COVID-19 and working from home have gone hand and hand. With the delta variant now spreading like wildfire, that’s not likely to change anytime soon.


Working from home is great for many reasons, but it can also be…not so great in terms of motivation. Especially if employees don’t actually have a choice on where they work. According to a survey of 9700 US workers in Primed To Perform, employees who worked remotely were less motivated than those who worked in the office. Who were the least motivated employees of all? The ones who didn’t have a choice about where to work.


Harvard Business Review (HBR) identified 3 positive and 3 negative motivators that impact work performance.


NEGATIVE: emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia for work – all of which have soared in light of the global pandemic, leading to decreased work performance.


POSITIVE: play, purpose, and potential. Of course we’re going to focus more on the positive! Read on…


Play is defined by HBR as “our learning instinct”  that is tied to “curiosity, experimentation, and exploring challenging problems”. During times of crisis, people tend to focus more on the tactical performance side of work (things that are structured, can be measured, and follow an established process) in order to try to keep things stable. This causes a downplay of adaptive performance, which manifests as “creativity, problem solving, grit, innovation, and citizenship”. In other words, during times of crisis your organization may go on auto-pilot and reduce creative opportunities for employees.

An employee’s sense of purpose could also suffer because of reduced exposure to the impact their work has on clients and colleagues. They may feel disconnected from the organization and its vision. And if an employee does not have a strong sense of potential (which comes from access to mentors, learning opportunities, and potential promotion opportunities), they may fall into inertia in their work – to the point where they lose all motivation.

HBR offers this tidbit of advice: “The key is resisting the temptation to make work tactical only through strict processes, rules, and procedures. While some degree of boundaries and guidelines help people move quickly, 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.”


In other words, give your employees an opportunity to think creatively and freely, and consider allowing them the choice on where to work. Make an effort to increase play, potential, and purpose by making their work and your interactions engaging. In addition, tracking motivation and asking for feedback will also allow your employees to see you care, and allow you to catch lowered motivations early.