It’s 2021, and remote and workplace hybridity are work arrangements that are gaining acceptance worldwide. The downside to it is that virtual workers are out of sight, and tend to stay out of mind too. The best way to bring them back to a unified line of sight is through virtual team gratitude activities.
Gratitude,i.e. expressing thanks to someone for helping you out, or for a job well done, improves work relationships. It boosts the recipient’s spirits up and gives them a reason to keep doing great work.
In this post, I’ll go over what virtual team gratitude activities are, with a few recognition ideas for you to try out from this year on!
1. How Do You Thank Your Team Virtually?
How intentional you are about thanking virtual employees speaks volumes about your company’s remote work culture. Gratitude has to be weaved into the heart of policies so that everyone feels included, motivated and supported. Thanking your team on an individual, case-by-case and collectively all factor into gratitude exercises.
It starts by defining clear goals to keep accountability in sight. Conveying your expectations from the start and ensuring everyone’s in on it prevents confusion regarding the way forward. Every communication should be two-sided so that employees get to suggest fixes, be it something that gets the job done more efficiently or to improve a broken process.
The basis for appreciation (whether manager or employee) should be the performance, attitude and aptitude, initiative and personality (not necessarily in this order, though). The right attitude reflects on a person’s beliefs and ethics when asking for help or being approached for assistance.
Thanking anyone virtually can be a vocal as well as written exercise. It can be as simple as concluding a daily stand up call with a round of thanks, or creating a channel on Slack and tagging a coworker or manager on it highlighting their role.
2. What is a Gratitude Exercise?
Gratitude exercises are the means to appreciating the value of each individual on a team, or department. It establishes goodwill for the entirety of an employee’s association with the firm and remains long after they leave, no matter the circumstances surrounding their exit.
Appreciation with a simple thanks is free. Funnily enough, it isn’t said as often as you might think, especially when workers are geographically distanced. Everyone’s top priority would be to complete the work laid out for the week and conversations and collaboration would center on work-only. Everyone then falls into the habit and forgets to express their gratitude, be it a manager to another manager or employee, or from one colleague to another.
When done right, gratitude exercises go both ways. It’s an opportunity for people of all ranks to be thankful to each other and be supportive.
3. Virtual Team Gratitude Activities 2021
3.1 Ship the Office Goodies
This is one of the best virtual team gratitude activities to explore if you worked out of an office space formerly, or ran a cafeteria internally. You could box up the pantry and create a bag of treats for virtual employees. You’re not only preventing food and drinks from going to waste but are also giving your virtual employees something to remember the office by. Before doing so, run a check with your employees regarding their personal dietary preferences. For example, some workers may prefer coffee to tea, or another may like trail mix over a bag of crisps.
And this goodies bag need not be restricted to snacks only. You can add creative little notes, company stationery, a favourite mug, flowers, headphones, a USB stick or a mini recipe book. Everyone likes opening their door to a thoughtfully put together with care package!
3.2 Personalize thank you emails
Personalized emails work if there’s already a structure in place for appraising performance. Departmental managers or team leads are in the best authority to check in on progress and see how everyone is tracking for work. They can create a scorecard based on the goals reached, expectations met and who went the extra mile. This feedback can be reported back to the people management or HR department, who can proceed to send out personalized thank yous to the worker(s) in question.
A personalized thank you shows the employee that you’re taking notice of their hard work, value, experience and skills that they bring to the table. It also encourages them to maintain that connection and communication.
3.3 Create a CredBoard
A Credboard, short for credit board, is a digital board on which you link people to updates and showcase their efforts. There are websites and apps to help you do this, such as KudoBoard, which also offers users the option to format appreciation based on the occasion, such as a coworker’s birthday, retirement or work milestone! You can also use a canvas tool or template library from whiteboarding platforms like Miro, Mural or Stormboard to create a thank you board for your employees.
3.4 Compose a song or poem
There are many ways to go about this, each more innovative than the previous! You can either compose and perform a gratitude song, jingle, prayer or poem yourself, contract a performer externally or enlist the help of your artistic and creative employees. If it’s the second option, the performer can make a surprise appearance mid-call and announce the dedication to the employees in question.
3.5 Host a movie night
Make movie night a once-monthly or quarterly event where everyone clears their schedule for 1-2 hours to watch a movie, documentary or series episode together. This is one of the trickier virtual team gratitude activities to implement on account of making sure everyone’s schedules are cleared and work is not impacted by that hour or two employees take. But it’s definitely worth it if it gets your team together for some pre and post-movie talk. Invite your staff to pick movies and then proceed to create a list to go through. Everyone can watch in unison and weigh in on what they thought of the session.
If you feel that your business cannot accommodate long hours for movies, you can instead make a short thank you reel featuring employees themselves. Take nominations and vote on who gets to be featured in it. The remote worker who has the maximum number of votes is picked to be talked about. Everyone who wishes to be filmed complimenting the coworker they nominated can collaborate with the design team. Surprise your staff by playing it at your next meeting, and I guarantee you there won’t be a dry eye around!
3.6 Virtual Team lunch or coffee
If you wish to keep your virtual team gratitude activities simple, host a virtual coffee or lunch social midday. Everyone can either order in from their favourite restaurants or cook a special dish at home. If you already have a particular coworker or manager in mind that you’d like to thank, you can discreetly ask them about their favourite dishes and pass the information along to the rest of the team. Surprise the member on the actual call with everyone showing what they’ve made in honour of him or her!
3.7 Support a charity
Sometimes, an indication of solidarity is all one needs to feel that they’re not alone. Many of us support a particular charity or cause and some regularly donate to fundraisers. If there are any employees active in the charity and donation scene, you can find out more about what they support. The company can either make a sizable donation and/ or request a contribution from other team members to support their coworker. This measure also raises your businesses’ social responsibility profile and elevates your reputation as an ethical employer.
3.8 Build a gratitude wall
A gratitude wall is an illustration of the things or persons that you are grateful for. You can either make one by hand using paper, markers and a collage of pictures, or design one online. The advantage of a virtual gratitude wall is that you can keep a basic template and add or alter it continuously. You can also anonymize the board so that people can leave compliments without it getting traced back to them.
3.9 Give complimentary time offs
Have things been intense at work lately? Has the virtual office been open weeknights and weekends to enable your staff to deliver something critical?
It’s time to identify those who had to stay in late and reward them with a surprise time off. They can cash this anytime within a certain period after a project or task is successfully closed. For example, you can set the rule to have them take this time off within 60 days from the day of receiving the message.
3.10 Virtual Campfire storytelling
Covid-19 has clamped down on outdoor rugged activities such as camping. But you can recreate this virtually by setting the right scene. I recently found a virtual campfire video that has the best nocturnal sounds of a fire crackling and crickets chirping. You can optionally have this on in the background in low volume and recount a funny or memorable time with each other. Everyone gets a turn to tell stories about a favorite colleague or manager.
The person they are talking about can be a current or former team member.The point is to share memories and enable everyone to see another side to those coworkers with whom they may not have had much of an interaction with in the past.
3.11 Calendar Birthdays and Anniversaries
The personnel file should have everything you need on your employees, including their date of birth, date of joining and number of years in service at your firm. Fill up your calendar with reminders on the actual days so that neither you nor the rest of the team miss to wish them on a special day! Even if they aren’t expecting it or forget their own work anniversaries, it’s nice to be surprised!
3.12 Ice Cream Runs
Who doesn’t love a break to get ice cream? Being a vegetarian, I prefer the creamier, eggless Gelato to ice cream, with my personal favorite being a double scoop of chocolate and butterscotch (in case anyone’s wondering. Also, my inbox is open to Rivareno Gelato).
Like the virtual coffee run, you can make ice cream eating a communal experience online. Everyone gets a sweet treat, and a respite from their hectic schedule. Win-win!
3.13 Work Appreciation Hour
This is one of the easier-to-do and simpler virtual team gratitude activities. Simply take out time in a call to announce the goals met. Match it to who in particular stood out. If you’re unable to make it to the meeting yourself, you can record a dedication message to your employees thanking them for all that they’re doing. Take it a step further by making the appreciation and feedback two-way. Encourage employees to use surveys to suggest changes or improvements that they think they, and the company would benefit from implementing.
3.14 Virtual Gratitude Icebreakers
Icebreaker activities help members who don’t interact much online learn something about each other. And that gives them something to appreciate later! You can facilitate a session where everyone introduces themselves. Follow it up with a series of warm up exercises, such as an Ask-Me-Anything (AMA), statue challenge where the first person to break into a smile or giggle is out, or a simple group Yoga pose. You can wrap up the icebreakers with a screengrab or photo booth app, like SimpleBooth!
3.15 Officialize Job Raises and Promotions
The previous suggestions for virtual team gratitude activities weren’t fueled by money or costs. But appreciation can also be formalized with a metric for promotions and job raises. A change in designation changes the type of responsibility and level of authority for an employee and merits making such news official. Most businesses plan out promotions and raises based on the employees’ past performance, number of years of service etc. But not everyone will wait to get their credit due, which is why official communication about a person’s growth and career trajectory should be standardized. Employees know when to expect news and will not be in the dark regarding their own future with the firm.
4. How do I Express Gratitude Virtually?
Expressing gratitude virtually comes down to a tried-and-tested framework. You may have to experiment iteratively until you find a mix of virtual team gratitude activities that works for your business.
While an employer-employee contract exists for professional reasons, it’s a big mistake to treat the arrangement purely as renting a person’s time and skills to drive the business in exchange for a salary. It is this mindset that fuels the creation of a high turnover environment.
90% of the time, employers aren’t intentionally overlooking or undervaluing their staff. They simply forget, and do not use reminders to help them keep track. On rare occasions, companies don’t consider it important to recognize the achievements of their staff. Failing to remember, recognize and thank employees results in them leaving you for a company that treats its workforce better.
You may not see it as a problem initially when it’s just a person or two leaving, but think about how it looks to outsiders and customers when several employees leave at once or in succession.
Considering how easy it is to forget, it’s important to leverage tools and ideas to regularize gratitude. Imagine how happy you would feel that someone is noticing you, and how someone else would be happy if the same is done to them. Start today with the virtual team gratitude activities elaborated in this post to be that someone!