Is the Hawthorne Effect Relevant to Solopreneurs?

Hawthorne Effect
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🖊 This article was last updated on October 3, 2019

The Hawthorne Effect has been used as a means to bolster productivity in the workplace for more than 80 years. But the professional landscape has drastically changed since it’s conception. The rise of remote teams means that the workplace and its behaviors have shifted, which begs the question, Is the Hawthorne Effect relevant to today’s solopreneurs?

What is the Hawthorne Effect?

The Hawthorne Effect (also known as the observer effect) refers to the phenomenon of behavioral change in individuals when they know they are being observed.

The term comes from a series of studies at the Hawthorne Works which investigated the effect of lighting changes on workers’ productivity. What the study found was that the lighting itself didn’t improve productivity, but the investigation did.

For the workers, the investigation and act of being observed meant that managers were paying attention to them and cared about their working conditions. It made them feel important and that they were being listened to. So, they worked harder, and productivity improved.

Since then, the Hawthorne Effect has continued to have a huge impact on employee management and has been the basis of human relations within organizations the world over.

Can Solopreneurs Use the Hawthorne Effect?

At a basic level, the Hawthorne Effect is about employee engagement with the aim to improve performance and productivity. But what if you don’t have any employees or your only employees are contractors who live halfway around the world?

Are there still lessons to be learned from the Hawthorne Effect which we can implement to improve our own experience as solopreneurs and that of the freelancers we work with?

In a word, yes!

Hawthorne Effect for Managing Freelancers

If you were a manager in an office with a team you see every day, then finding out what they need to be happy in their work is relatively easy. So many people forget that freelancers have needs too! Taking the time to discover what your freelance needs to do their best will pay off in the long run. Recent studies into the boom of the remote workforce found that freelancers are driven by 6 career anchors:

  • Advancement
  • Autonomy
  • Balance
  • Service
  • Variety
  • Affiliation

Finding out what drives your freelancers will help you support them in the way they need to feel satisfied in their role.

For example, if autonomy is a major factor for the freelancer then give them the freedom and flexibility to complete projects in their own way. Providing the conditions your freelancer needs is key to their overall job satisfaction and in turn, their productivity.

Don’t forget that career motivators may change over time, so check in with your freelancer every now and then to see if there is anything else they need to do their best work.

Observing Freelancers: Communication is the Key!

When you can’t be in the room with your team, observing them and how they respond to work becomes a bit of a challenge. The act of observation, in this case, is all about communication.

Central to the Hawthorne Effect is making employees feel like they are an integral part of the team. The danger for remote teams, however, is feeling isolated, out of the loop or being abandoned with their tasks. Having open lines of communication is therefore essential to making them feel valued. And a team member who feels valued is more productive!

Make yourself available to your remote team. Encourage remote employees to contact you if they have any questions or concerns, and make sure you answer them!  Agree on a response policy so that freelancers know when to expect a reply.

There are many communication tools out there that make staying connected simple. Project workspaces such as Asana and Trello, or messaging tools like Google Hangouts and Slack allow you to reach out to your remote employees and to ask them how things are going.

Provide Regular Feedback

Not only can regular feedback help give direction on projects, but it can also improve performance and productivity. When employees know that you take an active interest in the work that they do, they feel more motivated to do their best work.

Don’t forget that feedback works both ways! Asking a remote employee for their opinions makes them feel valued.

Time tracking improves efficiency

Time tracking allows you to create a working environment of observation and engagement that extends beyond time zones. Remember the basic fundamental of the Hawthorne Effect is that being observed causes us to perform better, so time tracking can help boost productivity. Time tracking shouldn’t just be left to freelancers, as a solopreneur you can track your own time for the same effect.

The Hawthorne Effect for Solopreneurs

As we just mentioned, tracking your own time can be hugely beneficial. You’ll see how long it takes you to perform certain tasks and help you find your prime time of productivity.

Being your own boss is what has brought many of us to the role of solopreneur, but we could be missing out on the positive side effects that come with being observed. But there are other ways that we can give ourselves this accountability.

For example, telling our remote staff, friends, family, or strangers on social media what we plan to accomplish and provide updates on the progress. This extra social pressure to do what we set out to do is not only a great anti-procrastination tactic, but it also helps us stay on track and try harder to achieve our goals.


Even though the Hawthorne Effect was coined long before the concept of remote work, or solopreneurs for that matter, it’s as significant to our working practices and productivity today as it was then. Creating a virtual environment of observation in which your remote team feels cared for, valued, and listened to motivates your freelancers and enables them to do their best work.

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