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Are you incentivising and motivating your ‘WFH’ workforce properly?

by Steve Preston

Although many companies have been employing more remote and contract staff over the last few years, the onset of the Coronavirus in the UK has forced many companies to restructure their entire operations to allow all, or the majority of, their staff to work from home. This unprecedented situation means that the government cannot set a concrete date for when everyone’s professional life can return to normal, but current estimates imply that self-isolation measures could be in place for several weeks or possibly months. With the clear benefits of protecting staff safety, non-existent commuting times and control over their own working environments, inevitably comes the drawback that managers, senior managers, partners and directors lose the ability to oversee and ensure the employee productivity of a WFH workforce.

Whilst it is important to remember that your employees are all adults with their own unique senses of responsibility, time management and pride – they should never feel like their working habits are being treated with suspicion – staff morale and motivation are factors that employers should feel comfortable micromanaging. According to One4AllRewards, 39% of workers will work harder and increase their productivity at work if they are happy. Staff morale and general job satisfaction are increasingly important when working remotely. Those humanising factors that the majority of people enjoy about the workplace — working closely with mentors, office camaraderie, and team building exercises — are difficult to maintain when you remove the physical office environment.

That being said, the incredible capabilities that technology offers means that employers have the tools to create a virtual workspace with open communication and support to ensure staff morale is maintained during these uncertain times. Alan Smith, UK Managing Director at One4allRewards, said:

“It’s important that UK business leaders regularly take stock of morale within their organisations and make an effort to improve it where necessary. Ensuring staff are happy in their roles and willing to work hard for the business can go a long way to help it succeed.”

Five things to focus on when acclimatising your staff to working from home:


Define clear expectations and ground rules

Communicating to your managing staff the importance of every employee knowing exactly what their role entails and what is expected of them alongside clear deadlines is another one of the fundamental ways to lay the groundwork for a productive and positive WFH workforce. Every employee will understand their place in the company’s structure and from there know who to reach out to for support and guidance. This also offers excellent opportunities for lateral communication and teamwork as staff can draw on each other’s experience and capabilities to further their own skillsets.

Establish KPIs or performance measures 

According to SH!FT, 70% of professionals surveyed recently indicated that job-related training and development opportunities influenced their decision to stay at their job. It’s fairly understandable as most employees start off with high hopes and expectations of a job, give their all for the first six to 12 months, and then when the role doesn’t evolve, their motivation and productivity drop. With the added difficulty of being separated from your staff, providing the support for professional growth can appear tricky. However, there are a few simple adjustments you can make to bring professional development to the foreground for your staff even whilst they are working remotely:

  • Measure performance by results rather than time: This means having monthly performance reviews where factors such as what went well this month, what didn’t go well, where there was improvement, and where the employee would like to improve next month. This may also help you to streamline their roles so they are doing more tasks that suit their skillset. They will spend time on less tasks that drain their mental energy and they find particularly difficult.Doing this during this period of self-isolation will help an employee not feel lost in the crowd, but also feel like their career is still going somewhere. Setting up a target for next month will also incentivise them to achieve it, keeping morale up alongside productivity.
  • Offer personal development schemes or courses: Offering partial or full sponsorship for employees to complete professional development courses or qualifications has been one of the most popular incentives for many leading global businesses including the Big 4 and Mercer. One of the most useful soft skills to develop for ROI is the ability to lead and there are plenty of online leadership courses offered by universities or professional bodies that can be completed remotely. Helping your staff to upskill increases your company’s access to high-performing leaders whilst also offering quality personal development for your employees.Knowing that they have the opportunity to develop professionally in this way will help to foster the feeling of trust and confidence from your employees. It is important to make sure they still feel valuable and that you are still invested in their future, particularly as so many other companies are having to make tough decisions during this time

Maintain regular communication

When your workforce is disconnected from a centralised workspace or office, it’s important to maintain communication with the entire company to foster a culture of regular communication. You should try to encourage weekly catch ups on a one-to-one basis, and weekly team meetings to discuss projects.

Strong communication ensures that projects are clearly defined, and individual tasks are fully understood by employees. Try to ensure that deadlines and expectations are always clearly outlined during a briefing. Poor communication between employees, teams and supervisors can delay projects from being completed and leave employees feeling disconnected and demotivated.

One of the things remote employees can find lacking in their job is a sense of office camaraderie and community. Whilst you may remove the time-wasting aspect of office chit chat between employees, you can also lose out on dynamic or creative collaboration and valuable problem solving if employees are too disconnected from their colleagues. According to a survey conducted by Milkround, workplace friendships also contribute to a sense of community support and actively reduce stress and anxiety as 47% of those surveyed felt one of the main values of workplace friendships is the practical and emotional support they provide in facing challenges at work.

In order to preserve this sense of community between colleagues, encouraging your managers to create a ‘social space’ at the beginning of meetings — just ten minutes at the beginning of a call to allow employees to catch up and share a joke — will allow colleagues to reconnect and feel part of a supportive team.

Senior partners and managing directors should also try to keep employees abreast of important developments or the long-term goals of the company during this time. This will significantly contribute to reassuring your remote employees of a sense of business continuity and stability, especially in light of the current news cycle and reports of economic uncertainty. Gallup’s research has suggested that a 10% improvement in employees’ connection with the mission or purpose of their organisation would result in:

  • An 8.1% decrease in employee turnover
  • A 4.4% increase in profitability[4]

A good way to achieve this would be to:

  • Send monthly, company-wide email updates which detail the company’s positive developments for the month, or better yet, share ongoing updates and promote two-way communication on the company intranet
  • Hold monthly all-staff conference calls led by senior leadership to explain the current situation and how the company will be addressing business challenges during this period
  • Provide departments and/or line managers internal word tracks and FAQs to answer employees’ questions and concerns
  • And if the situation persists, develop quarterly video communications from the leadership that addresses key issues that can be made available on the company intranet

Don’t forget to praise

A common complaint of remote working is that there can be a lull in communication once deliverables have been signed off. Many WFH employees never hear back about how a project went and don’t receive due praise for a job well done. Indeed, often the opposite is true, and they will only receive negative feedback or hear about a project if something went wrong with their contribution. This can leave an employee not only demotivated, but they can become acclimatised to only receiving bad news; leading to feelings of anxiety if any communication is received.

Remembering to give praise about what went well from an individual will go a long way. Limiting negative feedback to constructive criticism will also help keep morale up.

Given the current circumstances, if an employee isn’t consistently hitting their targets, particularly in commercial-facing roles, then try and be understanding that although your staff are working as hard as possible remotely, it is not business as usual.

Create an employee recognition programme

Prizes and awards are great incentives to keep your staff motivated and hitting targets. Creating a sense of competition serves to gamify the process and can add a level of fun, particularly if the prize or award is a particularly attractive one.

There are some important factors to observe when setting up this kind of incentive:

  • Clear goals, targets, quotas
  • Deadlines
  • Defined eligibility, whether last month’s winner can be in the running for next month etc.
  • An attractive prize like a bonus, gift voucher, activity (to be redeemed when self-isolation ends) etc.

Your WFH workforce is still as dedicated to the cause as they were in the office, but they may lose their sense of being part of the bigger picture. During the Coronavirus outbreak, it is important for leaders to remove the sense of distance and remind their employees of the importance of their contributions. Focussing your efforts on creating a virtual community that feels supported and connected will make a notable difference and significantly boost morale.