Changes in workplace setups, and new employee expectations mean that there is a sudden need to adapt these basic practices to a system that’s more inclusive of remote workers. To extend the hand of thanks into the virtual world is to apply these effects to your teams, regardless of where they are, and this in itself throws up some immediate challenges.
Thankfully, the rapidly-developing online workplace infrastructure lends itself well to come new solutions, and we have ten of them lined up to suggest right here, followed by some tips on how to recognize employees virtually. First, let’s go over why recognition is important in the first place, and where the challenges arise.
How Employee Recognition is Changing: The Rise of Virtual Recognition Ideas
Workplace recognition has well-established and widely-accepted benefits that any attentive management team should be aware of. A well-timed thank you in the office makes a huge difference, and this is the bare minimum; workplace recognition extends to numerous sighs of gratitude, ideally tailored to the preferences of the employee receiving it and when done right, this translates to a better experience, a greater sense of value in the work, and ultimately huge improvements to employee retention as a consequence.
Almost everyone responds well to a gesture of gratitude. Employees sacrifice an extended period of time, day after day, to contribute to their employee’s cause, and though they’re compensated with a salary, this at best makes work a means to an end and doesn’t really tap into the need for validation that we as people require for well being.
Receiving gratitude improves the sense of connection between a person and their work, and boosts productivity and mood as a result. This elevated mood increases the sense of responsibility, brings a healthier association with the workplace, and essentially keeps people coming back.
So, recognition is important, and that’s well established, but with the rise of hybrid work environments, a lot of the means and methods used to distribute this recognition become obsolete. Remote workers are more at risk of being overlooked when they’re out of sight, and importantly, there are no visual reminders or cues as to how they’re feeling.
Further, the basic principles of employee recognition are hard to implement virtually; at least to begin with. Genuine thanks can come across as empty or monotonous via text, and then there are the individual preferences to consider: whether a person appreciates being publicly recognized, or would rather receive thanks in private. Again, these are harder to establish when half the workforce is sitting at home.
Therefore, there is a new need to adapt recognition practices; to keep the fundamental principles of meeting employee needs, showing genuine thanks, and making the gesture count for something, and doing all of this in a way that can be given and received virtually.
Virtual recognition ideas, therefore, need to tick these boxes while overcoming the restrictions, and while this may seem like a difficult task, but with the global shift to more hybrid environments, thankfully, there are plenty of ideas popping up that not only bypass the restrictions of a hybrid work environment but also lean on the strengths of one.
We’re going to go over some best practices for your virtual recognition ideas soon so that you can easily come up with your own. First here are ten of ours that might inspire you.
Our Ten Virtual Recognition Ideas
Each of these ideas is designed in a way to make use of the best practices that follow. They’re ideas that allow managers to bridge the virtual gap while maintaining the personal touch and present employees with the recognition that they actually value.
1. Happy hour – The move to remote work is a resounding success in most cases, but there is an opportunity cost: a drop in socialization. This is a need that used to be met in the office environment, and thankfully, it can be reconstructed, albeit in virtual form, for remote workers.
Whether you take it literally and encourage a room where people can have a drink or two, or whether you take Friday afternoons as an opportunity to finish early and socialize online, providing a space for people to catch up and mingle, especially cross-department, is a great way to promote engagement and show your teams you’re grateful for the week of work they’ve just put in.
2. Home deliveries – For individuals (and for those who don’t mind you knowing their address!), a home delivery of thanks is a versatile idea for recognition on a personal level. If you’ve established that your target appreciates gifts, you should know something small and meaningful that you can send their way. You could even make it a food delivery, and send out pizza to your teams on a Friday night. Just make sure they’re welcoming of the idea first!
3. Celebrate milestones – This is a rollover from the classic recognition programs in the office and should be easy to implement. Milestones can be for individuals or teams, and recognition can be public or private, depending on their preference. Celebrating milestones is part of the fundamental blocks of a culture of recognition, and should be present in every team, so if you’re missing this out, it’s important to fix it quickly.
4. Celebrate meaningful dates - Online calendars work even better than physical ones, so there’s no excuse for missing important dates. When an employee mentions something such as a holiday, or their kids’ graduation, note it down and set a reminder. These little moments provide the more personal touchpoints that provide an overall feeling of being recognized; they don’t need to be tied to an achievement.
5. Game nights – Nowadays, there are more options for game nights online than offline, and with multiple game types you should be able to find something for everyone. Some people will even enjoy watching a competitive tournament between two or more workplace rivals, and this can be a great way to engage staff in their time off.
Remember, games can be as simple or as complicated as you like. Experiment with different options and see what gets people the most engaged and active. Game nights are all the more effective as a form of recognition if they’re held during work hours, as this is a reward in itself, but even out-of-hours gatherings can promote engagement too.
6. Wellness programs – There are so many courses, apps, seminars, and other resources available to offer to your staff as thanks. Showing that you care about their well-being can be as simple as offering a free account for employees to a meditation app, or a gym membership. The key to doing this right is finding something that they actually want to do. Wellness programs are even recommended by the American Heart Association as important supplements to the health workforce.
Wellness programs are a good example of a gift that your recipients can choose for themselves. It’s a good idea to offer options, and scout around for bulk deals for employees; something which many services offer to employers. Providing people with the option of how they receive their reward is a boost to their experience.
7. Recognition wall – Just because there are no physical walls, doesn’t mean you need to neglect the recognition wall. Online walls can be easy to update, have a live leaderboard for some casual competitiveness, and can be a light-hearted way to get your teams working together for recognition.
One of the benefits of a virtual wall is that it can be edited quickly and almost effortlessly. It can also be automated to send updates to followers as it gets modified with new entries.
8. Send a letter – Food deliveries are one thing that most people will love, but while they’re crowd pleasers, a hand-written, personalized letter can mean the world to an employee, especially if they value their recognition in private. If you don’t have an address, it’s also possible to send automated, authentic notes of gratitude with online apps!
9. Personal message – For smaller notes of recognition, a DM can be fine. It’s important to check in on a one-to-one basis with your team members anyway, so make sure to set a gratitude schedule to make the most of this time.
A personal message is something that both managers and peers should be encouraged to make use of. It’s quick, it’s effective and it contributes well to the long-term cultivation of an atmosphere of gratitude; something which we will cover more in the best practices section soon!
10. Awards – Finally, another high-profile and casually grandiose gesture for those who appreciate it. This can be tongue-in-cheek or presented with full sincerity, but having a common forum to present awards for accomplishments is one of the key features of most remote working apps, and an award cabinet can be a fun and cheap way to show praise.
As we’ve alluded to a few times already, these ideas need to be tailored to the preference of the employee in order for them to be effective. We’ll go over this in more detail in the best practices section coming up. Meanwhile, it’s important to understand that virtual recognition is the future of the workplace, and the importance of keeping up with this trend can’t be understated.
The Growing Application of Virtual Employee Appreciation Ideas
If anything, employing recognition for your remote workers is more important now than ever, as retaining talent becomes a challenge for all but the most attentive employers. Recognition in remote workplaces, as with office environments is, therefore, a strategic investment in company success, stemming from the provision of a comfortable working environment.
Recalibrating an appreciation program for remote or hybrid workers should be welcomed as an exercise in good management, and it doesn’t have to be a daunting prospect; remote platforms are developing fast and incorporating a lot of facilitation for recognition along the way. It’s actually a lot easier to make the transition, or at least to incorporate more virtual recognition into your practices than ever before. One thing is for certain though: companies that don’t make the change are going to fall behind.
So, keeping up with the next generation of employee needs is a long-term project that is absolutely necessary for companies who want to stay relevant. And this change is well underway! Companies are already making use of AI and other advanced analytics solutions to delve deeper into what makes employees motivated, and using that knowledge to implement virtual employee recognition ideas for their hybrid teams.
The utilization of remote platforms has already created many opportunities for implementing recognition programs, but the rise of specialized employee recognition software opens even more doors. With services like CultureBot, it’s easy to send shoutouts or use a peer-reward system to get your recognition out there. The bot takes inspiration from some of the most effective culture initiatives in top firms around the world to provide solutions for recognition that actually work.
These are just a small sample of the growing range of recognition ideas available to managers for hybrid and remote teams and they can be implemented with very little work or time commitments. With the ideas above, you should have more than enough inspiration to get you started, but for your own virtual employee appreciation ideas, keep in mind the fundamentals of successful recognition.
How to Recognize Employees Virtually: Best Practices
By now you should know several ways how to recognize employees virtually, but the finer details can be a bit elusive. If you’re involved in recognition programs already, you should know a lot of these, but perhaps you haven’t considered how they translate from more classic physical-space programs to the virtual world. If so, check out our best practices:
- Be genuine – this is the single most important element of recognition and one that applies in every single manifestation of it. Forced recognition isn’t going to have any impact, and may have the opposite effect. Your thanks should be real, and your recognition should be felt as a genuine display, not as a chore to help motivate the workforce. Fake sentiments only do more to increase the divide between workers and their jobs, and recognition is supposed to counter the feeling that they’re disposable automatons contributing to a faceless entity; doing it to check a box does nothing to dispel this notion!
- Tailor the approach – Your research into your employees’ needs should involve figuring out their preferred means of receiving recognition in the first place. If someone is shy or prefers not to be publicly acknowledged, making a song and dance about their accomplishments around their peers is hardly going to inspire them to continue. Making sure you fit the gesture to the person is the second-most important thing to remember when working with recognition.
- Time it right – If you’re basing recognition on a specific accomplishment, it needs to be timely. Whether in public or private, the recognition needs to match the accomplishment to double down on the effect of the reward. Issuing recognition too late will make it feel like an afterthought. If it’s impossible to provide a gesture that matches the accomplishment immediately, reach out first, acknowledge the success, and then follow up with the larger reward afterward.
- Encourage peer-to-peer recognition – Not all recognition needs to come from the top down. Encouraging peers to notice one another and react in a positive way serves two major purposes. First, it takes the strain off management to spot every little accomplishment, and secondly, it promotes an overall culture of recognition; which leads us to our final tip:
- Make it company culture – Recognition is going to come a lot easier if it’s factored into the culture of the workplace, whether virtual or physical. At first, this might take some adjustments but instead of considering it an afterthought, try to create the culture you want to see, and this means involving employees and employers to come together and build a grateful space that’s pleasant to work in.
Recognition is about rewarding the behavior you want to see repeated, and trickle-feeding teams with a continuous supply of thanks for showing up. This is true whether done in person or remotely, and as such, most of the virtual recognition ideas you’ll come up with should satisfy these criteria.
Workplaces are changing, and the stakes for retaining top talent are higher than ever. With recognition, however, many things stay the same; the only difference is how to implement it in the modern hybrid working environment.
Thankfully, the forced experiment of work-from-home gave rise to a huge range of platforms and apps that can help you make the most of your appreciation programs. With a handful of good ideas and a solid list of best practices, you’re already most of the way there.
All that’s left is to make it real and make it count. Once that becomes a habit, you’ll have a company culture that’s appealing to be in, and the retention and productivity of your teams will skyrocket.