How to support staff to improve remote work productivity

The hybrid workplace is likely to be the most enduring legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic. As businesses continue to adapt to pandemic-driven changes, leaders need to ensure that their teams have what they need to succeed at work. Businesses may turn to the field of psychology to help them navigate the new normal in the workplace. 

In this video, I explore what psychologists say is needed in the workplace to keep team members motivated, productive, and happy. I also explore how some businesses are integrating these principles into their hybrid workplaces. 

I have noticed the concern that many managers share about working remotely and the extent of its impact on work productivity. In 2020, companies learned that it is possible to work outside of the office—and even become productive and efficient. It is for this reason that everywhere in the world, companies are shifting to hybrid work environments.  

However, they realised that many practices that were effective in the office set-up do not quite work in a hybrid or remote set-up. Some things needed to change.  

Let’s take a look at them. 

In a previous video, I discussed how an organisational behaviour study has shown that intrinsic motivation is a significant driver of productivity. To be intrinsically motivated means to do a task or a job simply because you find it enjoyable and interesting. 

According to the self-determination theory in psychology, three elements need to exist to be intrinsically motivated: 

  • Autonomy or the ability to make decisions and control one’s actions 
  • Competence or the ability to perform well and succeed in the activity 
  • Relatedness, feelings of connectedness with others 

To be intrinsically motivated, employees need to feel that (1) they are given space to decide how they work, when or where they work, and what they work on, (2) that they have the right skills and expertise, the right equipment and tools, and the appropriate and relevant information so that they can succeed in their work, and (3) that they are part of a team working on the same goal while looking after and helping each other achieve their individual work goals. 

Here’s an example of how a company is navigating the new normal of work through work policies that support intrinsic motivation. 

Salesforce is an American cloud-based software company providing customer relationship management solutions. It announced that it was adopting a “work from anywhere” hybrid work style. They describe their culture in the following manner: “Our culture is built on employee care.” 

Here are three significant policies they have adapted that show their commitment to promoting intrinsic motivation in their workplace. 

  • To promote competence, they developed Work.com, an online portal that aims to help their clients and communities re-open businesses safely, re-skill employees, and respond to the overall changes that the pandemic has brought with it. 
  • To promote autonomy, Salesforce has committed to supporting working parents by providing additional benefits to their parental leave program, which includes childcare payment reimbursements through a program called Global Back Up Child Care. 
  • To promote relatedness, they stablished a Camp B-Well wellness portal to support employee mental health, as well as after-school programs for kids. 

While not every business has the same resources to launch employee programs that Salesforce has, there are many tools available to small businesses that will allow them to provide all three elements of intrinsic motivation. 

Let’s take a look at how you can provide the environment that will facilitate the same kind of intrinsic motivation in your business as a small business owner. 

Autonomy 

To support autonomy, small businesses can promote asynchronous work and asynchronous communication. Asynchronous means things don’t happen at the same time.  

With asynchronous work, team members work on their own timetable, at their own pace. This kind of work, in fact, promotes productivity because it allows for what productivity experts call “deep work.” Deep work means working on a task or a series of tasks without distraction. Typically, in an office setup, workers face a lot of distractions, which brings productivity down. In a remote setup, workers are allowed to decide when to work and block off time for deep work.  

The downside of remote work is that it limits collaboration—brainstorming works better when everybody is present and works off everybody else’s energy. The workaround is to decide as a team which tasks require everyone to be working in-synch and which ones can be accomplished asynchronously. 

The same goes for communication. The first step to decide which inquiries and requests require everyone’s immediate attention and which ones team members may respond to at their convenience is to learn to contextualise communication. For example, use email for official documentation. Unless indicated, people may respond to an email at their time of their convenience. 

There are productivity apps such as Trello and Asana where people can track tasks and activities while providing commentary, reminders, and additional information. For casual collaboration, teams can use messaging platforms like Slack. Finally, should there be a need to meet synchronously, people can hop on a Zoom call to talk altogether. 

Competence 

To support competence in their workplace, SixPivot, an Australian-based cloud management, provides unlimited professional development and offers a mentoring program to ensure that all team members can “work anywhere.” 

Mentoring is a good professional development tool because it engages employees. Junior team members learn from their seniors, who share what they’ve learned from experience. On the other hand, senior team members get a better understanding of challenges that their juniors face in the new remote set up, which may be challenges that they have not encountered while working in the traditional office environment. Learning takes place both ways.  

More importantly, mentoring may help promote active collaboration and support 

relatedness. 

Relatedness 

It’s ironic that remote work promotes inclusivity despite its support for a distributed team.  Remote work enables inclusivity because it allows people to work where they can. Encouraging relatedness means understanding that people have personal lives and goals and that people have priorities outside of work. Supporting relatedness means putting people first. 

The Recruitment Company, an Australian recruitment agency, has consistently received awards for being one of the top workplaces in Australia. Their motto is: Our philosophy starts with trust. And they created policies that exhibited this trust. 

Every employee is given a credit card on their first day with a simple policy: “don’t take the piss.”—and no one has ever misused their credit card.  

Every employee can work from home whenever they like, from day 1. The company is transparent about their profit, strategy, and financial details within the first hour of employment.  When the pandemic hit, people continued to work hard and step up. Despite the challenges, they still made the list of 2020’s best places to work in Australia. 

Supporting team members to improve remote work productivity entails supporting your employees’ intrinsic motivation to work. This means (1) affording them with the ability to decide when, where, and how to work, (2) ensuring that they have the right skills and tools to perform work, and (3) that you genuinely care about their well-being.  

As you start to look at these areas and improve on them, your business dynamics will also start to change. 

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