The new year has not started well and the prospect of weeks of lockdown looms. Louise Rodgers has some advice on how to help your team stay positive and productive 

Louise Rodgers crop 2

Let’s be honest, few of us had the Christmas and new year break we had envisaged. We may not have been “at work”, but having worked in our homes for so much of last year, it didn’t feel quite as good as it should have done to spend another couple of weeks there, even if it was on the sofa rather than the laptop.

We also had subdued new year celebrations. It was mostly about kicking the old one into touch than looking forward to 2021, in the belief that whatever it had in store for us just had to be an improvement.

But, with the exception of the return of sanity to the White House, 2021 has not started well. Here we are, back indoors, and I think the tedium is taking its toll. Even over Zoom it is possible to tell that many of my coaching clients are far from refreshed after their Christmas break.

It looks as if it is going to be several more weeks before anything returns to whatever will then pass as normal, so how can leaders keep their teams motivated and engaged during these shorter, darker days? What can be done to create the conditions where they not only just get by but continue to be productive and creative?

The answer may be to put more focus on cultivating intrinsic motivation. Put simply, intrinsic motivation is the psychological reward that people get from doing meaningful work, doing it well and being recognised for it. The added benefit of intrinsic motivation is that it is more likely to result in being in the state of mind where you are fully absorbed with doing something; or in the “flow”.

Extrinsic motivators, on the other hand, most often come in the form of “carrots” (pay and perks) or “sticks” (threats and pressure). It stands to reason that financial compensation is always going to be important. People will not thrive if they spend much of their time feeling under financial pressure, or if the focus becomes all about the rewards and not the work. So motivating your team by nurturing their internal desire to design or innovate is more than half the battle. Threatening them or cajoling them into delivering the goods can have the opposite effect.

People need to feel that you are genuinely concerned about their wellbeing, now more than ever

Unfortunately you can’t just snap your fingers and gift your team intrinsic motivation, but you can create the conditions in which it can grow. Here are some things to consider.

People need to feel that you are genuinely concerned about their wellbeing, now more than ever. Emotional support and empathy for the challenges they are facing, together with clear demonstrations that you are taking their individual circumstances into account, will leverage intrinsic motivation.

Respecting their perspective does not just mean giving them flexibility to home-school. It also means showing respect for their opinions and taking their views into account, rather than making decisions for them, even important design decisions. The “dump and run” style of delegation may short-cut lengthy briefings but is unlikely to increase people’s sense of connectivity.

People also need to know that their work matters. Taking the time to explain the task – as well as the contribution the task will make to the overall project – can go a long way to creating a sense of purpose and self-worth.

There is a temptation to play safe with delegation during remote working; the “it’s quicker to do it myself” trap. You may think you are doing your team member a service by not stretching or challenging them. But being stretched and challenged, while having the right amount of guidance and support, usually results in an increased sense of autonomy as well as personal growth and professional development. Both are good contributors to building intrinsic motivation.

Finally, a little productive feedback goes a long way. Sometimes it can be as simple as saying “thank you” when you know extra effort, or time, has been expended. Other times more detailed feedback is needed.

Studies have shown that people actually prefer corrective feedback to praise or recognition


The way this is given can ignite intrinsic motivation or dowse the flames. Feedback is best given promptly, regularly and in a focused, specific way. Studies have shown that people actually prefer corrective feedback to praise or recognition, so feedback should always be presented as an opportunity to learn.

Fortunately most people have the desire to do great work, whatever their personal lockdown circumstances or the very particular challenges of these times. Making more effort to mobilise their intrinsic motivation to do so will have benefits for both productivity and wellbeing.