As we enter the new year in much the same fashion that we exited 2020 — with surging coronavirus cases, and extended lockdowns in many parts of the world — it is clear that a return to work as “normal” is still far off for many of us. As our altered state of being and working drags on, one of the big questions is how to keep employees healthy, motivated, and engaged going forward. The Moodbeam wristband, highlighted in the news lately as a simple tool for employers to check on the happiness of remote workers, serves as just one example of how employee well-being has become one of the dominant topics of discussion surrounding work.

And it’s not so strange that this is happening now. The strategies used to navigate work at the beginning of the pandemic are not going to be as effective almost a year in, with Zoom fatigue setting in, and the effects of social isolation manifesting, along with the grim realities of the pandemic in terms of lives and livelihoods lost.

A recent study by Spring Health shows that 76% of American employees are burned out. With that in mind, it’s safe to say that it’s not going to be enough to simply gather data about how employees are feeling — practical measures will also have to be put in place. Our new way of living has to be matched with a new way of working.

The “ABCD” of Human Motivation

A recent Harvard Business School article looks at our current situation from the perspective of four basic emotional human needs. The four needs, also called the “ABCD” of human motivation, are:

  • Acquire — obtain scarce goods, including intangibles such as social status
  • Bond — form connections with individuals and groups
  • Comprehend — satisfy our curiosity and master the world around us
  • Defend — protect against external threats and promote justice

The authors of the article, Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams, argue that keeping employees motivated and productive under our current circumstances will require managing based on the recognition that the four drives, which are fundamental to human psychology, have not changed — what has changed is how they are being fulfilled.

Satisfying the need to Bond, for example, means fostering mutual reliance and friendship among coworkers — how do you do that effectively and naturally when team members are working from home and there are no watercooler moments, no shared lunches, or brief informal meetings in the hallway to solve an issue on the fly? Managers will have to think of creative bonding experiences to meet the need, and Groysberg and Abrahams suggest things such as online talent shows, recipe contests, or a game night, adding that: “These might even be ways for team members to show new skills or facets of their personality.”

To the point of bonding, at Globiana, for example, we recently started a program where one employee takes about 15 minutes at the end of our weekly round-up meeting and share about themselves — there are no rules for what to share, and no guidelines for how to do it. The point is to let people learn about more than what is visible in the purely professional sense. The hope is that by doing this, not only will we feel more bonded and engaged, but also find new points of connection between people. An added positive effect of this kind of sharing is the possibility of unexpected and creative collaborations as we learn new things about each other.

As a matter of fact, Groysberg and Abrahams talk about how remote work has in some ways had a leveling effect on organizations. Now that our physical boundaries of designated office space are no longer visible, people become more approachable, which means that this could be a good time for cross-team collaborations, assignment rotations, and peer mentoring.

Combating Zoom Fatigue

There is no way to get around the topic of Zoom fatigue when discussing how to manage employee well-being in the era of remote work. Much has been written about the subject and there are good reasons why. For those who have been working from home, video calls have become a staple of the workday. And while being able to meet online in some ways has been what has allowed companies and employees to keep working, as time has gone on, video calls have also had a draining effect on an individual level. For many, it’s the sheer number of meetings and the fact that not only are we conducting work this way but also, to some extent, our social lives.  

A recent Harvard Business Review article outlines simple steps to take to minimize the negative effects of video conferencing, such as avoiding multitasking and building in breaks. The simple act of asking participants in a meeting to use plain backgrounds in order to reduce onscreen stimuli can make a big difference in combating mental fatigue linked to video meetings. And, as Groysberg and Abrahams point out in their article, while many meetings have to be live, not everything has to take place in the moment. They suggest relying on asynchronous communication as well, such as a slack channel, for example.

Redefining the Concepts of Achievement and Recognition 

Managing in the pandemic era doesn’t only mean recognizing that needs have to be met differently, it also means that some of the ways in which we measure progress and success will have to change. Groysberg and Abrahams talk about how during the pandemic, you need to acknowledge not only the obvious wins a person or a group accomplishes but the regular business-as-usual activities too. Those things that just require focus and staying on track that we normally don’t pay attention to but that now constitute achievements in themselves, considering the obstacles many of us face during a workday at home, such as lack of private space, children who need help with school assignments, etc.

Coaching as a Tool to Increase Engagement

One of the strategies Globiana is trying out to increase employee engagement and motivation is to offer professional coaching to its employees. Coaching is a known tool for many c-suite executives who want to further their careers, sharpen managing skills, or break through in a new setting. 

However, coaching can be an effective way to help employees at all levels sort through what their goals are, what the hindrances to achieving them are, and how to take the steps necessary to accomplish them. For employees who are struggling with motivation, or who are weary and overwhelmed by the current work situation, coaching can serve as a needed boost.

Company Culture as an Asset

Erica Pandey of Axios has said that “culture” is a company’s “strongest asset”, and right now, with our severely altered state of work, company cultures everywhere are being tested. When looking at how to go forward from here, a good place to start might be to identify what the core values of the company are and how they can be met in the current climate. Because, while many of the difficulties of remote work are universal, the implementation and execution of support strategies will look different at different companies, as needs and resources vary.

But by being mindful of the effects of the pandemic in areas such as communication, achievement, reward, and personal development, it is possible to build a strong workforce — one that will not only thrive in the moment but one that is also ready for post-pandemic worklife — whatever that looks like.

By: Felicia Shermis


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