Employee experience and productivity – a matter of motivation

  • By Alfredo De Ninno – Service architect at NTT Ltd
  • 13 August 2021
  • Agile, ITIL 4, Skills
A female working from a desk at home

How can skills development and motivational theories help organizations to tackle the current challenges in employee experience and productivity?

The most significant, recent milestone for employees has been the move to remote working caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. What was considered a temporary response is now a daily reality for many people.

And there’s every chance this trend will continue, even post-Covid.

Companies have saved millions reducing their facilities and related expenses. For example, where I work in Barcelona, American Express has closed its offices and moved staff to remote working.

The labour market is also a driving factor, as organizations realize they can hire people to work remotely. This means accessing not only the best talent in the world but potentially more cheaply than hiring locally. Employees, now able to gain greater balance between working and personal lives, can turn their life projects into reality – such as moving to the countryside or even living on an island.

However, what does this mean for managers responsible for motivating and controlling people they’re spending less time with or may never meet in person?

Motivating staff, while always an important challenge, has become more urgent than ever.

Lessons from motivational theory

What can managers learn from classical motivational theories to help them navigate people management in a remote working world?

Douglas McGregor’s “Theory X and Theory Y” suggests that employees (in Theory X) dislike work and the manager has to act as a controller. This is clearly incompatible with remote working. However, Theory Y recognizes people’s ability to self-direct if they’re committed to the objective. In this case, the manager plays an empowering role; making employees part of the decision-making process and giving them more control of their work environment. Essentially, more suited to the remote workforce.

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the highest level of personal achievement is self-actualization. So, managers that allow their remote working teams to self-actualize through work should need less control, as motivated employees require fewer rules. Similarly, David McClelland’s theory of needs speaks of achievement, affiliation and having power and influence in making decisions.

Finally, Frederick Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory – how hygiene factors such as pay and working conditions plus motivating factors including sense of achievement and doing meaningful work – increase employee satisfaction.

The latter is probably where artificial intelligence, freeing humans from less valuable/demotivating tasks, realizes its potential in allowing people to focus on activities needing human skills and contribution.

Developing skills to improve remote working experiences and productivity

With the pressure companies are under to compete and deliver customer satisfaction, managers need to empower their people.

Along with the motivational theories already described, there are skills and methods that can help employees become more productive.

For example, I’ve witnessed how organizations using Agile concepts such as Scrum make people happier and more willing to work. This is because the motivational factors are there, such as allowing people to make decisions and take responsibility.

The remote working environment can create many obstacles, not least with collaboration. Informal collaboration, where people get to know each other in an organic way – personally, as well as professionally – doesn’t lend itself well to remote working.

However, ITIL® 4’s emphasis on collaboration and taking a holistic view is important at a time when fixed organizational frameworks are less effective. ITIL 4 creates a system which is dynamic, self-regulating and favours inclusive management. This facilitates success and removes obstacles, enabling the skills and talents of each employee to thrive.

These skills, along with self-organization and self-management are so important to develop, especially when remote workers are dealing with a range of stakeholders across a variety of projects.

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