Recognizing Employees in the Remote Workplace

By: Heather Moyer on October 31st, 2022

Organizations are finding new challenges around every turn when it comes to managing a workforce from afar, whether it’s because they’re in the field, at multiple sites, or at home. Especially when it comes to maintaining relationships, much of what happened spontaneously and organically now has to be planned and even scheduled.

Though opinions and even data differ on whether remote employees are more or less engaged these days, the relationship between engagement and other business factors is clear.

With the well-studied impact of belonging and engagement at work, maintaining strong teams continues to top the priority list. According to Gallup, employee engagement is tied to

  • 21% greater productivity
  • 22% higher profitability
  • 10% improved customer ratings
  • Up to 65% lower turnover
  • 28% lower shrinkage (loss of inventory attributed to theft, damage, error, etc.)
  • 37% lower absenteeism
  • 48% fewer safety incidents

The focus on making remote work sustainable and productive, as well as fulfilling, is clear in how businesses are investing in tools that support connection and collaboration from anywhere. According to TrustRadius, “Over half of all businesses surveyed are also increasing expenditure on collaboration tools (57%) and remote desktop tools (52%).”

The commitment and seriousness with which companies are considering how to support their remote employees is paying off, especially these past few years. According to one report by Quantum Workplace, the 2021 State of Remote Work, hybrid and remote employees actually have the highest engagement levels. “[H]ybrid employees have been engaged at the highest rates with 81% of them reporting high engagement. 78% of remote employees say they were highly engaged followed by only 72% of on-site employees.”

What Recognition Is

A key element of engagement is employee recognition, which is tied to feelings of connection and belonging as well as performance and development. High-performing employees are motivated employees, and studies show that motivation is driven both intrinsically and extrinsically. Recognition is a key way organizations can keep motivation, and therefore productivity, high. “[M]otivation results in instant performance and productivity by the employees, and as a result of motivation, employees are self-driven,” according to the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Recognition positively reinforces achievements and key milestones, but it also affirms desired behaviors, like going above and beyond expectations and driving a positive team or organizational culture. In fact, recognition that doesn’t focus on specific work goes beyond what they do day to day: “It celebrates employees’ achievements while sending important messages about the value placed on progress and continued commitment.” 

These types of recognition can say a lot about managers and leaders (and the organization), in addition to what it says about the employee. It communicates investment and commitment to individuals and their success.

Whether peer-to-peer or from managers and leadership, recognition can come in both formal and informal ways. In a remote setting, the impromptu opportunities for positive feedback and praise are much more limited, meaning more formalized, tool-enabled opportunities must be put in place and sought out.

Pay, raises, bonuses, and benefits are the traditional set of extrinsic rewards, but in today’s competitive market where recruitment and retention are on the top of executives’ concerns, recognition is a key opportunity to bolster both intrinsic (unmeasurable, non-tangible) and extrinsic (directly measurable, tangible) rewards.

What Recognition Does

Though dollar signs remain a critical measure of success, businesses are learning a new set of criteria for understanding their value. “In 2022, company culture and employee experience (EX) is something we’re all increasingly aware of when it comes to gauging how successful we are as a business. Companies that invest in providing great EX are up to 400% more profitable than those that don’t, and they appear twice as often on the American Customer Satisfaction Index.”

Quantum Workplace’s research found that “when employees believe they will be recognized, they are 2.7x more likely to be highly engaged.” That positive feedback is tied to so much more than that one task or project. “When employees are rewarded for their contributions, they feel ownership and pride and are willing to work just as hard on their next project. Recognition connects them to the organization, elevates performance, and increases the likelihood they’ll stay.”

The critical result of employees feeling seen and valued is a mutual trust. Fortune’s Great Place to Work found that compared to employees who do not consistently feel recognized at work, those who do are:

  • 2.6x more likely to think that promotions are fair
  • 2.2x more likely to say innovative thinking is embraced
  • 2.0x more likely to say people here are willing to go above and beyond

That trust manifests in a variety of ways across the workforce, Gallup found. “When recognition hits the mark, employees are:

  • 73% less likely to “always” or “very often” feel burned out
  • 56% less likely to be looking or watching for job opportunities
  • 44% more likely to be “thriving” in their life overall
  • 5x as likely to feel connected to their culture
  • 4x as likely to be engaged
  • 5x as likely to see a path to grow at their organization
  • 4x as likely to recommend their organization to friends and family

Recognizing Remote Employees

In the absence of or limited opportunity for organic, face-to-face feedback, organizations need to empower teams with the space and tools to give and receive positive feedback. And though investments continue to be made in employee engagement, there is still room for much improvement: “[O]nly 19% strongly agree recognition is an important part of the culture at their workplace.” 

And the desire for more praise is directed at higher-ups as well as peers. “52.5% of respondents want to receive more recognition from their immediate manager or supervisor…41.0% want to receive more recognition from immediate coworkers.”

Meaningful feedback is authentic and individualized. It arises from a culture that values individual contributions and openly shows appreciation consistently and frequently. “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.” 

But programs that worked in person can’t simply be replicated for a remote or hybrid environment. In a remote setting, key challenges for employee recognition include:

  • Giving recognition in a timely manner
  • Enabling personalization and individualization by personal style and project

To let employees know that they’re valued and appreciated, organizations will need to do more than purchase software to “set it and forget it.” Here are a couple things to keep in mind when considering a recognition program for a remote or hybrid workforce:

  1. Accommodate the kind of visibility employees want by allowing for recognition to be both shared and private.
  2. Enable both leaders and peers to give recognition.
  3. Incorporate recognition into development and performance conversations.
  4. Focus on more than tasks and projects to encompass the full value of employees.
  5. Find ways to make recognition a regular practice.
  6. Center recognition around corporate values and culture building.

Making recognition a part of your culture for employees, no matter where they wok, keeps them connected to the organization and strengthens the trust relationship. “[R]egular praise and recognition [is] 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.”