Although the benefits of employee recognition programs have been acknowledged for decades, the pandemic has made it more difficult for leaders to praise remote employees. They can’t stop by their workspace to give them a pat on the back. They no longer run into them in the hallway where they can quickly thank them. It’s easy to forget their accomplishments, no matter how big or small, if they are not physically visible or present in the workspace.
However, now more than ever, employers need to recognize remote workers, says Bob Nelson, president of Nelson Motivation, a global management training and consulting firm and also author of 1,001 Ways to Engage Employees.
“The basic human need of being validated has certainly not changed,” Nelson says, adding that during the early days of COVID-19, managers frequently reached out to staff to express their appreciation. But no one really knows whether those efforts have continued at the same pace. “It’s lonely working on your own. People feel like they’re in a vacuum and are alienated.”
He says HR must be intentional about recognizing remote workers. There must be a system, corporate philosophy and effective tools in place. Likewise, don’t always assume managers know what to do.
Some of his clients have simplified the recognition process for remote workers by sharing responsibility among their staff or direct reports. Consider the “Praise Buddy” program, where each employee is responsible for praising a co-worker for one month. Also, before every Zoom staff meeting, Nelson says that managers can spend five minutes asking employees to say something positive about a co-worker.
See also: Employee recognition during COVID-19
Although there are numerous ways to deliver recognition, a 2019 survey conducted by WorldatWork and Maritz Motivation revealed that 19% of the responding 445 employers had no employee recognition policy, strategy or philosophy. Without specific tools or guidance, Nelson says, some managers simply won’t know how to acknowledge employees, remote or otherwise.
“It’s kind of a blind spot for them,” he says.
But there are technologies that make the recognition process easier, especially for remote staff, he says. As an example, he points to Online Rewards, which offers a mobile application that he says is a “real plus” for employees who may not have easy or frequent access to a computer.
Meanwhile, Nelson says, recognizing remote workers requires everyone—leaders, HR, managers and supervisors—to be more progressive.
“You have to be more proactive than sending an email to managers, telling them that this is important,” says Nelson. “COVID-19 has made it harder to recognize [remote] employees because you don’t see them and aren’t reminded about what they’ve completed. They’re out of sight, out of mind.”