Motivation from a distance is more than ever needed. The COVID-19 crisis forces people to work from home. Technological advances facilitate this but we see that the risk of fatigue and demotivation is real. Here are 4 ways to influence motivation, also when working from a distance.

Two tips to help you motivate from a distance, and two things to avoid.

 Homework is a feast for one, but can be tough for the other. If you’re a manager you are sometimes powerless, because you can offer little choice.

How do you boost homeworking in your organization? How do you keep your employees who work from a distance motivated? How do you safeguard the connection with their job and with the organization?

Basically, there are for ways for motivation from a distance. But not every way works equally well. Here are two recommencation to motivate your employees in a good, high quality way. We start with two things you should avoid.


1. Avoid external coercion

Avoid (threatening to) punish, imposing expectations and promising rewards, especially if you do this from your higher position, power or status. Beware, this will work, and will certainly increase the (external) motivation of your employees. But only in the short term, and at a high cost.

Employees – especially in the Western work cultures – are very sensitive to this form of coercion. Fines, punishments and expectations are a powerful stick behind the door. And in the short term – if you want to achieve something quickly – you can use this method. But know that there are a lot of drawbacks to it.

  • It requires a lot of follow-up. As a manager, you spend a large part of your time checking your team members, time you would rather spend on something else. That makes it more expensive and time-consuming. Creates resistance among employees and the Belgian in general.
  • External coercion reduces the involvement and connection with the organization.
  • It reduces well-being and leads to more stress and mental illness.

Nobody gets happy with the threat of a fine or punishment. What if the source of control or the threat disappears? Then the behavior stops immediately because people set the behavior only to avoid the punishment or to receive the reward. Use this tactic only if you want to implement something quickly, and do not have the means to focus on high-quality forms of motivation.

Avoid as much as possible

  • Installing rules from the top, without participation;
  • Imposing things without explaining why: “You have to do this now”.
  • Checking on people;
  • Installing reward systems to make people follow the rules properly;
  • Threatening with sanctions or penalties for not following the rules .

2. Avoid internal coercion

Avoid motivating through fear, guilt and shame. You probably already do this sometimes, and rightly so, because it works. But a feeling of guilt is disastrous for your employees. If you do something out of fear, guilt or shame, this is accompanied by a lot of negative emotions and consequences. Moreover, you often think you’re doing a good job. Because you don’t punish, and you don’t reward. Instead, you appeal to their conscience. And this is something we have inherited in our upbringing.

Still, my advice is not to do this. Stay away from guilt, shame and fear induction. These are completely useless and negative emotions. On the contrary, they lead to depression, perfectionism, higher alcohol consumption, dependence on other means, such as drugs and cigarettes, avoidance behavior, fear of failure, etcetera.

So avoid as much as possible:

  • Shame induction: ‘You should be ashamed, we give you that trust, and you …’.
  • Debt induction: ‘Don’t feel guilty that you don’t log in until 10 am?
  • Fear induction: ‘If you don’t keep working, we’ll have to fire people (and maybe you)’.

3. Make homeworking as fun and interesting as possible.

Everyone knows intrinsic motivation. It is a great way to be motivated. You do something because you like to do it or find it interesting. Your work drags you along, brings you into a flow. Blessed feeling. Alone, not obvious if you’ve been working from home for months. Because in order to be intrinsically motivated, it is important to be able to work autonomously, within a solid bed of structure. A feeling of chaos and structurelessness will just lower the intrinsic motivation. In addition, it is also crucial to feel connected with your colleagues, clients, customers. Also, not evident from home. And finally, you can only be intrinsically motivated when you feel competent, can learn and grow. Here, too, you often bump into a wall from home.

Know that as an employer or manager it is not always easy to increase this intrinsic motivation just like that. However, you can optimize the circumstances for this.

You do this with a focus on their basic needs for ABC.

  • Offer sufficient autonomy but stay within a well-structured framework. Give choice where possible in the execution of their job. And use as little controlling or coercive language as possible.
  • Increase the connection in your team and between your employees. Look at their situation from their perspective as much as possible. What are their needs. What do your employees need and how can you as a manager work on this
  • Increase people’ s competencies. Keep communicating, give frequent feedback and offer opportunities for growth.

But if your employees still lack intrinsic motivation, should you immediately switch to internal or external coercion? No, not at all. Because there is a fourth way to motivate.

4.  Make the job as meaningful as possible. Focus on meaning

By focusing on the importance of their job and its usefulness, you motivate people in a high-quality way. It is important that you tell people how important and meaningful it is to work from home in these days. That working from home in itself means something to them. If you motivate people about the value of a behavior, they will keep it up for a very long time, without stress and negative emotions.


“Humans are inherently motivated to grow and achieve and will fully commit to and engage in even uninteresting tasks when their meaning and value is understood.

Deci & Ryan.


So, our advice is to focus as much as possible on meaningfulness. Even though the government already does this, we recommend that as an organization we go even further.


Source: Self-determination theory

Motivation from a distance requires leaders to avoid coercion and focus on meaningfulness.

Hermina Van CoillieSenior Consultant and Motivation Expert

Hermina Van Coillie

Hermina is an expert in motivation.

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