If you have employees, there’s a good chance that company culture is something you think about often. Positive company culture has the power to impact organizational performance and can mean the difference between surviving and thriving, something that many businesses are focusing on in 2021.

Among the many ways to positively impact company culture, showing your employees appreciation for their hard work is possibly one of the most important. It can boost employee satisfaction at work, thereby increasing performance and retention and creating a more enjoyable workplace for everyone. But how can you show appreciation to your employees when the office is empty?

Few could have predicted the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic would change the professional landscape—large parts of everyday life went into lockdown and caused many workplaces to transition to working from home, where many workers remain today. While office processes like employee communications and invoice approvals were quickly adapted to the new environment, some office practices have not evolved to align with the unique characteristics of the virtual office. If employee appreciation was lost in the shuffle in your organization, it’s time to move it back to the top of your list.

In a year when many organizations are striving to recover from an unexpected downturn, no tactic that impacts productivity can be left unattended. If you’re unsure what can be done beyond verbal recognition on a virtual group meeting, this post is for you. In recognition of National Employee Appreciation Day, here are six ideas to express heartfelt appreciation to your remote team members.

1. Check In With Employees One-on-one

Just because your employees are practicing social distancing these days does not mean you have to distance from them emotionally. Check in with your employees, whether through phone or a virtual meeting, and simply ask them how they are doing. Take several minutes to ask follow-up questions to get beyond the automatic response of ‘I’m fine. How are you?’ and really listen to what they share with you. Give them space to share without feeling like you have to jump in and contribute. Practicing good listening skills will demonstrate to your employees that you respect them and are interested in what they have to say.

Acts of kindness like this have been proven to boost neurochemical production in the brain, including dopamine, resulting in fears and stress being replaced with empathy and trust. In turn, this strengthens working relationships with your employees and can make them feel that their well-being is just as important as their professional duties.

Additionally, it is important to be available (during business hours) and responsive to employee requests. In the past, they may have walked down the hall to your office to request a moment of your time. In a work-from-home situation, that’s not an option. An email or voice mail request just can’t compete with someone standing in your doorway.

But there are ways to work around the challenge, including taking advantage of chat messaging that is available as part of your virtual meetings platform or online telephone system and establishing set times that you will follow up with employees during the week, similar to college professor office hours. Giving your employees the gift of your time can go a long way toward showing them they matter to you and the organization.

2. Offer Online Professional Development Opportunities

Employees working remotely might be experiencing burnout or a loss of direction when it comes to their professional development. Many companies’ priorities were rearranged after March 2020, resulting in increased workload that deprioritized professional development and growth. Not only that, but many professional development opportunities like company training programs or industry conferences were not an option in 2020 anyway because they were canceled.

But now that we are better adjusted to a virtual working world, there are plenty of ways you can invest in your employees’ professional development. Consider a professional association membership with an organization that offers excellent virtual meetings and conferences. There are also many online learning development courses, some with certifications, that you can research.

If development programs were put on hold in 2020, it’s a good time to reinstate them before you get too far into 2021. Investing in your employee’s growth and development is a powerful way to show you care about their future and increase employee engagement and retention.

3. Plan Virtual Happy Hours and Game Nights

Events designed to have fun and encourage laughter are not only a great way to show your team you appreciate their efforts but also serve to foster creativity. A trend that became popular during quarantine is hosting after-hours virtual happy hour events. Employees can enjoy their drink of choice – or treat! – while kicking back and catching up on what’s happening outside of work. You could host a virtual trivia game as a fun team-building activity that can capture some of the camaraderie formerly enjoyed through chatting in the break room or catching up in the hallway.

In addition to hosting fun virtual events for your team, consider introducing fun into regular meetings. Reserve a few minutes at the end of a weekly team meeting for folks to introduce their pets, share their favorite book and explain why it’s important to them, or share what’s currently on their music playlist.

Making time for fun raises optimism and increases your connection to your employees and their connections with each other.

4. Continue Celebrating Milestones

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many offices held small celebrations to recognize birthdays, work anniversaries, awards, or a particularly busy time (like year-end for payroll and HR professionals or tax season for accounting professionals). Gathering in the conference room and sharing birthday cake or pizza gives employees a chance to take a break, enjoy a treat, and converse with coworkers. Over time, those celebrations have the ability to contribute to a positive work culture.

So, how does that work for a remote team? It’s still important to take time to celebrate milestones; the logistics are just a bit different. For example, if your team lived for birthday celebrations, schedule cupcakes to arrive at your employees’ homes in time for a virtual birthday celebration. You could also send party hats and confetti poppers to amplify the good cheer.

When your team is at the successful end of a major initiative, that’s a great time to plan a virtual celebration. They worked hard to get to this point and deserve to be recognized (and you do, too!). Take time to plan a meal that can be delivered to each employee and enjoyed over a virtual working lunch. If you search online for virtual events, you’ll find a myriad of trendy ideas. Smores anyone?

5. Let Employees Pick a Passion Project

Showing appreciation to your employees extends beyond recognizing the work they do – it requires connecting the dots between their role and the larger mission of your company. Look for opportunities for your employee to take on a new project that merges one of their passions with one of the organization’s strategic initiatives.

Finding a passion within your career is sometimes challenging in a normal year. Adding the new dynamic of remote work, where teams struggle to adapt to new ways of interacting, can make passion work seem impossible. But perhaps now is the best time to encourage your employees to take on a project that they can get energized about.

Assigning each of your employees a meaningful project or problem to solve can give them the inspiration they might have been lacking during quarantine. A new project can also open doors to new possibilities around them and create potential opportunities for your team.

6. Send Meaningful Gifts

Don’t overlook the very tried and true employee gift to show your team members you care. Small gifts can have an outsized impact when the majority of work is conducted in a digital world. Having a surprise show up at their door, something they can hold in their hands and enjoy, has special appeal when shared physical space with team members has been nonexistent. Anything from a handwritten thank you note to a sweet treat can say so much.

  • Send your favorite leadership book to one who loves to read. Two favorites are “Dare to Lead” by Brené Brown and “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.
  • Send a sweet treat to your team member with a sweet tooth. Some cities have services that will deliver freshly-baked (and still warm) cookies!
  • A premium promotional item with the company logo, such as a water bottle or coffee mug, is a nice addition to a home office.
  • Pets have become the talk of many virtual meetings as cats walk across desks and dogs bark, prompting their owners to quickly hit the mute button. If you have a pet lover on your team, why not send a toy for their furry family member?
  • A handwritten note expressing your gratitude for their unique contributions to the team can go a long way toward making your employees feel appreciated.

The right gift can show you truly know the recipient and care about what matters to them.

Appreciation Begins With You

Given the very challenging past 12 months, employees may be feeling isolated and motivationally challenged. Now, more than ever, they need your support and to feel recognized for their work achievements.

Employees are the heart of what makes an organization thrive. That’s why it is crucial to come up with unique ways to express your appreciation for your employees as individuals and help them reach their full potential. This will help keep them focused, motivated, and even inspired. Your team ultimately looks to you to set the tone for your department and empower them to flourish.

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