Especially when recognizing remote employees, it's important to point out specific actions that make them outstanding from the rest.

COVID-19 is changing the way we do business, from transforming our buying decisions to shifting where we work every day. Many companies are instituting mandatory work from home policies during the pandemic, and this abrupt change can be isolating and jarring for employees accustomed to coming into an office every day.

Now more than ever, it’s essential to understand the nuances behind engaging these newly-virtual teams. Keeping your employees engaged and happy in the midst of COVID-19 is essential to continuing to further your business and get results, even when companies are struggling.

The Value of Recognition for Remote Employees

Compared to 10 years ago, the number of remote workers has increased by 115%, with that number abruptly rising with the onset of COVID-19. According to a Virgin Pulse survey, remote employees are more likely to be disengaged and quit, an alarming reality when the majority of the workforce has shifted to remote work. With hundreds of distractions at home, from crying children to the allure of checking social media with no one looking over your shoulder, it’s easy to disengage from the job.

Recognizing remote employees during these uncertain times is more important than ever.
Recognizing remote employees during these uncertain times is more important than ever.

An easy way to keep remote employees engaged is to continuously support them through recognition. Recognition is a meaningful way to demonstrate to employees that you care about their work and wellbeing, even when they aren’t in the office, working at their desks. Furthermore, not only does recognition improve employee engagement, it also strengthens manager-to-peer relationships, peer-to-peer relationships, and understanding of an organization’s core values.

8 Ways to Leverage Recognition During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Here are eight tips for how you can leverage recognition to keep employees engaged while working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these suggestions also include ways you can recognize while helping your local community during this crisis as well, as we are in a time where we need to band together to support each other.

Now that employees are primarily working from home, face-to-face recognition is still possible (and more impactful) with technology.
Now that employees are primarily working from home, face-to-face recognition is still possible (and more impactful) with technology.

1. Use Technology to Recognize Face-to-Face

It’s likely that when your employees gathered in the office every day, they found ways to celebrate achievements together. You might celebrate closing a sale by having a round of applause, hitting a gong, or buying the office lunch. Now that your employees are working remotely, invite them to a virtual meeting using programs like Zoom or Skype to announce these major accomplishments. Your employees can socialize together, celebrate wins, and get that in-office feeling they might be lacking at home. Additionally, the extra face time will help alleviate the loneliness remote workers often feel on the job.

2. Reward Employees for Donating to Charities

Anyone around the world can donate to charities with a few simple clicks, which is what makes it such a great way to give back as a company no matter where you’re located. One creative way to recognize remote employees is to send recognition to those who donate to these charities during this time of crisis and encourage others to do the same.

You can motivate your employees to have a positive influence during the COVID-19 crisis by rewarding them for donating to charities.
You can motivate your employees to have a positive influence during the COVID-19 crisis by rewarding them for donating to charities.

If you use a recognition platform, it will likely include the ability to make charitable donations, making it easy for your employees to donate. You can also add new charities to the platform by requesting them through your vendor. This way, your employees can donate to relevant and specific organizations that support their local communities, no matter where they are located. Here’s a crowdsourced list of different relief funds that have emerged during the COVID-19 crisis to consider.

3. Give Employees Local Gift Cards

Many local businesses are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic due to mandatory closures. The best way to support these businesses is by purchasing gift cards that your employees can redeem at a later date.

Support your local businesses that might be struggling by purchasing gift cards to their stores and giving them as rewards to your employees.
Support your local businesses that might be struggling by purchasing gift cards to their stores and giving them as rewards to your employees.

It’s a well-known fact that employees prefer to be recognized with gift cards instead of cash, so this is the perfect opportunity to stock up. Not only does this lend a personalized touch to your recognitions, it also helps support your community in a time of need. Bonus points if your gift cards are purchased through an automated rewards platform that can send them via email. These platforms help eliminate the hassle of mailing gift cards to your remote employees.

4. Recognize Employees for Specific Actions

Adjusting to working from home can be hard, which is why it’s essential to reward specific behaviors you would like to see more of. Not only does this show appreciation, but it also encourages other employees to follow suit.

Do you have an employee who is responsive and attentive, even when working remotely? Write them a personalized message that details how appreciative you are of that employee’s ability to remain responsive and available from their new home office. This will reinforce the value of communication throughout your newly remote team and motivate the employee who is already succeeding.

Instead of interacting in the office, most employees are engaging via their company's chat programs, so be sure to recognize using them.
Instead of interacting in the office, most employees are engaging via their company’s chat programs, so be sure to recognize using them.

5. Recognize on Public Channels

Ensure recognition is public and optimally company-wide to celebrate achievements. This means you should recognize in a public channel like Slack, your company intranet, or on a recognition platform that includes a social feed where everyone can view recognitions. Encourage others to engage with the recognition as well. When sent publicly, recognition is a huge motivator for employees, and encouraging peers to participate in the celebration only drives motivation further. Public recognition also helps your newly remote employees feel more connected to each other, giving them a chance to socialize and celebrate wins from wherever they are located.

6. Be Timely

It’s important to keep track of what employees are doing at your company, even if your entire workforce is now working remotely. If you see behavior that should be rewarded, don’t wait! Reward that employee instantly to make your recognition more meaningful. You can do this through a myriad of channels: on your company’s chat program, using a recognition platform, a team-wide email, or highlighting the employee verbally during impromptu video meetings.

Don't wait until an employee is offline to send recognition.
Don’t wait until an employee is offline to send recognition.

The importance of timely recognition is only enhanced as many employees change their working hours to accommodate for at-home schedules. With children home from school during the coronavirus pandemic to having to home-cook every meal, many employees have changed their hours to provide more household support. Instead of waiting until they have gone offline for the day to send a recognition, make sure you send it immediately when the employee can see it so the impact is greater.

7. Provide Opportunities for Professional Development

One creative way to reward and recognize employees from afar is by providing them professional development opportunities. With all this spare time (especially for your sales team), now is the time to tackle new projects, learn new skills, and develop your repertoire.

We have more spare time than ever to develop our professional skills, so take advantage by rewarding employees with online classes.
We have more spare time than ever to develop our professional skills, so take advantage by rewarding employees with online classes.

Provide discounted or free online courses through platforms like Udemy so employees can grow professionally in a time where they might feel stagnant. If you’re using a rewards and recognition platform, you might already have discounts on these classes available.

As an added bonus, you can see if professionals in your community are offering online classes and register your team for them. This achieves the goal of rewarding your employees with professional development and it supports your local community members who might be struggling to find work right now.

8. Buy Them Lunch from Afar

It’s no secret that restaurants are suffering because of COVID-19. One way to reward remote employees and support these restaurants in need is by ordering lunch from a local restaurant that offers delivery services. Many restaurants are depending on their delivery services to make it through their dine-in closures, so supporting them in this effort is a convenient (and tasty) way to reward an employee for going above and beyond.

A simple gesture like buying an employee lunch is an easy way to reward remote employees.
Buying an employee lunch is an easy way to reward remote employees.

Research what restaurants are nearby and equipped with delivery services and offer to get lunch delivered for your employees. They’ll be grateful for one less meal to cook and a little less stress on their plates. As an added bonus, look for local restaurants instead of chains to support small businesses in a time of uncertainty.

What We Can Learn from Remote Work

There’s much to be learned from this new transition to remote work. This is an opportunity to evaluate your company’s ability to support employees during a time of upheaval and isolation. Our daily schedules have transformed. We can no longer look to the left and tap the person sitting next to us on the shoulder to ask a question. We spend more time typing and less time talking. After this pandemic winds down, we will need to take stock of the significance of these changes and do everything we can to make our virtual teams successful for the long-term.

We do know one thing for certain: we are in the midst of an unprecedented global health crisis, and rewarding and recognizing employees during a time of upheaval is more important than ever. People are naturally social creatures, and it’s critical that we band together and leverage the resources we have to stay connected. As more states transition to shelter-in-place orders, we must make an effort to cultivate inclusive, connected digital communities that thrive with recognition

Erin Nelson is a Digital Marketing Manager at Fond with over six years of B2B SaaS marketing experience. Erin has authored dozens of articles on employee rewards and recognition and frequently researches new trends in R&R. In their spare time, you can find them playing music, reading about socioeconomic and gender-based politics, and listening to true crime podcasts.

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