A handshake or high five for a job well done is a common scene at offices with on-site teams. Employees and their supervisors interact on a daily basis and it’s easy to celebrate milestones or other achievements. However, those moments are more difficult to create on a remote team, especially one that’s distributed across multiple time zones. So how do you recognize virtual team success?

A friendly email or Slack message can never fully take the place of a more personal connection. Working remotely comes with its own set of perks, but that does not mean remote employees should go without recognition. It is just as easy for remote employees to become disengaged if they feel that their contributions are not valued.

As a supervisor, you should make the effort to recognize your remote team’s achievements just as you would for an onsite team. Doing so will lead to happier, more engaged employees in the long run.

Recognizing your team's achievements will lead to happier, more engaged employees in the long run. Click To Tweet

No matter how busy your team is, chances are you have time to implement at least one of these ideas or come up with your own that’s unique to your employees.

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Prioritize Face-to-Face Communication

It’s one thing to receive a congratulatory written message, but an entirely different experience to see someone’s smiling face when they congratulate you on an achievement. Take the steps to make that happen for your team.

This might require a little extra effort on your part — waking up at 3 a.m. for a Skype call with someone halfway across the world, or painfully combing through everyone’s schedules to find a time that works for an online meeting.

face to face communication

In the end, this extra effort will pay off because your remote team can see and hear your enthusiasm and excitement for their achievements. The more that your team gets to know you and each other, the better they’ll function on the next project.

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For example, if you’ve just completed a major project, schedule a team celebration online meeting at a time that will work for everyone and encourage each team member to bring their favorite food or drink.

schedule a team celebration online meeting

It might be breakfast for someone in one part of the world and happy hour for someone else, but the shared meeting time will give everyone the opportunity to kick back and connect with one another.

You can easily adapt this idea to recognize individual employees, too. Schedule time for a virtual coffee with a remote team member to congratulate him or her on an accomplishment and catch up on what’s going on in their life outside of work.

Go Analog

Take remote employee recognition one step further by going old school. That’s right, ditch the computer entirely in favor of a pen and paper to send a handwritten note. This is definitely extra effort, but will be well worth the investment.

virtual team success

Sending personalized notes gives you the opportunity to recognize each employee’s achievements individually and send them something they can hang up or display at their work station as a reminder of their contributions to the team. Having things like this to reference is a nice reminder of good times when you are in the middle of a tough situation.

Gather your employees’ mailing addresses and send the cards or notes out as quickly as possible after the milestone or project completion. Be careful not to say the exact same thing to multiple people in case team members compare notes. You don’t want to create the sense that you sent the cards purely out of obligation.

gift card as a sign of appreciation

If your budget allows, add a gift card or other small token of your appreciation. Cultures and preferences will vary from team member to team member, but Starbucks and other large-size chains are everywhere in the world and a good middle of the road option. You could even pair this with the previously-mentioned virtual coffee chats.

Beyond recognizing specific achievements, you should also make a habit of sending handwritten cards for team member birthdays and work anniversaries. These are two more opportunities to show someone just how valued they really are and make someone feel like they are part of a larger work family even if they never meet their colleagues in person.

send handwritten cards for team member birthdays

Find out what these dates are for each member of your team and add them to your calendar. Your company’s HR office should be able to help you find them if needed. Once you have them, schedule reminders to send the cards a week or two ahead of time so that they will arrive on the big day or close to it.

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Sharing is Caring

Once you’ve communicated to your team, it’s time to share their achievements within the broader organization. Everyone loves a good #humblebrag every now and then.

Make sure that your boss knows about what your team is up to, and brag on their achievements at a managers meeting or other appropriate forum in your organization.

sharing is caring

Doing this will show your team that you care enough about them and the work they do to share it with the rest of the company. They might even receive some additional praise from higher ups or others within the organization.

Remote employees will likely never get to meet their onsite peers face to face, so it’s your job as a manager to make sure they are known within your organization. Sending out team achievement recognition shows that remote workers are not just taskmasters plugging away behind a computer, they’re real people who are major contributors to your company.

Send out team achievement recognition

Take this idea one step further by inviting senior leadership to attend one of your team meetings or to recognize your remote team in some other way. Hearing directly from someone in a higher level position is a great way to boost employee confidence and productivity.

Host a Team Retreat

Online meetings are great and go a long way toward helping remote employees feel like they are connected with their peers and with their boss. But, if you can afford it, an in-person team meeting takes this recognition to a whole new level.

Your company’s headquarters are a great place to host these events. You can utilize existing space and allow remote team members to meet those who work onsite. You’ll need to pay for travel and meal expenses, but you can use the meeting as an opportunity for training or professional development to maximize the remote team’s time on site.

host an annual retreat

Another option is to host a destination meeting in a city that’s not tied to your company at all. This might be your only option if your company does not have a physical HQ, but even if it does, it’s a fun way to do some teambuilding and check out a new city at the same time.

Ask your team where they’d like to go and pick a city that’s easy for most people to get to. Book a hotel or other meeting space and you’re all set. Create and share an agenda ahead of time so your team knows what to expect, and make sure to build in time for sightseeing and teambuilding activities.

host an annual retreat

Don’t forget to take a team photo and capture other images from the meeting that can be used on your company’s website or social media channels. This is a great way to help put faces with the email addresses or avatars that coworkers and clients may see from a remote team.

Have Award, Will Travel

This one might seem a little silly, but hear me out. Create an award that can be sent (physically or virtually) from team member to team member in recognition of individual achievements.

It could be a pack of LifeSavers that’s sent to whoever deserves the “Lifesaver award” for helping out someone else on the team. Or maybe it’s a sports-related item that’s given each quarter to the team’s most valuable player.

recognition of individual achievements

Have your team vote on what the award will be and what the criteria are for receiving it. Tell them that you will cover any expense related to sending it from one place to another as needed.

No matter what theme you choose, the employee who receives it can take pride in knowing that the rest of the team supports what they are doing. It also encourages everyone on the team to step up their performance with the hope of receiving the award themselves.

virtual team success

Encourage recipients to take pictures and post them on internal or external social media or include it in your company’s next newsletter as a way to brag on your remote team’s performance.

When In Doubt

These are a few ideas that may work for your team, but in the end there is no one size fits all solution for remote team recognition because every team is different. The size and location of your team and your company will affect what you can or can’t do to celebrate achievements.

Look to your team members to provide input on what type of recognition they would like to see. Someone is always going to be more interested and engaged in something when it’s their idea as opposed to something they feel is being put upon them by their boss.

transparency in the team

Let your team know your budget and other parameters for achievement and leave the rest to them. You might be surprised at what they come up with. Consider all requests they make, no matter how unrealistic they are to execute, and come up with compromises and alternatives where needed.

Your final achievement recognition plan will likely be some combination of the ideas presented here, plus whatever your team comes up with. At the end of the day, even the smallest effort is better than nothing at all. The more your team knows that they’re valued, the more motivated they’ll be to continue doing amazing work for your company.

How does your remote team recognize achievements? Let us know!