Do remote employees need to be recognized differently?

Author: 
PAUL WHITE

Employee engagement — the level of emotional connectedness to one’s job and employer — has been shown to be related to positive business outcomes (increased profitability, reduced staff turnover, improved customer service ratings).

A serious challenge, however, to helping employees feel valued and appreciated is that not everyone likes to be shown appreciation in the same ways. Identifying an individual’s preferred language of appreciation is key to hit the mark and not waste time and energy doing something not valued by the recipient. Determining what type of appreciation colleagues want can be discovered through having team members take an assessment to identify both their preferred language of appreciation, as well as the specific actions meaningful to them.

Research and practical experience have led to identifying five languages of appreciation in the workplace:

  • Words of affirmation – Praise communicated orally or in writing
  • Quality time – Focused attention such as having individual time with your supervisor, “hanging out” with coworkers, working together on a project
  • Acts of service – Helping coworkers troubleshoot or complete a time-sensitive project
  • Tangible gifts – giving a small gift reflecting colleagues’ food preferences, hobbies or interests
  • Appropriate physical touch – spontaneous celebration of a positive event such as a high five when a project is completed, fist bump upon reaching a breakthrough on a problem, or congratulatory handshake when a significant sale is made.

What if an employee isn’t physically present?

A second challenge to making workers feel appreciated is that more American employees are working remotely. It has been estimated that 50 percent of the U.S. workforce has job responsibilities that are compatible with working off-site at least occasionally. Between 80 and 90 percent of the U.S. workforce reports it would like to work remotely at least part time.

We conducted research with more than 89,000 individuals who took two different versions of the Motivating by Appreciation Inventory: one for employees in long-distance work relationships and the general workplace version for employees who work in face-to-face settings. The results of the two employee groups were compared (the full research study and results can be found in Strategic HR Review, July 2018).

Overall, the patterns demonstrated by both groups (remote employees and those who work in the same location) were quite similar. Both groups preferred words of affirmation (receiving verbal praise or an encouraging note) the most frequently. Quality time (focused attention with one’s supervisor, or working collaboratively with others) was second-most frequent appreciation language chosen, with others following afterward.

We did find, however, that employees in long-distance work relationships chose quality time as their preferred way of being shown appreciation significantly more often than workers on-site. The majority of these individuals switched from words of affirmation to quality time being their primary appreciation language (48 percent in general work settings to 38 percent for long-distance employees). Therefore, it is important for supervisors and colleagues to keep in mind that many remote employees value quality time with their colleagues more highly than those who work in face-to-face settings. Conversely, receiving some type of verbal praise, while still important to remote workers, is desired less often than in general work settings.

The types of quality time that remote employees report valuing include keeping connected through video conferencing, including them in team meetings virtually, and setting up times to talk about non-work-related topics. In showing appreciation over a distance, one of the biggest barriers to overcome is the lack of opportunity for those short, chance encounters that occur when colleagues work in the same location. These provide the occasion to be able to “check in” for a few minutes and see how your colleague is doing. In long-distance work relationships, because these events don’t occur naturally, they must be planned.

From a practical perspective, the single most important lesson learned in effectively communicating appreciation to remote colleagues is that managers must be more proactive than in face-to-face relationships. Being valued by their supervisor and colleagues is important to those who work remotely, and communicating appreciation can be done effectively across long distance — and the results are worth it.

Paul White is a psychologist who trains across many industries on the topic of authentic appreciation in the workplace. He is the co-author of “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.” For more information, visit appreciationatwork.com.


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