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Keep your workforce motivated: How working from home affects the human brain

Sep 17, 2020 12:00:00 AM

2020 has been the year when global workforces, large and small, have dealt with conflicting emotions as they have navigated new ways of working. Moving away from the cozy camaraderie of the office to a more isolated remote environment, many employees have quickly needed to adapt to a ‘new normal’, with technology at the center of business connections. 

At the same time, some businesses have been taking advantage of exciting new commercial opportunities that the current climate is delivering, while others continue to pivot to business models that are conducive to short-term survival and long-term resilience.  

With the prospect of further lockdowns looming in many countries as we enter the long winter months ahead, the change will continue to be a feature of corporate life. In fact, now more than ever, organizations need motivated, productive employees, and finding ways to do this will be a powerful enabler to business growth.  

Thought Leadership – Hear from the Experts

Beezy recently hosted a Webinar that explored the impact of remote work on the brains of employees and what this means for the way organizations lead and communicate over the coming months in order to accelerate commercial success.

The remote working and neuroscience webinar was hosted by Larraine Solomon, Managing Director of Inspiring Conversation and an expert in Employee Engagement and Change. The event featured Hilary Scarlett, International Speaker, Consultant and Author on Change Management and Neuroscience, together with Roxanne Tashjian, Senior Vice President of Global Sales Effectiveness and Optimization at Monster Worldwide.  

Employee Behavior Through the Lens of Neuroscience

Neuroscience is the study of the brain and its impact on behavior and cognitive functions, or how people think. During the webinar, Hilary discussed the fact that our brains have not changed much since our ancestors were out on the Savannah, which means that ‘survival’ is of fundamental importance. 

We have an intrinsic instinct to minimize threats as quickly as possible and to a lesser extent in order to seek out the reward. We have an intrinsic instinct to minimize threats as quickly as possible and to a lesser extent, seek out rewards. The threat instinct has a far greater impact on our brains than the latter. By way of example, if an individual receives two emails, the first full of praise, and the second critical of their work, in most cases,  the critical email will create a lasting impression, as we are more sensitive to threat. 

An important lesson for businesses is that employees are unlikely to be their best when they feel threatened, and they are likely to be more positive, focused, and able to collaborate when they feel more certain about their role and future.  Giving people some choice and control about how and where they work can have a profound impact on productivity and motivation.

Our brains also do a lot of filtering on our behalf, which means that everyone is likely to see the world in different ways, depending largely on our past experience.  They are also able to learn and adapt, and in some respects, the last few months have had a rewarding impact on our brains as we have adjusted to new ways of working.

Creating a sense of connection also has a positive impact on the brain. Fundamentally, we are deeply social creatures and want to fit in.  While this can be challenging in a remote working environment, giving people the tools to collaborate and feel part of a community can make a significant difference to the way people feel about their workplace.

Employee Motivation and Engagement

With the experience of leading high-performing global business teams, Roxanne talked about the challenges of working virtually in an uncertain health and business environment and how to be successful. 

Practical tips for success include:

  • Encouraging more personal discussions about the situations that individual employees face
  • Creating ‘fun’ non-work-related activities
  • Actively supporting employee health and wellbeing, including regular exercise
  • Ensuring that people have clear objectives and goals so that they can feel a sense of accomplishment and reward will also motivate people to go the extra mile

Leading by example is also crucial as this sets the tone for the working environment. For example, when leaders communicate, collaborate, break down barriers, and solve customer challenges, other people are likely to copy that behavior. Creating meaningful, authentic human connections will always have a significant impact on the way people feel about being at work each day.  When leaders are positive and energized, the contagious impact drives improved team motivation and performance.

The Impact and Importance of Social Intranets / Digital Workplaces

While technology will never replace delivered, two-way, face-to-face communication, digital tools have become essential to motivate employees in many organizations. Although video conferencing makes it more difficult for people to pick up ‘social cues’ from people than they would if they were sitting in the same room with them, we have begun to adjust to using it to build essential business relationships.

At the same time, organizations are increasingly recognizing the value of Social Intranets and Digital Workplaces as critical tools to enable their business to not just survive but to thrive and grow. Ensuring people have easy access to the information they need and a place to ask questions and collaborate with colleagues helps to create that sense of certainty, connection, and reward that our brains crave.

Laughter is the Best Medicine

Intuitively, we know that laughter is one of the best ways to motivate people and deal with stress, and science backs that up. Studies have shown that laughing with others releases endorphins in our brains, helps us to form social bonds that foster brain connectivity.

With remote work set to continue, employee motivation and productivity is likely to be an increasingly important topic of conversation within organizations. 

Creating an environment where people have a degree of certainty and choice, where they feel informed, listened to, are able to learn, and have a sense of accomplishment will go a long way to driving engagement. 

Providing social communication and enterprise collaboration tools, encouraging personal conversations, and helping managers understand that people in their teams are likely to see the world in different ways will help drive business success.  And don’t forget that creating a sense of fun and laughter can really have a long-term positive and motivational impact on all of us.

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