How to thrive while working from home

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Apr 22 2020 by Tony Anticole Print This Article

As we work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, many of us find ourselves in a “Groundhog Day” scenario, living the same day over and over. Some find themselves away from the bustling energy that comes from working alongside others and seeing people in person. Now, the only company we have during the workday is ourselves - and possibly a partner who shares our workspace and our kids, who are so eager for our attention (and demanding of our precious internet bandwidth).

While some research indicates remote working increases productivity, there is also evidence of a clear downside that comes with being physically distant from colleagues. Nicholas Bloom found that while working from home improves productivity and attrition, more than half of study participants changed their minds about working from home 100% of the time because they felt isolated. Some employees working from home feel shunned and left out, reporting higher challenges with costs, deadlines, morale, stress, and retention. And working from home can affect the feeling of cohesion with the rest of the team.

How can we keep our own energy and motivation levels high while remote working during the pandemic? In the ground-breaking book “Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us,” Daniel Pink introduces three intrinsic motivators that lead to greater physical and mental well-being:

  • Purpose: a belief that one is working toward something larger than oneself
  • Autonomy: the desire to be self-directed
  • Mastery: the urge to get better at areas that interest us

Here’s how to tap into these three internal motivators so you can unlock your own inner drive to provide more energy and motivation as you work from home.

Purpose: Revisit your why

In his book Start with Why, Simon Sinek argues that the best companies don’t only communicate what they do, but why they do what they do. Just as companies have a why, we each have our own why: a purpose, cause, or belief that drives us.

Pinpointing your why (or whys) for your current role is key to unlocking your own inner drive. Is there a purpose you would like the current job to serve, like meeting new people in a particular space or learning a competency for a future desired role? Are you working in service of a cause you believe in, like helping others in a specific way or meeting a larger need? Is there a belief behind what you do, like the importance of excellence or breakthrough ideas?

Once you’ve determined your why, list out your current activities and see how well each activity aligns with your whys, scoring each with a simple system like high, medium, low. For any activities that are scored medium or low, ask yourself if there is a way you can approach them differently to improve alignment with your why.

Autonomy: Protect your golden time

In Drive, Daniel Pink outlines four ways to think about your level of autonomy:

  • Task: what you do
  • Time: how you allocate your time
  • Team: who you choose to collaborate with
  • Technique: how you do your job

Let’s focus on time. Not all hours of the day are equal; we are at our most productive during certain hours (and those hours vary from person to person). If you have more control over your schedule while home, recognizing when you get your best work done allows you to optimize your schedule for the day. If you juggle more than just work while home (taking care of children, parents, etc.), understanding when this golden time occurs allows you to make more of an ROI calculation: If you can only find 30 or 60 minutes to focus intently on work, what window of time provides your best return on investment?

Mastery: Challenge yourself

In his research on the psychology of optimal experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identifies the idea of flow: it’s when we are completely absorbed and focused on an activity that we enjoy doing. Csikszentmihalyi found there is truth in the saying “It’s the journey, not the destination,” because the reward is found in the act of challenging yourself to stretch to higher levels of performance. To find ourselves within these optimal experiences of flow, we need to challenge ourselves in areas in which we want to improve.

Imagine it’s six months from now: Looking back, what skill or achievement would you feel proud about making progress in? As you think about ideas related to work, pay attention to the ones that hold special purpose for you, that you want to accomplish. And as you brainstorm ideas, push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Another useful tip comes from Charles Duhigg’s book, Smarter Faster Better. In it, he stresses the importance of stretch goals to encourage bigger thinking. He shares the story of the breakthroughs GE had when they pushed people to think first about ambition before planning. As GE’s CEO Jack Welch said: “If you do know how to get there, it’s not a stretch target.”

Think about the goals you want to achieve - including those stretch goals that are out of your comfort zone. Once you identify an ambition, then you can begin planning how to achieve it by using techniques like SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound).

By revisiting your why, protecting your golden time, and challenging yourself, you can begin to unlock your inner drive and thrive as you work from home.


About The Author

Tony Anticole
Tony Anticole

Tony Anticole, founder and principal of Varna Group LLC, helps companies increase engagement and innovation through management approaches that directly tap into people’s intrinsic motivators.