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How to Recognize Remote Employees During COVID-19

How to Recognize Remote Employees During COVID-19

In the absence of recognition tools such as physical events and appreciation weeks, recognizing employees in a remote workforce can leave managers stuck.

The good news is that with a bit of creativity and an understanding of what drives employee experience, managers can translate recognition culture to the virtual workplace.

Today, we’re sharing how Great Place to Work-Certified™ company ALKU has adjusted their recognition programs to better fit their newly remote team.

ALKU’s success story: 99% (!) of employees feel appreciated

Pre-COVID-19, every employee at ALKU worked from their physical offices in Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. Since shelter in place orders, 100% of ALKU's workforce is working from home. 

Employee recognition sits at the heart of ALKU's company culture. In their recent Great Place to Work® employee survey, 99% of respondents said they feel appreciation from management. 

When asked what makes their company a great place to work, employees often called out ALKU's recognition culture:

"ALKU celebrate the small things, have contests to earn very cool prizes often, and pay fairly."

"We have an atmosphere/culture that allows everyone to be themselves and to be able to celebrate success in fun ways! Everyone is treated with the same amount of excitement and care!"

"Celebrating each and every deal made."

Pre-COVID-19, every employee worked from their physical office in Andover, Massachusetts.

Due to shelter-in-place orders, 100% of ALKU's workforce is now working from home — workplace changes and disruptions don’t get much more dramatic than that.

Yet nearly every employee feels appreciation. This is truly remarkable.

So we reached out to ALKU to discover how they continue to appreciate their employees while working remotely. Here are five of their top strategies:

Create new hyper-relevant recognition programs for now

With employees adjusting to WFH life, ALKU's leaders wanted to recognize the challenges of this new way of working. They did this in three ways.

  • A new employee award

Each week, ALKU’s newly-created “Corporate Cup Program" highlights one corporate employee or group for the work they are doing while working from home.

"These employees have gone above and beyond in their roles and for the company as a whole,” said Maddie Eldridge, Marketing Coordinator at ALKU. “This is something that was implemented during work from home but something that ALKU's Corporate Leadership team will continue when we are back in the office.”

  • A financial incentive

The ALKU Stimulus Package honors and rewards star employees while working remotely.

  • Own and celebrate the challenges of remote work

    ALKU also made the new remote work challenges the center of their Great Place to Work Certification celebration.

"In this newly remote workforce, we had to switch things up a little. We chose 10 outstanding ALKU employees and tasked them with taking a fun photo of them celebrating the Certification" said Maddie Eldridge, Marketing Coordinator at ALKU.

"When we had all of the photos, we made a collage and shared it to all of our networks describing the huge accomplishment."

Why it works:

  • Great workplaces understand that disruption and change is a constant, so they prioritize and invest in the strengths of their culture — they do more of what they’re good at.
  • Acknowledging that everyone is experiencing change and recognizing how people are adapting and still serving the mission creates a beacon towards what’s possible and expected during unprecedented times.
  • While the road to “normalcy” is unknown, people need to know what’s important “here and now” — recognizing people for their commitment to challenging circumstances give employees a sense of what’s important and where to focus.

Enable peer recognition 

Peer recognition is a valuable way to foster positive company culture and create one where employees regularly go the extra mile, especially since busy leaders don’t always see those extra efforts.

ALKU's "T-Shirt Program" celebrates when employees are championing their company's "Business and Personnel Development Principles." When employees stand out for one of ALKU's principles, they get a T-shirt with a #hashtag representing that principle.

"The best thing about this program is that it is employee-driven. Employees can nominate other employees for a t-shirt that represents one of ALKU's business goals. Examples of T-shirts are #BeAPro, #PitchYourNiche, and #FollowMyLead. These nominations are posted to the company Slack channel so that everyone can celebrate the success, no matter how big or small.”

— Rebecca Crossley, ALKU Marketing Manager

Research shows employees want to share in the love. In one report, 44% of employees surveyed said that when they have a simple tool to celebrate their colleagues, they will provide peer recognition on an ongoing basis.

Why it works:

  • Employees need to feel involved; peer recognition helps reinforce their sense of involvement.
  • When employees can recognize the contributions of others, it helps create a sense of fairness in how the company recognizes (and promotes) people.
  • Binding recognition to business values and goals connects employees more closely to the culture and encourages "living and breathing" of those values.
  • Supports a “culture of appreciation” vs. appreciation as an “event” that may feel inconsistent or administered unevenly.
  • The feeling of giving can feel just as rewarding as receiving.

Tap technology you are already using

While nothing compares to being together in person at the office, ALKU's leaders have done a fantastic job in translating the culture to a virtual setting. 

For example, to help make sure employees feel like their culture is still in place, ALKU translated fun appreciation activities to the video:

  • Happy hours over Zoom
  • A virtual Cinco de Mayo celebration with a bartender teaching how to make cocktails
  • ALKU's group of directors started a weekly 'Top Ten Plays' where they record a video on Zoom of ten employee highlights — “anything from an employee going above and beyond to save the company money to someone succeeding their metrics"
  • Translating their T-Shirt Program to digital
  • ALKU invited artist and former The Voice contestant, Sam Jones – who is local to ALKU's HQ in Worcester, MA — to give a live concert over Zoom

Why it works:

  • Employees want to stay connected to each other and the business, and using technology to facilitate these interactions demonstrate the flexibility of the culture and the commitment to appreciation
  • The company sets an example that inspires employees to think differently about how they can connect – such as virtual coffee dates or “deep work” sessions

Reward the whole house, the whole self

As we convert dining rooms into home offices and living rooms into classrooms, we're getting an intimate look into our colleagues' private and domestic lives. So why not invite them to the celebration? 

Extending appreciation – whether that be a virtual "paint and sip" or a thank you card in the mail – to employees' housemates and families does more than showing them you care. It shows you see them as a whole person.

ALKU make plus one's part of their recognition strategy: 

"We love to be able to have our employees invite their plus-ones to recognition events. We see them more than 'just an employee,' and we also like our employees to be able to celebrate success with the people they love outside of work."

— Maddie Eldridge, ALKU Marketing Coordinator

Why it works:

  • It creates a sense of psychological safety and that you can be your full self, which positively impacts employee engagement and well-being.
  • Opens lines of communication between leaders and employees as they get to know each other more intimately around things like family and relationships.
  • It allows the family to experience the culture and reinforces the values of the organization.

Give employees a reward to look forward to

Camaraderie is strong at ALKU — one of their values is "Have Fun Working Hard."

Aligning with this value, ALKU has made the opportunity to be together part of their reward plan, Once it’s safe for employees to be together again, the company plans to hold a "Back to Business Bash.”

"Our employees want to be together again more than anything. So there is no other reward that our employees would enjoy more after going through social distancing than to come together and celebrate." 

— Maddie Eldridge, ALKU Marketing Coordinator

Why it works:

  • Reentry is an important milestone that may cause uncertainty and anxiety; using this as a celebratory/recognition touchpoint can help people reframe the process and the values.
  • Appreciation doesn't have to be in the form of physical gifts of words – it can be quality time, too.
  • Rewards employees in the ways they appreciate most.

Flexibility is key 

A final word of advice from ALKU:

"At this time, it is important to keep your yearly goals but be flexible to how you will achieve them. Being adaptable to the ever-changing world we are living in is key to being successful during this time.

"ALKU's Leadership team has translated the message of 'what I'm telling you today might be different than what I'm going to tell you tomorrow' to the entire company. 

"Change is going to happen. Being flexible and open to it will ensure the success of each employee and, in turn, the entire company."

— Maddie Eldridge, ALKU Marketing Coordinator

If you would like to identify and improve how your employees are experiencing recognition at your company, we’re here to help. Reach out to us about our culture management tool today.


Claire Hastwell