Motivating Employees – Return-to-Work and WFH– Something to Consider

Many companies have employees working from home and it is likely that many of them will continue to do that; many permanently.

There is a lot of interest in the WFH model as well as the subject of employees returning to the workplace. I thought it would be timely to address ways to boost morale, discuss sales alternatives, and set realistic forecasts as three ways companies can motivate their employees during difficult times. Motivating employees can be challenging even in the best economic times, especially considering that what works for one employee may not work for another.

Zig Ziglar was one of my late father-in-law's favorite motivational speakers.

After a speech one day, the famous motivational speaker was approached by someone in the audience who said:

"Zig, it was a great speech, but...motivation doesn't last."

Zig said, "Bathing doesn't either. That's why I recommend it daily!"

I read that Zig loved quotes and believed that the right quote can provide "a-ha" moments and help to reinforce a positive attitude. Below are some additional ideas that you can use to help heighten employee confidence and give your company a business boost:

  1. Rewards and recognition. While money is important, studies have shown that employees ranked recognition above monetary rewards. Every employee is critical to the success of a company, so make sure you have a program in place that recognizes the efforts of ALL employees and NOT just the sales staff. This is even more challenging when the staff is remote but continuing these types of programs helps remind everyone of the company’s goals and individual contributions. When people are recognized by the company it also can help them feel more connected and less isolated.

  2. The four P’s. Praise in Public, Punish in Private. People love to be recognized in front of their peers and can have a great carry-over effect…but nothing demotivates and embarrasses others faster than seeing a fellow employee “dressed down” in front of everyone else. Besides being a real distraction, it can be a productivity killer as well. It is very important not to use large group web meetings as a time and place for disciplinary discussions.

  3. Provide leadership. Everyone is looking for direction and a feeling that someone is in charge and knows how to take the company where it needs to go. Sharing information with the staff helps to keep them involved and gives them a better understanding of the company’s direction. Information and knowledge are as important as rewards when motivating the staff. Dangling a carrot in front of a horse will possibly get it to move forward, but the driver still needs to know which direction it wants it to go and needs to steer it in that direction. This is hard enough when people are physically together, so keeping EVERYONE up to date helps them feel included and focused.

  4. Goals and Objectives. Setting goals and objectives will give employees a sense of direction and a purpose every day. There is great strength in feeling that you are all involved in the same mission. Reaching a goal together and then celebrating the attainment together is a great way to unite people and lift their spirits. Discussing them and acknowledging their attainment on a regular basis, even the small benchmarks, is important especially for those who aren’t in daily contact.

  5. Set expectations. Setting expectations gives employees a benchmark by which to measure their performance. It is a way employees can measure themselves and help instill a sense of accomplishment even without the benefit of a more formal program. It is much easier to get motivated to do something when you know what is expected. It is also important to set realistic goals based on changing conditions, just as you would with a new employee. As they gain knowledge and experience, productivity expectations go up. As conditions improve, expectations of performance can be re-visited.

  6. Orientation. Too many companies have not invested the time in creating one of the most important motivational tools for new employees…a proper orientation program. Poor orientation is often the root cause of new employee turnover and management is usually at fault. They are so focused on getting the new employee working that they spend little or no time getting them acclimated to their new environment, fellow workers, procedures, or even the job expectations. No wonder they fail. Onboarding and orienting new WFH employees should be formalized and supervised as it is more difficult to get them to feel like they are part of the organization. Working from home doesn’t give new employees the same opportunity to connect with other members of the company…an advantage for those returning to the workplace.

  7. Training. Like orientation, on-going training is too often an after-thought…and too many times a casualty of a down economy; but it is usually a mistake to cut it off entirely. The right training can get people reinvigorated and energized even in the face of adversity. Training often teaches people new skills or alternate approaches that help them to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of their reaching their goals. It is worthwhile to invest in online programs like INDEAL University.

  8. Help your people to succeed. While salespeople are hired specifically to create and develop their own business, a great deal of loyalty can be engendered by providing them with some leads…especially in these tough times. Leads are not a right, but a privilege…so they should be earned by meeting some criteria. Receiving good leads that result in sales and commissions can be a powerful motivator.

  9. Be a presence at work. Feeling like you are part of something important and meaningful has the power to motivate people to accomplish great things. Think about this year’s Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Bucs. What would have happened if the managers didn’t show up for practice and left it to the players to do on their own while they were off doing other things? Tom Brady can only do so much. It still takes an involved leader…and working side-by-side with the boss can be motivating (or de-motivating depending on their personality). There are very few people who feel motivated to work for a boss who starts their day at 10:00 and waltzes out at 3:00 while everyone else is working till 6:00. The same applies right now to the bosses who remain unavailable while complaining about everyone else’s productivity.

  10. Provide the right tools. Although the budget must be considered, providing your staff with the right tools to do the job can be a strong motivator. It is not unusual for employees to feel that they cannot do a good job because they are hampered by old, slow, or broken tools. The right tools can increase productivity and improve the way work is conducted. Working with the right tools often prevents frustration and removes the excuses and barriers to getting the job done. Much of the conflict and stress between managers and employees is caused by a lack of the right tools. Tools can be anything from computers to drill bits…software to self-tapping screws. Knowing when they get to work in the morning, they will have the tools they need to get the job done helps people get motivated to get their work started and completed…just as not having the right tools can lead to complaining, excuses, lost productivity and down time.

Want some additional ideas? Here are the results, in order of preference, from a study that asked the question, “What do employees want from their jobs?” Ranking

1. Full Appreciation for Work Done

2. Feeling "In" on Things

3. Sympathetic Help on Personal Problems

4. Job Security

5. Good Wages

6. Interesting Work

7. Promotion/Growth Opportunities

8. Personal Loyalty to Workers

9. Good Working Conditions

10. Tactful Disciplining Keeping your staff motivated is critical…and it is not just about performance, but just as often about employee retention. Even though it may not be possible or practical to provide every employee with the specific motivation they want, one of the best ways to determine what will motivate the majority of your staff is to ask them. It can be done one-on-one or through surveys. Gather the information and create a plan that is implementable. BUT…be prepared to do something…take some action…as asking and then not trying anything can be an even bigger disappointment and an obstacle to motivation.

When I do a training or speak to groups, I often refer to the term W.I.I.F.M. - what's in it for me... meaning of course, what's in it for the customer or your lead source, or even your boss or employee. I challenge the group to put themselves into the other person’s mindspace and consider the situation from their point of view. Why would they need your products or services? How would it help them or enhance their situation?

Asking employees to explain a "win" for them, in their terms, in their frame of reference, will often change the nature of the relationship into a more positive one.

This doesn't just apply to sales...the owners and managers who help their staff accomplish what they need will often reap great benefits. The employee who helps his manager reach his or her goals will often be rewarded.

Zig Ziglar said it so very well, "You can have everything you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want."

Jim Heilborn is INDEAL's Training and Development Consultant specializing in the office furniture/products industry, working nationwide with dealers, manufacturers, and service providers. Jim has been associated with INDEAL since 2011, specializing in training and dealer development. Jim can be reached at