The contextual factors that result in a person deciding to engage at work are exactly the same when people are remote from each other as when they’re together, however they’re much less likely to be present naturally as they are in a close office environment and they’re more likely to be negatively impacted.
According to the seminal work of Kahn (1990), there are three fundamental conditions that need to be present for people to feel engaged at work. It’s worth being aware of what they are, how the lockdown situation may be making it harder for people to stay engaged, and what managers can do to keep people engaged.
Psychological Safety (I work in a secure, trustworthy and supportive environment)
There’s an obvious existential threat in terms of job security but even without that, working remotely risks a feeling of ‘out of sight, out of mind’, does anyone even care where I am or what I’m doing?
It’s easy to see how this thinking could lead people to worry about whether they’re being told all they need to know about what’s going on centrally, whether bosses are talking about them behind their backs or whether decisions are being made without them.
Psychological Meaning (My work is worthwhile and is valued)
With the focus on day-to-day and local productivity rather than big picture results, it is less obvious how what people are doing is contributing to the broader team or wider business.
If individuals don’t get the usual positive affirmations or sense of belonging they may be used to getting from their team-mates in a physical working environment, it’s more difficult for them to make and measure progress.
Psychological Availability (I have the emotional, physical and cognitive resources I need)
There may be more distractions and demands on people’s time remotely (particularly now with home schooling or trying to juggle the logistics and technological challenges of home working) and mentally many people are dealing with anxiety about the broader situation in the world.
Finding time to focus properly on pieces of work is also more challenging as people tend to be spending more time in back to back virtual meetings and catchups. This can be stressful and exhausting, directly impacting the likelihood of someone fully engaging
What managers can do to help