Keeping workers motivated in remote working age

happy employee
A happy employee. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

As millions in sub-Saharan Africa got thrust into virtual remote working with the onset and lingering of Covid-19, many of us revel in the concept of completing our duties from our homes. No lengthy commutes stuck in traffic jam. Wear anything and work in any position from a dining table to one’s sofa— to a bed to outside in a garden. Eat lunch whenever desired. Multi-task while attending Zoom, Teams, and Skype meetings without offending the meeting host. Easier oversight over our children and homes.

On the employer side, companies do not need to provide remote workers with offices, conference rooms, desks, electricity, security or lobbies but rather give them premium subscriptions to online meeting software, employee home internet or data bundles, and laptops or other devices instead.

Naturally, good aspects can also come with detrimental results. Thomas O’Neill, Laura Hambley, and Angelina Bercovich highlight that cyberslacking, or essentially laziness due to the lack of direct in person oversight can increase substantially when employees work outside their offices. But how do virtual work situations impact on employee motivations and their actual job performance that contributes towards an organisation’s profitability outcomes?

Psychologist Robert Smither postulates that managers must learn how to motivate their employees in the absence of daily face-to-face meetings.

Social scientists Barbara Larson, Susan Vroman, and Erin Makarius detail steps that managers can take to enhance the engagement and productivity levels of employees who work remotely. Since many staff miss the energy and comradery of in person interaction with colleagues and instead feel lonely, isolated, and distracted while working at home, managers should establish structured daily check-ins. Agree that at 9:00am the supervisor will call Njeri to check how she and her outputs are coming along, then at 9:05am the supervisor calls Atieno, then at 9:10am Mutisya, and so on. But managers should also keep open office hour times where employees know they can just reach them online, the way they could have in the office by popping over and having a quick chat. The supervisors can open a Zoom session perhaps every other day for 30 minutes at specific predetermined times and just leave the line open, but with the “waiting room” feature enabled, so staff can just electronically drop by unannounced and talk with their boss.


Next, the organisation should provide multiple different communication technology options. In addition to old-fashioned email and the now ubiquitous Zoom and Microsoft Teams, departments could include additional options from WhatsApp groups to Google Hangouts to Skype for smaller meetings, or even use of Slack to increase employee feelings of options, choice, and breadth of communication mimicking a physical office space. Next, departments must establish clear rules of engagement that cover timing for team communication and expectations. Otherwise, employees will burn out from over-communication.

Researchers Timothy Golden, John Veiga, and Richard Dino found that those who labour virtually felt that remote working decreased their job performance.

But, surprisingly, remote teleworking actually lowered employee intention to quit. Managers could get employees past the negative isolation of virtual work by holding more, but not too excessive, face-to-face interactions and use more interactive group-based technology, as mentioned above.

Therefore, managers can benefit from lower staff turnover but also gain from more equal job performance levels to in office work throughout remote working situations.

Ravi Gajendran, David Harrison, and Kelly Delaney-Klinger discovered that telecommuting in one’s job can increase task and contextual job performance if employees, through remote work, are granted greater job autonomy and have strong leader-staff relationships.

As a result of the research, managers now should know how to keep employee motivation levels high. Employers should resist the temptation to treat employee tasks and interactions similarly as if the staff were sitting in their offices. Do not over monitor remote working employee but instead set up structured times and goals. Then, watch your employees flourish as they meet and exceed their targets.