Rethinking Recognition Is a Must in the New COVID Work Reality

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May 26, 2020
This article is part of a series called Remote Work.

Working remotely—a growing trend in its own right—has abruptly become a new norm for workers around the world in 2020. Those who have the option to continue working remotely have set up home offices (or commandeered a section of the living or dining room), coordinated virtual meetings, and are using instant messaging for digital break room chats with colleagues. While some workers may have adapted to working from home, others may feel like they’re being tossed into the deep end of the pool.

No matter how adept your employees are at working remotely, recognition is a necessity right now. Uncertain times can intensify stress and some of the challenges in working from home. Among those who work remotely, 80% wish their colleagues would reach out to them more often, and 19% report feeling lonely.

As the first remote executive at Inspirus, I can tell you that recognition goes a long way in helping remote workers feel connected to their colleagues. Here are three ways that recognition can help keep your remote team together.

Create a virtual space for connection and recognition

If your team is accustomed to working together in an office and are now dispersed, it can be a challenge for them to feel connected to one another. For remote workers, out of sight can feel out of mind. When I began working for Inspirus, I would tape my phone number to the conference room phones so that coworkers could easily reach me. I also made it a point to reach out to them on a regular basis. As video conferencing has become more popular, I began using the video feature in meetings because it helped develop face-to-face connections with colleagues.

To keep your team connected while working remotely, aim to schedule a group meeting through Skype or Teams so that your team can converse and see one another in real-time. This can be an opportune time to not only talk about work-related projects but to also talk about what may be happening in everyone’s lives, to recognize one another “in person” or to share what they are grateful for right now.

As an organization, consider ways to keep employees connected not only with their direct team but also with their fellow coworkers from other departments. When employees are removed from their normal office routines, such as getting coffee from the break room, they are no longer able to connect with colleagues throughout the office in the same way. Organizations can work to re-create opportunities to recognize and connect with others by creating social channels on instant message platforms where colleagues can post updates, recognize one another, and share uplifting stories. One way to facilitate discussion is to pose a daily question, such as “What are you doing right now that you never thought you’d be doing?”

Recognize remote employees as they adjust to new ways of working

Your team may need time to adjust to working from home, especially since they may have family members who are also doing the same. An employee who is great at setting up conference calls using video conferencing equipment in the office might not be as proficient at setting up a conference call in Microsoft Teams, for example. In an unfamiliar situation, the little wins matter and should be recognized. Take the time to send an email or an instant message to acknowledge the small tasks like setting up their Skype or BlueJeans account, or helping a coworker learn how to use a new feature on Slack. This reminds your team that you notice their efforts and that you support them while they transition into working from home.

As your organization adjusts to a new normal, treat this transition phase similar to an onboarding process for your employees. Check in to make sure they have all of the equipment and software they need to be able to work efficiently. Schedule individual check-ins throughout the week to see how they are doing and encourage your team to reach out to one another frequently through instant messaging platforms. Throughout the week, keep note of some of the things your team has accomplished and send an individual email to recognize each of them for something you noticed, whether it be keeping a positive attitude through adversity or pitching in to help a coworker meet a deadline. Your employees may have a lot going on in their lives right now, so this weekly recap can be a great way to boost morale.

Recognize employees’ needs beyond work

In times of uncertainty, it’s also important to recognize employees for things beyond their work roles. If your employees are comfortable with it, check in with them to see how their families are doing. If you feel that your employee might be struggling to adapt to changes, ask if they are okay and if you can assist in any way. If they need to help a family member or a neighbor or run an important errand, give them the flexibility to be able to do so.

Also, encourage leadership and managers to actively work towards an effective work-life blend and to be candid about their experiences. This shows employees that it’s okay for this new normal to be a work in progress.  Employees might not always feel comfortable asking for help or discussing issues they may be experiencing, like stress or burnout. But if your employees see that your organization is working towards embracing a work-life blend as a cultural value, they may be more inclined to speak up.

As your organization and employees adjust to working remotely and navigate changes that may have been completely unexpected only a few weeks or months prior, recognition can be the balm that helps everyone cope with a new normal.

This article is part of a series called Remote Work.