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The Remote Workplace Needs Recognition Rituals Too

The Remote Workplace Needs Recognition Rituals Too

by Nate Dvorak and Ryan Pendell

Story Highlights

  • Remote employees miss out on spontaneous recognition
  • The most meaningful feedback is authentic and individualized
  • Improve company culture by recognizing those working from home

A supervisor brings fresh donuts on Friday to celebrate the team exceeding production goals.

Coworkers pass each other in the hallway, and one says, "Hey, great job on that presentation last week."

A manager leaves a note of thanks on an employee's desk for rescuing a valuable customer relationship.

A star employee receives a standing ovation in front of their peers when receiving their first gold-plated Employee of the Month award.

For employees who work on-site, these unplanned experiences can be the highlight of their week. But for remote work employees, these common workplace recognition rituals don't exist. And for many workers who have been suddenly forced into remote working due to an unexpected disruption like COVID-19, it can be a shock. Many remote workers -- even while still employed -- are likely to feel adrift, lost, forgotten in their new work environment.

And yet here's the sad irony of our current crisis: Just as employee recognition rituals have disappeared, many of your employees have stepped up in a heroic way.

They have been flexible, agile and creative -- finding ways to keep the lights on in a crisis while working remotely. They have managed an unmanageable work-life balance with a smile. Many have taken risks and taken cuts for the good of their coworkers, their organization and their community while they work from home.

This ordinary heroism deserves some serious recognition.

What We Know About Recognition at Work

Globally, one in four employees strongly agree that they have received recognition or praise for doing good work in the last week.

The important phrase here is "in the last week." Employee engagement requires consistent, frequent action from managers and leaders. Annual or quarterly awards and accolades are not enough to improve worker performance. However, based on Gallup's analysis, if organizations could move the ratio on this item from one in four to six in 10, they could see a 28% improvement in quality and a 31% reduction in absenteeism.

But the impact goes beyond productivity. A 2015 Gallup study of German companies found that receiving regular praise and recognition was a key factor in employee burnout and wellbeing. Most organizations think about wellbeing in terms of health insurance. Consider that having a culture of recognition may be as essential to the overall health of your workforce as a gym discount.

Many remote workers -- even while still employed -- are likely to feel adrift, lost, forgotten in their new work environment.

Many organizations have implemented technology-based recognition tools and peer-to-peer recognition systems. While these tools can support a culture of recognition, they don't typically create one all on their own. 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 Need -- Wherever They Work

A recognition-rich culture starts at the top. Gallup research shows that the most meaningful recognition comes from a manager, a high-level leader or the CEO.

If you are a manager or leader, it may be worthwhile to solicit candidates for recognition and put it on your weekly to-do list.

Leaders who unexpectedly find themselves with a remote workforce need to realize that people who work from home still need their psychological needs met. That includes the need to be recognized, noticed and appreciated for exceptional work.

Here are a few ways leaders can initiate a remote culture of recognition:

  • Start your next team meeting by recognizing someone on the call who did exceptional 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, nonrequired virtual hangouts for employees to connect socially. Use these times to encourage, support and praise your team.

Recognition begets recognition. When a leader recognizes others, they act as a role model. When employees see this behavior from leaders on a regular basis, it becomes an unwritten expectation, part of "the way we do things around here." It's not a rare or exceptional event. It becomes part of the culture.

Consider that your remote employees may be starved for recognition. A passing word of praise that may have gone unnoticed in a physical workplace can make someone's entire day at home.

A recognition-rich culture starts at the top. Gallup research shows that the most meaningful recognition comes from a manager, a high-level leader or the CEO.

When everything feels up in the air due to workplace disruption, it can be hard to know if you're on the right track. Leaders and managers can give employees peace of mind by praising quality work, even if they don't have all the answers about the future.

Finally, this isn't just a phase. Remote working has been on the rise, and the pandemic (and future workplace disruptions) are likely to accelerate this trend further. Leaders can use this experience now as an opportunity to develop digital employee cultures that support healthy, effective teams.

Explore more resources for managing and recognizing remote workers:


Ryan Pendell is a Senior Workplace Science Editor at Gallup.

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