I’m writing this from my kitchen table in the one bed flat I share with my girlfriend. On a stool that has about 10 sits in it before it gives way. Why tell you this? Well like most of us, I’m at home. But I feel uneasy about my position. This isn’t our normal way of working. Usually we’ve got together in offices and made countless tea rounds. We’ve caught up on everyone’s weekends on a Monday morning. And heard stories of outside fun and meetups.

But now we’ve been mandated to work from our kitchen tables, or if you’re lucky, home desks for the immediate future. Our work location has changed. But that doesn’t mean how we end up getting motivated to work in the most intrinsic psychological sense has.

And the advice from behavioural science to keep people motivated at work is simple too.

Talk more

Whatever that looks like for you and your team. Talk. The more you talk the more you’ll build empathy and the more you’ll be able to spot when teammates are struggling. We have basic psychological needs about work that we as communication professionals should be a dab hand at helping people fulfil. Understanding and helping others’ get them should be our number one communication job during our stay-at-home time.

To feel we’re making our own decisions

We’ve had one decision taken away from us – whether we should leave the house. But that means it’s even more important we’re the masters of our own ceremonies. We need to have that feeling that we’ll have our ideas listened to and can take forward what we want. So, let people make mini-teams and focus on just getting things done. We should let people do 5-minute video calls to detail out what they’re doing today. What they can own and show they’ve produced. And if you’ve had an idea to get your business working better, now’s the time to say it.

To feel we can handle this

No one likes feeling too far out of their depth. We tend to close-up a little and look for our comfort zone when things get uncertain. We need to have some jobs that feel like our bread and butter. Something we’ve already mastered and can feel good about churning out. If our task is a little more coq au vin, then we need to know we can have the tools and people on hand to get it done.

Creating spaces that allow questions on tasks matters too. Remember a lot of the time people don’t know what they don’t know. So just asking ‘is everyone clear?’ on a group chat probably won’t cut it. Ask a few probing questions like ‘what do you think of this part?’ or ‘I don’t know if this is right. What would you do?’ and having a space for “questions that seem obvious” will help people to feel competent.

To feel part of a group

Interestingly this is the area I’ve seen people write about the most recently. The need to feel connected when isolated. Us being social beings and needing those close, meaningful relationships to get by. This applies to our work life too. Phrases like ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolate’ can destroy our sense of togetherness, and the actual act of staying indoors can do that too.

But thankfully we can combat this with group virtual calls. Even giving groups names that band them. And again, just checking in on people. Giving a kind ‘hello’ isn’t only the mandate of senior management. It’s on all of us to include all of us.

But we won’t get anywhere without a little trust and empathy

This is the backbone of our new work from home life. When we’re unsure on the future or what we should be doing. We look to others in our social circle for guidance. And we tend to copy what we see, not what we hear.

So, if you’re a business leader, show people you’re having to adjust, and that it isn’t perfect. Acknowledge you’ve got your kids running riot too. Or that your lunch options are a bit bleak. Or that you’ve had to queue to get loo roll. Now isn’t the time to show perfection, it’s the time to show you’re human.

And assume that everyone is still working. There’s nothing worse for motivation than the often-misguided belief that people are not working hard. Be that the business leader or the newest temp. People do want to work. They have intrinsic motivation to get them to work. It’s just about topping that up right now.

If you’re not a business leader, try to be honest about how you’re feeling. Tell others about your day. The highs and the lows. And believe that your colleagues have your best interests at heart.

Talking more should help us keep on top of our psychological motivation to work while we spend more time thinking about our one trip outside a day.


This article was written for Simply Communicate, 08/04/20.