When you’re in the office, you have many opportunities to exchange recognition and appreciation with your team members. But it’s much harder to do this when some or all of you work from home, and contact with them is via electronic communication rather than face-to-face. This article explains how to help your remote workers feel more engaged with more active employee recognition.
Many employees who have been suddenly forced into remote working due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its ongoing impact, have found the change to be quite a shock. Remote workers can feel uncertain and forgotten in their new work environment, even though remote work may actually provides potential for more productive output. (Commentators have mixed opinions about this, such as:
- “Remote working – does it make us more or less productive?” – the World Economic Forum, 2021.
- “Remote work can boost productivity and curb burnout” – the London School of Economics, 2021
- “Surprising working from home productivity statistics (2022)” – Apollo Technical.)
If you have a remote team, you need to realize that people who work from home still need their psychological needs met – they need to be individually recognized, noticed and appreciated for outstanding effort and results. What’s more, showing appreciation to your team as a group has an equally powerful effect as well.
Remote work numbers remain high
At the start of the pandemic, Gallup reported that 4% of the US workforce were working entirely from home. In the first year of the pandemic, this increased to nearly 40% of full-time employees. By February 2022, 59% of US workers whose jobs could mainly be done from home were working from home all or most of the time, according to Pew Research.
Pew stated that “many (44%) say working from home has made it easier for them to get their work done and meet deadlines, while very few (10%) say it’s been harder to do this. At the same time, 60% say they feel less connected to their co-workers now.”
However, WFH workers feel less connected with management and team members. Many WFH employees have strongly stepped up to contend with the changes in their work, but they feel less connected because management and colleagues don’t interact enough with them and haven’t given them sufficient appreciation and recognition for their efforts.
In an online-only environment, it can be more difficult for new colleagues to settle in to their team. Physical distance reduces exposure to people, limits opportunities for spontaneous and informal exchanges, and diminishes communication across the organization. Virtual setups simply lack opportunities for the short but important water-cooler chats or casual cafeteria meetings. As a consequence, it can be more difficult for a team to form, bond, and cohere. This should be taken seriously, as group cohesion is positively related to team performance, and people generally exert more effort for colleagues they care about. Investing in social integration and cross-functional exchange early on can therefore have a great impact on virtual team performance down the line.
How to counteract the loss of connection of remote workers
A Harvard Business Review article in 2021 explains how to contend with the loss of team connections:
- Bridge physical distance through regular meeting rituals. Encourage everyone to speak up and candidly share their current activities and contributions inside and outside of work.
- Plan time for personal and professional check-ins. Actively inquire about the well-being of your colleagues beyond current work tasks, just as you would in a normal office setting.
- Experiment with creative approaches to fostering team cohesion and performance in a safe and positive environment that provides opportunities for exchanges and bonding experiences in virtual settings.
Why is employee recognition important?
Employee recognition is about appreciating and praising the hard work and achievements of the individuals and teams within your organization. Surveys show that employee recognition is hugely effective. It is a key element of employee engagement. The Kincentric 2020 chart below shows that recognition is one of the top three global workplace factors influencing employee experience and therefore engagement.
“Employee engagement reflects the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace,” states Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2021 Report, which was researched with data from more than 100,000 business units: “Business units with high employee engagement achieve higher productivity, higher customer loyalty/engagement, better safety, lower turnover and higher profitability, among other positive business outcomes.”
Employees benefit from frequent feedback
Gallup assesses the extent of employee engagement through their famous Q12 survey, which covers 12 key elements in engagement, including employee recognition. Participants respond to Question 4: “In the last 7 days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.” Answers range from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.”
In a 2021 article, Gallup reported that only one in three workers in the US and Germany strongly agreed they received recognition or praise in the previous seven days – and those who disagreed were twice as likely to say they would quit in the next year. Praise is powerful.
Annual or quarterly awards and celebrations are not enough to improve worker performance. However, based on Gallup’s above analysis, if organizations could move the ratio on this item from 24% to 60% of workers receiving recognition within the past 7 days, they could see a 28% improvement in quality of work and a 31% reduction in absenteeism.
Employees need frequent feedback to know if what they are putting in enough effort and achieving results. Managers need to understand how each person prefers to be recognized, recognition needs to be objectively based, and relate to their efforts and/or performance. Consistent and frequent recognition is important.
Employees need both recognition and praise
We often use the words “recognition” and “appreciation” interchangeably, but there’s a big difference between them, a 2019 Harvard Business Review article reminds us. The writer, Mike Robbins, points out that recognition is about giving positive feedback based on results or performance. It is backward looking in the same way annual accounts report on financial results for the year just completed.
Praise, on the other hand, is about acknowledging a person’s qualities of character – their worth as a colleague and a human being.
“In simple terms, recognition is about what people do; appreciation is about who they are,” says Robbins. He says this distinction matters because recognition and appreciation are given for different reasons.
Even when people succeed, they may well encounter unexpected problems with progress in a project, campaign or activity. Some projects may even be cancelled before completion, even though the team members have been extremely dedicated in their work efforts. Therefore, ensure you praise your team members – connect with and support them in genuine acknowledgement of their efforts, not just recognizing a good end result. Make sure you are both recognizing and praising when they are deserved.
Top sources of recognition
The source of recognition is important. When asked in a Gallup survey who gave them their most meaningful and memorable recognition, employees said their most memorable recognition comes most often from their manager (28%), followed by a high-level leader or CEO (24%), the manager’s manager (12%), a customer (10%) and peers (9%). Worth mentioning: 17% cited “other” as the source of their most memorable recognition.
Many remote workers are likely to feel overlooked, and therefor struggle in their new work environment, even if others thrive in it. Numerous organizations have implemented technology-based recognition tools and peer-to-peer recognition systems to address recognition while remote working. While these tools can support a culture of recognition, they generally need significant time to set up and regularly check that they are adequately achieving their purpose. Leaders should beware of “set it and forget it” recognition solutions. Gallup finds that the most meaningful feedback is authentic and individualized. Leaders and managers should find out how individuals prefer to be recognized.
Give your employees the recognition they deserve
So, how can you help your team members feel more connected and satisfied at work?
When a Gallup survey some years ago asked what types of recognition were the most memorable, respondents emphasized six methods in particular. Money is really a form of reward rather than recognition or appreciation. What’s more – money isn’t necessarily the motivator they most value. Recognition activities employees most valued in the past are listed below. Nearly all of these activities can be adapted to the WFH workplace:
- public recognition or acknowledgment via an award, certificate or commendation
- private recognition from a boss, peer or customer
- receiving or obtaining a high level of achievement through evaluations or reviews
- promotion or increase in scope of work or responsibility to show trust
- monetary award such as a trip, prize or pay increase
- personal satisfaction or pride in work.
Also, to show remote employees appreciation, be sure to create channels to facilitate ongoing congratulations and praise, for example, TeamBuilding in 2022 advises organizations to provide Slack channels, regular employee appreciation Zoom meetings, and apps that enable peer-to-peer thank you messages. You can plan special events like virtual award shows and team celebration dinners, and can also celebrate occasions like birthdays and work anniversaries.
Recognition for remote teams
When recognition is integral to a work culture, each team’s good work connects their performance to corporate goals. Based on recent data from France, Germany, Spain and the UK, Gallup concludes in a 2021 article that benefits of team praise include:
Praising teams can clarify organizational goals to them.
Recognition can reinforce a team’s sense of meaning and purpose.
Praising teams can improve quality.
Team recognition can inspire trust.
Tips for more effective group praise
Regular feedback shows workers how they’re contributing to the organization and that their contributions are valuable. When employees are focused on team goals, the outcomes are far stronger than any individual person’s performance. Team recognition is even more important for remote workers. You should consistently connect team praise to specific achievements. Gallup data also show that team recognition is more effective when it’s:
- Public rather than private. You should highlight your team’s efforts to as big an audience that you can. This creates better collaboration between teams because it sends a strong message that the organization values teamwork.
- Continuous and spontaneous. Praise promptly. If you wait too long, it loses impact. Therefore, use small opportunities in daily work to recognize teams with personalized, authentic and honest praise. Also acknowledge your team’s good work when you get the opportunity at corporate events and business unit meetings. This will bond a team extraordinarily.
- Encouraged on a peer-to-peer basis. In cultures that encourage employees to celebrate each other, co-workers learn from each other’s success. It improves accountability – hence, higher productivity – and gives everyone’s honest feedback more value. And recognition creates recognition: A study conducted in Germany found 66% of employees agreeing with the statement: “If I get recognition, I would also like to give others recognition.”
Tips to introduce a culture of employee recognition for remote workers
- Start your team meetings by recognizing a person who did outstanding work in the past week while working remotely.
- Every Friday, think of three people who really helped you this week. Recognize them privately or publicly, based on your knowledge of what they prefer. (If you don’t know how they like to be recognized, ask.)
- Find creative ways to make recognition special. For example, send a note through traditional mail.
- If your team is fully remote, establish regular, optional virtual hangouts for your team members to connect socially. Use these times to encourage, support and praise your team.
Communication plays a key role in recognition
Through your wide-ranging communication role as the eyes and ears of your organization, you become aware of work well done throughout the organization. This is integral to gathering information for employee publications and other typical communication tasks. You can communicate about these good achievements and their long-term benefits in the realization that communication is vital for better employee recognition:
- Offer employee recognition ideas to help to drive formal and informal programs of employee recognition for individual employees and teams in remote and hybrid roles.
- Provide articles and photographs in employee publications, including videos for the intranet and social media, and occasionally in external media, about high-achieving employees.
- Produce guidance notes for managers so they can arrange informal online functions, where applicable, in which they thank the person or team for their work.
- Directly encourage managers and supervisors to spontaneously recognize employees for their efforts (giving them a ‘pat on the back’).
- Prepare a program which outlines the ways managers can build active peer-to-peer recognition within their areas of responsibility.
- Arrange photographs and certificates of the employees and their awards or similar, in internal newsletters, intranet, and even the organizational website when appropriate.
- Model the desired behavior.
In addition, you can communicate about the long-term benefits that come to high achievers in the remote workplace:
- Conduct interviews with the manager of your organization’s career advancement programs (probably your HR manager) so you can publicize these activities in the organizational intranet or Facebook.
- Include profiles of high-achieving WFH employees in recruitment features in print or online publications.
- List employees who have been promoted, proving that career advancement is possible from achieving good results in the remote workplace.
- Include a career management section on the organizational intranet, which summarizes all information and resources about career advancement.
- Ensure that top managers reinforce positive messages about high achievers and career advancement opportunities when they speak to remote employee teams.
Recognition for remote teams needs to be a permanent, up-to-date innovation. Remote working is in most organizations, and the pandemic (and future workplace disruptions) are likely to continue this trend. Leaders can use this experience now as an opportunity to develop digital employee cultures that support healthy, effective teams. By committing to the above actions, you will help your remote workers feel more engaged with more active employee recognition.
Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.