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Nailing Virtual Employee Recognition to Boost Engagement in Remote Teams

The dos, don’t, tips, and remote recognition ideas you need to build a culture of remote recognition

Rebecca Chen
Content and Community Manager at Bucketlist Rewards
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In the era of remote work, it has become increasingly difficult for employees to engage with their colleagues and build meaningful connections. In fact, one study found that full-time remote work led to a 67% increase in loneliness when compared to in-office work.

It’s clear that connections and engagement are crucial aspects of the workplace that many organizations are missing, which means creating a culture of recognition is more important than ever. Employee recognition serves as a powerful tool to create a more engaged culture and strengthen the bond between team members, no matter where they are located.

Throughout this blog post, we will explore why recognition matters and discuss the do's and don'ts of recognition in a remote team or a company with a hybrid work policy, highlighting the key practices to embrace and avoid. We will also provide 10 virtual employee recognition ideas to help you nail recognition in your remote team. By incorporating these insights and ideas, you can create a supportive and positive work environment that nurtures employee well-being, enhances team dynamics, and drives success in remote work settings. 

In This Article

A remote worker greeting colleagues from her home office.

Virtual employee recognition provides a way to celebrate achievements, milestones, and exceptional performance in a remote setting. By publicly acknowledging and appreciating the efforts of remote employees, organizations can boost morale and motivate their teams to continue excelling in their work. It is essential to create opportunities for virtual employee recognition to ensure that remote employees feel valued and recognized for their contributions.

Why Recognition Matters in Remote Teams

Employee recognition is a valuable tool that can transform the way your employees engage and interact with each other and your organization as a whole.

A recent study found that 93% of participants wanted to be recognized for work achievements at least once a quarter. Recognition is especially important for remote workers as it plays a crucial role in fostering a sense of belonging, motivation, and job satisfaction among team members that remote environments often lack.

Fostering a more connected culture is imperative given that 70% of employees who now work remotely feel lonelier than before they made the switch. Without traditional in-person interactions, remote employees can easily feel isolated and detached from their colleagues and the organization as a whole. It can be difficult to remedy these feelings of detachment but using various types of employee recognition, appreciation gifts, and other employee rewards can be a major asset in reconnecting employees with their colleagues and the workplace.

Benefits of Virtual Employee Recognition

By fostering a culture of remote employee appreciation and recognition, virtual teams can tap into the following benefits:

Reduced Feelings of Isolation

Remote employee recognition goes beyond mere gestures; it creates a positive work environment that nurtures employee well-being and enhances team dynamics.

A recent study on remote employees recorded that 24% of participants cited loneliness and feelings of isolation as the biggest struggle of remote work. Asynchronous remote work, in particular, can be isolating as team members in different parts of the world may rarely be online at the same time.

When remote employees receive recognition, they feel more connected to their work, team, and organization which is vital in reducing feelings of loneliness, increasing retention, and improving collaboration. Virtual employee recognition serves as a powerful tool to cultivate a culture where peers and leaders show appreciation, and where employees feel seen, heard, and valued.

A remote employee smiling at virtual recognition messages on his computer

Enhanced Team Engagement

Studies among employees have proven that workplaces with consistent recognition have higher levels of employee engagement than counterparts where recognition is rare. To be precise, employees who feel recognized are 2.7 times more likely to be highly engaged at work than employees who feel underappreciated.

In busy teams, and especially remote teams where coworkers don’t see each other often, it is easy to put work demands and daily pressures ahead of recognition. This is a slippery slope where the more pressure there is to be productive, and the more engaged companies need their employees to be, the less recognition gets passed around. Unstructured or neglected recognition also means that, even when employees do get acknowledged, the recognition and rewards they get might be inconsistent or not distributed fairly— a situation that can easily result in a harsh blow to employee engagement, motivation, and retention.

This paradox emphasizes the importance of structured recognition and explains why the market for HR Tech in this space is growing. A tool or platform that formalizes recognition and rewards keeps recognition front of mind, consistent, and fair.

To foster a culture of consistent employee recognition, organizations can leverage reward and recognition technology that provides a centralized platform for employees to interact with.

In a remote setting, using effective reward and recognition platforms can help employees feel connected and better appreciated, promoting engagement and enhancing team dynamics.

It’s important to recognize what system for recognition works best for your organization and to consider the unique needs of your employees. Recognizing the efforts and achievements of employees who work from home, or any other remote location, is an incredible tool that should not be understated because of its proven effectiveness and ability to transform your workplace and drive success in your organization.

More resources:

Do’s and Don'ts of Recognition in a Remote Team

Nailing employee recognition in a remote team requires a thoughtful approach to ensure that team members feel appreciated, motivated, and connected, even from a distance.

To help you navigate this challenge, we've compiled a list of do's and don'ts for recognition in a remote team. By following these guidelines, you can foster a culture of remote employee recognition that boosts the employee engagement you want and promotes a positive work environment.

A remote team having a virtual meeting with their manager.

The 8 Dos of Employee Recognition in a Remote Team

1. Do Prioritize Regular and Timely Recognition

Studies have shown that 65% of employees do not feel recognized at work, highlighting just how important it is to make recognition a consistent practice by acknowledging employees' accomplishments and efforts on an ongoing basis. Although recognition should be a part of your performance management cycle, or formalized in an employee of the month program or a structured perks, incentives, and bonuses package, it is also about everyday acknowledgment.

Employees need recognition for their effort and success as and when it happens. Whether it's a quick message or a public shout-out, timely recognition reinforces positive behaviors and keeps remote employees engaged.

2. Do Embrace a Variety of Virtual Employee Recognition Ideas

Since remote work limits face-to-face interactions and a lot of physical employee rewards, companies need to explore creative ways of conveying appreciation to their team. Teams are all different. The logistics and compliance of, for example, a remote team based in the U.S. is different from an international team of digital nomads.

Try any and all feasible virtual employee recognition ideas your team suggests to create meaningful connections. Utilize video calls, virtual team events, digital gifts and vouchers, public recognition on your internal comms channels, social media shoutouts, care packages filled with swag, and various online platforms to celebrate milestones, share accomplishments, and foster a sense of community.

3. Do Provide Specific and Sincere Compliments

A whopping 92% of employees are more likely to repeat behaviors that they are recognized for. Employees also tend to emulate behaviors that they see colleagues recognized for. Recognition is therefore highly effective when it is given for a specific task, acumen, result, or deliverable as opposed to a general statement, such as “Jill is a great colleague”.

In a remote team, where employees are not always privy to each other’s tasks and context is limited, it is therefore especially important to be specific about what recognition is given for.

When recognizing remote employees, be specific about what they did well and how it contributed to the team's success. Sincere compliments for employees that highlight individual contributions demonstrate that their work is valued and appreciated.

4. Do Foster Peer-to-Peer Recognition

Encourage employees to recognize and appreciate the efforts of their coworkers by providing means of peer-to-peer recognition. Acknowledgment received from coworkers is especially valuable as it provides an authentic and genuine appreciation of employee contributions.

Peer recognition promotes a sense of camaraderie and teamwork and often includes a greater range of recognition as team members see the day-to-day contributions workers make that leaders often miss. Peer-to-peer recognition not only enhances team dynamics but also empowers employees to celebrate each other's achievements, fostering a positive company culture in a remote setting.

5. Do Leverage Technology

Software like Slack Channels, Microsoft Teams (and just about any other collaborative virtual workspace) can act as a platform to interact with employees and integrate recognition into your workplace. These platforms serve as a means to convey public and private recognition from leaders within the company, and among co-workers.

As we mentioned before, however, unstructured recognition runs the risk of becoming neglected. If your organization is looking to take recognition to the next step, consider a rewards and recognition platform.

A virtual recognition message for a remote co-worker.

Employee recognition software is a great tool that enables remote team members to give and receive recognition easily, ensuring that no one is left out or overlooked. These platforms are scalable for your organization and help facilitate consistent virtual recognition without manual work. It is important to find the best employee recognition software for your organization to accommodate the unique needs of your employees and to ensure consistent recognition is being provided.

6. Do Celebrate Personal Milestones and Achievements

Recognition can be about more than just work. Recognize remote employees' personal milestones, such as birthdays, work anniversaries, or special achievements.

Recognizing a worker’s personal milestones outside of the workplace can help with bringing the whole person into recognition. It also adds a personal touch that inspires a sense of belonging and value among employees. Small gestures like sending a personalized note or a virtual gift can go a long way in making employees feel valued and appreciated as a person, not just an employee.

7. Do Incorporate Recognition into Performance Management

Recognition can and should be a part of your performance management processes, such as one-on-one meetings and performance evaluations. Use these opportunities to acknowledge employees' hard work, progress, and growth, reinforcing their sense of accomplishment.

8. Do Lead by Example

As a leader or manager in a remote team, model the behavior you wish to see. Recognize and appreciate your employees often and openly, setting the tone for a culture of remote employee recognition. By setting this example, you inspire others to follow suit.

The 7 Don'ts of Recognition in a Remote Team

1. Don’t Use Generic Compliments

When recognizing remote employees, the exact acknowledgment you give is extremely important. Avoid generic or superficial compliments. Instead, provide specific feedback that demonstrates you value their unique contributions. Generic praise can feel insincere and fail to recognize individual efforts effectively.

2. Don't Just Talk About Work

As we’ve established, remote work can be isolating, so don't overlook the importance of non-work interactions.

Take the time to check in with your team members, ask about their well-being, and show genuine interest in their lives outside of work. This demonstrates care and interest in the whole person rather than just the employee, which is proven to increase engagement, retention, and happiness among employees.

3. Don't Limit Recognition to Top Performers

While it's essential to recognize outstanding achievements, don't overlook the contributions of others who may not be in the spotlight.

Recognize employees at all levels for their efforts, progress, adherence to the company values, and their contributions to the team's overall success. Inclusive recognition fosters a sense of belonging and motivates everyone to perform their best.

4. Don’t Set Rigid Recognition Criteria

Don't limit recognition to specific metrics or predefined criteria only. Acknowledge a variety of accomplishments, both big and small, that align with your team's goals and your company values. A comprehensive employee recognition program should provide flexibility in recognition to capture the diverse contributions, initiatives, and successes of your remote employees.

5. Don't Underestimate the Power of Gratitude

Expressing gratitude is a simple yet powerful way to recognize remote employees and can be very impactful given that only 17% of employees feel appreciated at work.

A heartfelt thank-you message or a personal note of appreciation can go a long way in making employees feel valued and recognized for their efforts. Cultivate a culture of gratitude within your remote team.

6. Don’t Assume Everyone Likes to Be Recognized in the Same Way

Each employee is unique, and their preferences for recognition may differ. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach and take the time to understand how each remote employee in your team prefers to be recognized.

Understanding employee recognition means recognizing that some may appreciate public praise, while others may prefer private acknowledgment. Tailor your recognition efforts to suit individual preferences.

7. Don't Make Recognition a One-Time Event

Employee recognition should be an ongoing practice rather than a one-time event limited to special days (such as a year-end party).

Despite the benefits of consistent recognition, 40% of employees report receiving recognition only a few times per year or less. Failing to recognize and reward employees frequently can lead to an increase in burnout. 31% of employees reported a lack of recognition from top leadership is the top driver of workplace burnout. By making recognition a consistent part of your remote team culture, you reinforce positive behaviors and foster a sense of appreciation and engagement throughout the year.

Remember, the key to successful employee recognition in a remote team is to be intentional, genuine, and inclusive. By implementing these do's and avoiding the don'ts, you can create a positive and motivating remote work environment where employees feel recognized, appreciated, and connected to their team, even while working alone in their home office.

Remote employee recognition from a team leader.

10 Employee Recognition Ideas for Remote Teams

Cultivating a remote company culture that includes consistent and sincere appreciation is easier said than done. To offer a unique and engaging employee experience, consider the following virtual employee appreciation ideas.

1. Virtual Team Celebrations

Organize virtual events for team members to spend time together. Use these virtual celebrations to recognize and appreciate employees' achievements and milestones.

Whether it's a virtual happy hour or a team lunch, these events provide an opportunity to bring the team together, build connections, and celebrate successes. During these gatherings, managers can publicly acknowledge individual accomplishments and express gratitude for their contributions.

Virtual team celebrations foster a sense of camaraderie and boost morale in a remote work environment.

2. Digital Appreciation Boards

Create digital appreciation boards where team members can share messages of recognition and appreciative shoutouts.

These boards can be set up using collaboration tools or dedicated kudos platforms. Employees can post thank-you notes, nominations for employee awards, or offer words of encouragement for their colleagues. This virtual space allows for continuous and timely recognition, which helps foster a positive and supportive team culture.

3. Employee Spotlight Newsletters

Develop a regular newsletter that highlights outstanding employees and their achievements. Feature individual success stories, project accomplishments, professional development, or innovative ideas.

This newsletter can be distributed company-wide and serve as a platform for recognizing and celebrating the exceptional work of remote team members. Include quotes and testimonials from colleagues to emphasize the positive impact individuals have made within the organization.

4. Virtual Awards and Certificates

Design virtual awards and certificates to recognize employee excellence. These can be customized with unique employee award titles and sent digitally to recipients, acknowledging their specific achievements or contributions.

Whether it's a "Top Performer of the Month" or a "Customer Service Superstar," these virtual awards provide tangible recognition that can be shared with others and serve as a lasting reminder of the employee's accomplishments. To reward the receivers, you can include a gift card to their favorite online store.

5. Peer-to-Peer Recognition Platforms

Implement a peer-to-peer recognition platform where employees can give virtual kudos and appreciation to their colleagues. These platforms facilitate real-time recognition, allowing team members to acknowledge each other's contributions instantly.

Encourage employees to share specific examples of how their peers have positively impacted their work or helped them overcome challenges. By fostering a culture of peer recognition, virtual teams can strengthen relationships and enhance collaboration.

An employee working from home expressing gratitude to her peers in a virtual company meeting.

6. Virtual Town Hall Appreciation

Incorporate employee recognition into virtual town hall meetings. Dedicate an agenda item to acknowledge exceptional employees, teams, or departments. This can be a few moments spent on ‘good news’ where managers can publicly recognize employee achievements and express gratitude for their hard work. By providing a platform for recognition during these company-wide meetings, organizations demonstrate their commitment to valuing and appreciating their remote workforce.

At Bucketlist, we host weekly huddles to bring the whole company together. We announce key recognitions and go through good news from the past week to boost morale and show our dedication to appreciating employee contributions and achievements!

7. Social Media Shoutouts

Leverage social media platforms such as your company’s Facebook or LinkedIn page to publicly recognize and appreciate employees' contributions. Create a designated recognition hashtag like #workhero and #teamgoals or tag employees in posts that highlight their accomplishments, work anniversaries, or professional milestones.

This form of virtual employee recognition not only showcases the individuals but also promotes the organization's positive work culture to a wider audience.

8. Recognition-Based Team Building Activities

Engage employees in remote team-building activities that incorporate elements of recognition. For example, organize virtual trivia games or scavenger hunts using engagement platforms like Confetti or Mural, where team members can work together to solve challenges and earn recognition points. These activities provide opportunities for employees to collaborate, bond, and feel appreciated within the virtual team environment.

9. Virtual Thank-You Notes

Encourage managers and team members to send virtual thank-you notes or emails to express their appreciation for a job well done. These personalized messages should highlight specific achievements or contributions that made a significant impact.

By taking the time to acknowledge and thank employees individually, organizations foster a culture of gratitude and recognition.

10. Offer Learning and Development Opportunities

Recognition isn’t just about saying “thank you” or “good job”; it’s also about recognizing an employee’s potential for growth through professional development.

This can include virtual learning and development opportunities like subscriptions to online courses, webinars, or conferences. Providing employees with resources to enhance their skills and knowledge demonstrates recognition of their potential and invests in their professional growth.

By incorporating these virtual employee recognition ideas into your remote team’s workday, you can create a culture of appreciation, boost employee morale, and strengthen team bonds.

Remember, remote employee recognition is crucial for fostering engagement, well-being, and retention in a virtual work environment.

For additional case studies, have a look at this article on examples of employee recognition.

Wrapping Up

Remote employee recognition plays a vital role in building strong relationships, promoting engagement, and fostering a positive work environment in remote teams. By incorporating virtual employee recognition ideas and following the do's and don'ts discussed in this blog post, organizations can create a culture of appreciation that boosts employee morale and strengthens team bonds. Recognizing the efforts and achievements of remote employees not only enhances their job satisfaction but also contributes to the overall success of the organization.

With the rise of remote work, it is crucial for organizations to prioritize remote employee recognition as a means to foster a sense of belonging, motivation, and job satisfaction. By implementing the insights and ideas shared in this blog post, you can create a supportive and positive work environment that nurtures employee well-being and enhances team dynamics, ultimately driving success in remote work settings. Remember, remote employee recognition is not a one-time event but a continuous practice that should be woven into the fabric of your remote team culture.

Rebecca Chen
Content and Community Manager at Bucketlist Rewards
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Rebecca Chen is a practiced community-builder with a passion for building spaces where people can gather to learn through dialogue and shared experiences. She’s an advocate for employee happiness and well-being. 

Currently, she is the Content and Community Manager at Bucketlist Rewards, an employee reward and recognition software company with a mission to build the best cultures in the world and make employee dreams come true. She is also an Advisory Board Member at HR.Com, supporting their research institute on rewards and recognition initiatives.  

Rebecca graduated from Simon Fraser University with a B.A. in Communications. Outside of work, she enjoys exploring the mountains and lakes in beautiful British Columbia as well as the fun food scene in Vancouver. Next on her bucket list: Visit the Maritimes to try as many different lobster rolls! 

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