A wide shot of a bearded man sitting at a desk, looking at a computer monitor. The man is wearing glasses and a blue shirt with orange horizontal stripes. He has one hand to his mouth in a thoughtful expression and the other hand on a computer mouse. The desk also holds a lamp, a cordless keyboard, a cordless phone, a smartphone, and a stacked set of trays holding various papers.
Some work-from-home employees may feel isolated, struggle to stay on task, and become distracted by duties at home. Providing variety and opportunity can help them re-motivate. — Getty Images/10'000 Hours

While many employees love the flexibility of working from home, it can be difficult to stay motivated. Remote employees often struggle with loneliness, distractions, and staying focused. If your work-from-home employees are showing signs of de-motivation, here are some ways to get them back on track and working productively.

[Read more: 7 Smart Ways to Motivate Your Employees]

Learn how motivation works

Broadly, there are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation has to do with internal factors. When an employee finds something personally rewarding, they are intrinsically motivated to keep doing that thing. For instance, someone that finds satisfaction in learning to play a new instrument is intrinsically motivated.

Extrinsic motivation comes from external outcomes. Someone might do something to earn a reward or to avoid a penalty. Think of these extrinsic motivators like the carrot and the stick metaphor. You can use a carrot, or a reward, to encourage someone to take action; or you can threaten them with a stick, or punishment, if they don’t do it.

Learning to recognize and use both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation will help you keep your remote employees engaged with their work. Assign work tasks that align with someone’s intrinsic values, or offer a reward each time someone finishes a sprint ahead of schedule. Dial in to what gets each individual out of bed and excited for the day to set assignments that make sense for everyone.

[Read more: Motivating Your Employees Means Understanding What Drives Them: Here's How to Figure It Out]

Find opportunities to experiment

Research from Harvard Business Review found that motivation often stems from engaging work. So how do you make work engaging?

“The most powerful way to do this is to give people the opportunity to experiment and solve problems that really matter,” wrote HBR. Ask your WFH employees to weigh in on questions that have big implications for your business. How can your customer service go above and beyond? What new product or service can you add that drives growth? What are some ways to help your team work more productively?

Some people prefer working from home, but others do so because they don’t have another option.

One way to do this is to have your work-from-home employees choose a problem they care about and then think creatively about how to solve it. Schedule time throughout the week to try new ideas that come through and literally experiment with different solutions.

Don’t micromanage

If you sense someone is starting to lose motivation, it can be tempting to monitor their work a little more closely. However, there’s plenty of evidence to show that micromanagement can have the reverse effect.

Instead, try showing your employees you have faith in their work. Provide regular, positive feedback and encouragement. Delegate—without overburdening someone— to show you trust them to take on more responsibility. Consider ways you can give them more of a leadership role where they may be motivated to take on a new challenge.

Provide opportunities for growth

You may not be able to offer promotions every year, but don’t neglect other ways you can help your team advance their careers. Offer training that can be accessed remotely. Consider launching a mentorship program to replace the informal mentoring that can take place in an office setting. Learn what “growth” looks like for each individual, and design a remote way for them to work on the next phase in their development.

Make working from home optional

Some people prefer working from home, but others do so because they don’t have another option. Whether you’ve closed your office for good or never had one to begin with, consider how you might provide employees alternatives to their home office. Harvard’s research found that when people were offered no choice in where they worked, motivation dropped more steeply. When given the choice to work from home, motivation was higher.

Today, many companies have hybrid work environments or offer alternatives to coming into an office. Offer a coworking membership for a few days a week, or invite team members to work together from a coffee shop if you don’t have an office. In-person interaction can go a long way to boosting motivation. And when employees are empowered to choose their own work environment, they’re more likely to feel engaged and motivated to be productive.

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