How to keep teams motivated in current times

At FAIST CPS&IND, as in most companies nowadays, we have managed to cross the first hurdles encountered in moving our teams remote due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the related preventive measures. Ensuring that all our colleagues had set up their tech tools, defined their processes, and could log into their video conference accounts was just the basis to create an effective work environment for remote employees, we quickly realized. The next critical question we asked ourselves is: How do you motivate people who work from home?

This question is important right now because, during crises such as Covid-19, people often tend to concentrate more on tactical work and their daily tasks rather than adapting to solve the newer problems the business may be facing – we need our team to be focused also on this type of issues to ensure that FAIST’s clients are continuously served in the best possible way.

What is the secret of the teams that rise above the rest in times of turmoil, regardless of the challenges? We wondered: how do they win market share? What is it that makes them earn life-long customer love? How do they keep their productivity high, or even higher than usual? We understood the common denominator is their ability to adapt.

Even though the academic research on remote productivity is mixed, with some saying it declines while others promise it increases, studies done by the Vega Factor - confirmed by its cofounders Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi in an article published on HBR - suggests that your success will depend on how you do it.

First of all, it is crucial to note that right now, working from home is likely to reduce motivation in employees. Between 2010 and 2015, more than 20,000 workers around the world employed by around 50 major companies have been surveyed, analyzed, and evaluated, to figure out what motivates people, including how much working from home plays into the equation.

Measuring the total motivation of people who worked from home versus the office, it has been found that working from home was, for a number of reasons, less motivating. Even worse: when people had no choice in where they worked, the differences were enormous. Total motivation dropped 17 points, the equivalent of moving from one of the best to one of the most miserable cultures in their industries.

Three are the main negative motivators that usually lead to reduced work performance:

  • economic pressure, which is soaring, as people worry about many different issues they face due to the circumstances we live;
  • the barrage of news and fears for relatives, causing distressing also on an emotional level;
  • inertia for work, bound to increase as people wonder if there’s a point in even trying.

On the flip side, let’s look at three positive motivators that often lead to increased work performance, and consider how these could be in danger of disappearing during, and due to, the current situation.

Play, one of the main motives that most boost performance, could decrease if it becomes harder and harder for people to get things done from home. For example, people may struggle to juggle a serene private life with working from home, miss the satisfaction of direct problem-solving with colleagues, or the ease of making a collective decision when everyone is in the room.

Purpose could also diminish: with team’s decreasing visibility into their positive impact on clients or colleagues, it is easy to forget this side of the drive that gets us going every day on the job.

Lastly, potential could decline if people are not able to gain access to colleagues that teach, mentor and develop them.

If we, as companies, don’t consider these risks, shifts in people’s motivation will ultimately lead to a decline in adaptability, quality, and creativity - just at the time when the post-coronavirus recovery might require a steady productivity growth.

What can FAIST, as other companies, do?

We know that, if we want our teams to be engaged in their work, we have to make their work engaging.

Studies found that analysts trying to shore up the markets during the financial crisis had the highest motivation levels of their careers during 18-hour work days. Military veterans interviewed talked about their highest-stakes days in the same way. It is crucial for companies to follow suit and remember that work can deliver a much-needed boost to their teams, even when there’s little choice involved in their work-from-home situation.

It is key to resist the temptation to make work tactical only through strict processes, rules, and procedures. While a certain degree of boundaries and guidelines help people move quickly, we know that too many create a vicious spiral of demotivation. In such cases, people tend to stop problem-solving and thinking creatively, and instead, do the bare minimum.

The most powerful way to avoid this is to give people the opportunity to experiment and solve problems that really matter for them, for their job and their customers, be they internal or external. These problems won’t be the same for every organization, or even for every team. They may not even be easy to identify at first. Employees might need help to do this. We need to ask them: where can we deliver amazing service to our customers? Is there something broken that our team can fix? What will drive growth even in a time of fear? Why are these problems critical, valuable, and interesting?

Today, we’re collaborating with teams across the globe that are seizing this way of working. What is making them successful is that they are not relying solely on corporative programs or approaches that need C-suite approval. They are simply finding ways to make sure every single person on their teams feels like they have a challenge that they can help solve. If you doubt that this could be a solution, think that experimentation has been proven to result in a 45-point increase in employee motivation.