Hierarchy of Needs

We've applied the underlying principles of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to remote work to get a nicely fleshed out hierarchy of needs for remote work.

Have you heard of Abraham Maslow? He was a Psychology professor who came up with this super popular framework called 'Hierarchy of Needs' which categorizes human needs into 5 buckets. While the framework itself received a mixed response, being lauded by many and on the other hand being criticised for its vagueness, it surely had a strong influence across many fields and on other researchers.

Now, you might be wondering why a Psychology framework should concern you or be relevant in a remote work context. Well, the thing is, if we take the underlying principles of this model and apply it to remote work, we get a nicely fleshed out hierarchy of needs for remote work.

But we are sharing too many details without setting proper context. So let us start with a quick refresher on the framework.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

According to Maslow, there are 5 categories of needs -

1. Physiological

Basic physical needs like eating food when hungry, drinking water when thirsty etc. This is the most essential of our needs and any person is likely to meet these first. For example, it is tough for you to focus at work if you're extremely thirsty or hungry.

2. Safety

Once our physiological needs are met, we try to have a safe environment. These needs are particularly evident in emergency situations like the current COVID crisis.

3. Love and Belonging

The next need, according to Maslow, is the feeling to belong to a group and being loved. This includes ties with family, friends, social connections and even being part of a community or group.

4. Esteem

Esteem implies feeling good about oneself and feeling valued by others. In other words, when someone's esteem needs are satisfied, he/ she feels confident and sees his/ her contributions & achievements valuable. On the other hand, if these needs aren't met, a person is likely to develop feelings of inferiority.

5. Self-Actualization

After all of the above needs are met, a person tries to achieve the feeling of fulfilment. This is an abstract concept and the meaning of self-actualization varies drastically for each individual. Also, Maslow believes that achieving self-actualization is quite rare.

You would have already figured but to quickly reiterate, a person moves to fulfil the needs in the higher hierarchy only when he/ she has sufficiently satisfied the previous need. Of course, you don't need to completely satisfy one need to move to the next i.e. there is surely some overlap. However, we will ignore such caveats in our discussion.

Applying the Hierarchy of Needs to Remote Work

Now, here comes the interesting part. If we take the principles of Maslow's pyramid and apply it in context of remote teams or individual remote workers, here's we get what we would like to call the 'Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for Remote Work':

1. Physiological

Your work environment is the most basic need you have to satisfy in a remote setting. For example, do you prefer a standing desk, what kind of chair is the most comfortable or do you like to creative - treadmill desks, yoga balls etc. Also things like having adequate sunlight and fresh air where you work regularly and even your daily routine - breaks, sessions of deep work etc.

Additionally, having a sufficient salary, health insurance plan, work-life balance all come under physiological needs.

2. Safety

Once the physiological needs are met, a remote worker would look to have a safe and secure environment. This includes the feeling of being needed and secure in the current work role.

However, an additional critical, and often ignored, aspect is that of self-care. A remote worker must look for taking active care of his/ her body and mind.

Some fundamental things covered in this aspect would be -

  • Drinking enough water
  • Meals at proper times
  • Good sleeping habits
  • Workout routine (however simple/ short it may be)

3. Love and Belonging

This covers the aspect of social interaction (family, friends, coworkers) and a sense of belongingness to your team and the company's culture. We have heard this so often that loneliness is the biggest problem remote workers face. If you are able to satisfy this need in Maslow's hierarchy, you would have successfully tackled isolation in a remote setting.

However, as we all know, satisfying this need in a remote context isn't as easy as in an in-office setting. Social interactions won't happen by accident and you have to do this consciously, so much so that you may have to dedicate time slots during the day specifically for social activity.

Additionally, company initiatives like retreats, informal hangouts or even fun slack channels go a long way in helping achieve this need.

4. Esteem

Translates entirely to recognition at work. Are you feeling appreciated and fulfilled in your work?

These are just a few examples of how established distributed teams achieve this -

  • InVision uses a tool called Bonusly where team members can publicly award each other a nominal sum of money to express appreciation of their work.
  • Basecamp has a process to share your daily work achievements team-wide where others can publicly comment and appreciate your work.

Also, you shouldn't just depend on your manager to carve out recognitions or rewards that make you feel appreciated. Instead, it helps to have a chat on what works for you in terms of appreciation. No point in having secret desires :-)

5. Self-Actualization

In simple words, this is when you reach your dream life. And if we go by all the positives that remote work promises, you have already taken the first step.

Remote work can be your key to a fulfilling and flexible lifestyle, whatever that means for you.

Some pointers to consider when building the ideal remote life -

  • Amount of flexibility and change you prefer. For example, something as simple as working out of a new place (coffee shops, beach in your city etc.) each day of the week or otherwise, having a stable home office.
  • A hobby or passion you might want to build your life around. For example, being in a certain location (beaches or something favourable for Skiing) or being nocturnal.
  • Amount of movement/traveling you prefer - being a digital nomad or otherwise, staying close to your friends and family.

Parting thoughts

This hierarchy of needs is a must if you want to achieve the most out of your day-to-day life working remotely. However, there are certain things that make us counter-productive when working, and keep us from achieving the needs mentioned above. In the next chapter, we delve into these.

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