Acknowledging remote workers’ contributions

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Written by Luke Smith on 22 March 2022 in Features
Features

How do we show and receive appreciation in the world of remote working? Luke Smith offers some suggestions

Remote working has become a common practice in the contemporary business landscape. Company leaders and staff alike have noted significant benefits in the practice beyond the distancing necessities of the COVID-19 pandemic. But this doesn’t mean it’s always going to be an easy experience.

Many of the challenges of adopting remote working is figuring out how to translate key in-office practices to virtual teams. One element too often overlooked in this process is the adaptation of worker appreciation protocols. Nevertheless, taking the time to recognise the efforts of a talented workforce is still essential to productivity, retention, and a solid culture in remote operations.

Let’s take a moment to examine some of the ways of showing and receiving appreciation in remote working environments.

Recognition programmes
Many businesses have formal recognition programmes in place for their in-office workers. However, the forms this takes don’t always translate well to remote circumstances. It’s certainly less practical to provide perks like Friday donuts in the break room or a fun team day trip when employees are geographically disparate. However, scrambling around for remote alternatives is both impractical and not especially sustainable. As such, businesses need to develop formal programmes specifically for remote teams.

In terms of rewards, human resources (HR) departments and leadership must research what recognition techniques are practical for remote teams and also demonstrate appreciation sufficiently. At the end of bigger projects, this may be delivering a corporate gift box filled with personalised or branded items. It could include the regular provision of discounted online perks or gift certificates for movies and games. There is certainly value in providing tools to support their health and wellbeing when working from home. 

However, the rewards themselves are not enough here. There needs to be a certain amount of consistency and transparency in the remote recognition programme. Leaders must set expectations by formally outlining what remote workers can receive at certain milestones of the project or quarter. Teams need to schedule frequent virtual recognition days. Praise is most powerful when it’s a regular part of meetings and conversations. This all helps remote workers to feel they are not an afterthought.

Trust and independence
Worker appreciation isn’t just something that should be applied on special occasions. It needs to be built into the culture of the company and be reflected in working practices. Taking time to understand what employees most value in their roles and leaning into these can be a great way to recognise their efforts. For remote workers, this includes managers demonstrating trust by allowing a certain amount of independence.

Rewards themselves are not enough here. There needs to be a certain amount of consistency and transparency in the remote recognition programme

This is often a contentious issue. There has been a tendency for many businesses to keep remote workers on a tight leash, particularly if a company is new to the practice. There can be some legal and regulatory justification for monitoring the online activities of employees, particularly where sensitive or secure data is being handled. In these cases, it’s important to produce a clear policy on such actions. But there is a fine line between due diligence and micromanagement. Pushing too far toward the latter is not a way to demonstrate recognition. 

It is, therefore, important for business leaders to consider what level of control is absolutely necessary. Giving remote workers some flexibility both in their choice of working methods and privacy is a great way to demonstrate trust. It can also lead to greater productivity and even innovation. It may be wise to link higher performance to greater freedom, with drops in productivity resulting in closer guidance.

Relevant benefits
While benefits shouldn’t be directly linked to performance, regularly updating and improving them can help demonstrate appreciation. For remote workers, this should include establishing benefits relevant to their working circumstances. 

Remote workers often face different challenges from those of their in-office colleagues. For instance, they may require access to talking therapies because their work can be quite isolating, which in turn can strain their mental wellness. Providing telehealth counseling can be helpful here.

The key here is for leaders to take the time to talk to their remote employees about benefits. Alongside the usual health and retirement funds, HR departments need to gain a greater understanding of what distanced workers need to improve their quality of life. This isn’t a case of bowing to unreasonable requests. Rather, it’s demonstrating recognition through a willingness to learn and find relevant solutions. 

Development and progression
A recognition programme can be insufficiently motivating for remote teams. A company may provide some nice perks or benefits, but it could be inadvertently missing key areas of worker enrichment. The potential for development and progression is a primary motivator. A recent report found 94% of workers would stay at a company longer if it invested in their professional learning. 

Unfortunately, remote workers are often overlooked in this regard. Much like other recognition programmes, development and progression are usually geared toward workers in the physical space of the business. Yet, taking the time to design routes to advancement and leadership is a valuable way to show workers a company cares about them.  

HR departments must establish access to elearning courses. Leaders need to provide time during the workday to allow workers to focus on their development. Importantly, managers must regularly have meetings with remote staff to talk about their goals and ambitions. These should be followed up with the provision of subsidised learning materials and perhaps allocating relevant mentors. Again, it’s vital to formalise this development process so remote workers both know it exists and can see the business is willing to reward their efforts with career-advancing resources.

Conclusion
Remote working is a very different approach to in-office operations. As such, it requires forms of recognition suited to the environment and practices. Businesses need to learn not just what rewards they can provide virtual teams, but also what their unique needs and motivators are. As virtual employment continues to become a prevalent part of the commercial landscape, some effort here can improve retention and worker satisfaction.

Luke Smith is a freelance writer

 

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