differently; some might respond to the transition with ease, whereas others might feel disconnected and experience a significant drop in motivation and subsequently, productivity. Team leaders and managers will need to ensure that they are reaching out to each member to check-in and identify any issues or barriers that come up. It’s also important to remember that text chat and emails lack valuable cues like tone and body language, which might muddle messages. Try to connect using video conferencing or a voice call, and be prepared to be more descriptive in your text-based messages. Finally, to retain some normalcy, set aside a bit of time for informal chat at the beginning of meetings to deepen social bonds, and recognize individual and collective contributions. 

  2. Model strong behaviour and build trust. Even though you are no longer seeing employees in person, remember that they are still looking at you for behavioural cues. Be cognizant of how you are showing up in your virtual meetings (emotionally and physically), and try to avoid talking about all the latest COVID-19 updates (potentially inciting unnecessary fear and panic). Be responsive, connected, and empathetic - employees need to know you are there and that you care about their experiences. Another big shift that teams will go through with remote work is that leaders must trust their employees and shift their expectations. Employees are likely not going to be functioning at 100 percent in the early stages of transitioning, and expectations should be tempered with this in mind. As all employees may have different circumstances and challenges to navigate while working from home, such as pets, family, children, or a mix of all the above, working hours will be flexible. Model trust by establishing tangible goals, and empower them with the autonomy to strive for these on their own terms. One idea amidst shifting priorities is to create a new 60 or 90 day workplace, to create some certainty around "what needs to get done" in the short-term. This will help employees feel a bit more autonomy over their work, and provide confidence that they will get through this. The key to building trust while remotely working is to focus on accountability - that the task or output is completed as agreed upon.

  3. Make work purposeful and challenging. Especially in these times of uncertainty and stress, people may feel less connected to their work, not understanding what is important anymore when the whole world feels like it has stopped. Provide reassurance around why their work, now more than ever, is important and acting as a constant in their lives, will increase feelings of control. You can also make work more purposeful by providing your team with new learning opportunities or a special project related to the crisis. Ask your team if there is a skill that they wanted to learn or a project they wanted to start. An example might be a focused research and development project that the team might not have had the bandwidth for previously. By providing something meaningful and important for employees to focus on, people will feel more engaged and connected to their work. 

This work has been funded by Viewpoint Foundation.