5 tips to stay motivated when working remotely

Cheerful woman working on laptop in her kitchen

I’ve been working remotely for almost six years, so I have some sense of what it generally takes to be successful working from home. But then the social distancing orders went into place in March. Now, I’ve gone from focusing on work, alone, in my home office, to sharing my workspace with my wife (who has started working from home too), while we provide around-the-clock primary care for our two young children. Working from home has become less about working and more about home.

Recent surveys from Pearson indicate that others are experiencing challenges as well. In March, 81% of Americans agreed that remote work is just as good as office work, but that number is down 16 percentage points in the April survey. Satisfaction levels have also gone down as the pandemic stretches on: in March 93% reported being satisfied with their work from home experience, but that dropped to 82% reporting satisfaction in April.

In my state the shelter-in-place restrictions aren’t likely to be lifted any time soon. Since I’m a researcher, I’ve turned to the body of evidence for motivation and self-management for advice on how to get through this.

Here are five tips for how to stay motivated when working remotely based on that research and my own experiences.

1. Update your mindset

Many of us are trying to juggle two full-time jobs at the same time: caring for and being a teacher to our children while also doing the job that pays the bills. But you can not physically do both at the same time. Repeat that to yourself if you need to (I know I have!).

As such, I’ve had to reset my expectations so I’m not setting myself up for failure. My recommendation is that you try to be realistic in order to keep from getting demoralized. These are difficult times and you can not be as productive as before.

2. Set realistic goals

Now that you’ve updated your mindset, write down what is most important for you at home and for work. This will help you not only prioritize your work when time is limited, but also enable you to be satisfied that you’re still focusing on what matters. Then celebrate the small wins to help you stay motivated.

For example, I’ve become less worried about how much time my kids are spending with the tablet, and been explicit to myself that my goal is for my children to be healthy, safe, and as happy as they can be right now. And, I’ve talked with my boss to prioritize projects and push out some deadlines.

3. Create a new routine

Working from home gives you more flexibility than ever before. However, this freedom can be a double-edged sword. Work can bleed into family time and vice versa.

To counteract this, I’ve established some habits to help me transition from “morning with the kids” to “working day.” In particular, I’ll go and get changed, make myself a cup of coffee, bring it to my desk, and start on whatever task I told myself I’d pick up first thing the next day. In addition, my wife and I split up days so we can each make sure to carve out enough time to get our jobs done.

I recommend keeping to a healthy routine, blocking off working hours (as much as you can), and maintaining a dedicated “work zone” in your home, even if it is temporary, to stay focused.

4. Help yourself stay on track

To make the most of the time you have, it can help to get specific about how you will deal with obstacles in your way. Spend some time thinking about things that might make it difficult to stick to your goals, and then come up with some concrete plans for how you will deal with those (e.g., “If I see a notification news story about COVID-19 that I want to read, instead I will turn off notifications for the next hour and go back to working.”)

Planning these “if → then” kinds of rules ahead of time has been found to be really effective for helping people stick to their goals.

5. Stay connected

Working from home can often feel isolating and motivation can easily wane, so efforts to feel like part of a community at work can help. Turn your camera on during meetings. And, make an effort to recreate that watercooler talk via chat or by scheduling catch ups with your colleagues. Everyone who I’ve talked with has been in a similar challenging situation and it has made me feel better that I’m not alone.

I also really look forward to virtual calls with family and friends. Knowing that I have a happy hour with my favorite people coming up has made getting through the day a little less painful.

In the same surveys I mentioned earlier, in April, 65% of Americans say they intend to continue to work remotely after the pandemic subsides. If you do continue to work from home, I can tell you it will get easier when life returns to normal!

About the author

Dan Belenky

Dr. Dan Belenky

Dan Belenky, Director of Learning Science Research, is part of the Efficacy & Learning Research team at Pearson, which focuses on the science behind how we help people make progress in their lives through learning. Prior to joining Pearson in 2014, Dr. Belenky was a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Dan earned his PhD in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied how student motivation interacts with (and is impacted by) innovative instructional methods. His current research projects explore how insights from cognitive psychology and behavioral science can be used to improve learner outcomes, at scale.


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