The crucial trick to motivating and engaging your remote teams

A year ago, a great deal of blog space was still being dedicated to pondering and postulating about home working. How will we scale security? Will employees be motivated at home? Will our company culture suffer? Will productivity take a nosedive?

A year later, those questions are going through a global stress test. According to YouGov, 38% of the pre-crisis workforce are now working at home. The interesting part is, they don’t particularly want to go back, either.

A massive majority of workers simply do not want to go back to the office full-time, according to some recent research by Okta. And that’s while the rest of the world slowly takes the shape of normality.

Eggs and flour are regular features on the supermarket shelves again, along with your favourite craft beer and wines. You can even pop out for a pint and see your friends in the park. But the country’s staff aren’t gagging to give up remote working.

What this tells us is that we’re past the point of adjusting to a crisis. The shock has passed, and most of us are pretty happy with this version of “normal,” at least when it comes to our work. That means it’s time to address one of the downsides of a remote workforce – isolation. Our company, Appreciate Group and Appreciate services, have had to address this ourselves and find a way to make sure everyone’s engaged and motivated at home.

Not just the chat and banter, and the office friends. But the sense of camaraderie, company culture, and the feeling that we’re all contributing to something wider than the narrow furrows we plough. The one thing any company can, and should, do to combat the feeling that staff are plugging away in their own little world is communicate.

Communicate to engage a remote team

If it’s not too gauche to blow our own horn, Appreciate, and our parent company Appreciate Group, have done a great job of handling the sudden dispersal of our teams. At group, department, and team levels, we have tactics to keep employees engaged and connected.

Group-level communications

Weekly round ups

Every week, Group and Human Resources put together a round-up of news and views from around the business and push it out to staff. That might include blogs written by people in our company, surveys to get opinions and feedback from staff about their work and their response to Group efforts, news on how the business is responding to COVID-19 developments, and any human resources developments that might affect staff.


Some of the leadership figures around Appreciate have been putting together podcasts talking about what’s happening in their corner of the Appreciate universe. That might be our senior leadership team fielding questions from the staff, our design managers talking about our latest product developments, or even just some stories of kindness to cheer everyone up.


Meetings are not the word that fills everyone with the sense of thrill and wonder, we know. But we’re not trying to blow anyone’s socks off, we’re trying to keep everyone connected to each other.

Weekly meetings

Weekly meeting are where department-level discussions happen. They’re where we talk about what the individual teams that make up the wider departments are doing, what projects are being delivered, and how we’re performing as a division against our targets. We also run through news, introduce new hires, and talk about what’s happening at Group level and how it might affect our day-to-day work.

Daily meetings

Our daily catch-ups give us a chance to see some friendly, familiar faces, talk about what we’re doing inside and outside of work, gripe about some things, gloat about others. It’s also crucial for making sure everyone is on the same page with their tasks.

Which is useful because one of the of the downsides of working remote is that it’s hard to just turn to someone and ask a question. It’s just that much harder to do that at home.

Having a time every day where you can ask some stupid questions to make sure everything is going in the right direction gives you a bit of psychological runway. That runway pushes back doubt and uncertainty, letting staff get through their work with confidence and satisfaction about their efforts.

Don’t let grumbling put you off

You might be thinking “everyone hates meetings though”. Which might be a fair point, but in our experience everyone’s still on time for them, which wasn’t always the case when they were face to face. And they still contribute.

We’d happily err on the side of having one meeting too many, one podcast too many, one email too many, than risk staff feeling like they’re twisting in the wind or not valued.

And ultimately, that’s what why communication and inclusion produces motivation and engagement. We’re putting every day, every task, every role into a wider context. Showing that other colleagues appreciate and depend on their work, and demonstrating that what they’re doing has value.

Cash-value rewards, recognition software, and incentive systems do work, but only prosper long-term when employees are motivated by more than a transaction. That’s why you need to embrace communication to keep engagement and motivation in good supply in the home office.

It’s not always fancy, but it is effective

The importance of talking and communicating with your staff can’t be understated. These are simple tactics, but sticking with them is how you’ll be able to communicate culture, talk about your values and make sure everyone feels connected.

Like we said in another blog recently, you can’t put this genie back in its bottle. We all know now that we could have done this before. It just won’t be possible to tell a workforce in the future that home working isn’t realistic. At least not with a straight face.

Baking these habits into your company now is how you’re going to keep, and strengthen, company culture and staff morale as you navigate the world during, and after, COVID-19.

As always, if you want to talk about motivating and engaging your staff, get in touch. We’re always happy to chat.

Case study – Digital rewards make sure healthcare heroes are recognised


A large UK healthcare provider, whose portfolio includes numerous care homes, found themselves unable to safely reward their staff with plastic gift cards following the outbreak of COVID-19 in the UK.


The challenge

For more than three years previously, the client had been enjoying our Love2shop Gift Cards. While we always discuss our digital reward options with clients, in this case, our client was understandably reluctant to change a winning formula – their reward scheme was producing good levels of engagement and positive feedback with using plastic gift cards.

While the client was happy with their status quo, the COVID-19 outbreak forced a change. Not only was there a sharp increase in the demands placed on the workdays of their employees, meriting more recognition and reward, but there was no safe way to distribute physical gift cards to their employees. A solution had to be found, and fast.

“Crucially, we’ve been able to keep engagement high, and keep rewarding our amazing staff, through a difficult time.”

Appreciate’ solution

After a conversation with their account manager, Jackie Reynolds, about these difficulties, we recommended they switch to our digital reward codes.

Our codes are an end-to-end digital product, meaning there’s no physical interaction between our clients and their staff when buying or delivering them. Clients order them through our Self-Serve portal, and they’re delivered digitally. The codes themselves come to employees as emails or text messages, and those employees redeem them online. Perfect for sending rewards when physical contact is dangerous.

As it was unthinkable that our client’s incredible staff would go without rewards for their work during this difficult period, these digital rewards were a natural fit. Jackie helped them through an initial transition, and made sure the client got right back to thanking their employees with exciting rewards as soon as possible.

“The codes are so simple to use that our staff have had no trouble making the switch.”

The outcome

Most importantly, our client was able to lift morale among their staff in a trying time. For Appreciate, part of Appreciate Group plc, this is one of the aspects of our work we’re most proud of. Employees doing great things deserve to be recognised and celebrated. It’s a privilege to help deliver that for our clients.

However, the rewards have also been a success in other ways. For instance, our client’s staff have enjoyed their digital rewards so much, they are considering continuing to use digital rewards even when contact is safe in their workplace again.

The digital ordering and delivery process for our reward codes also deliver significant advantages in fulfilment and ordering. Especially when centrally managing a nationwide scheme. Our client would previously order their gift cards, and have them delivered to their central office. From there, the client would separate the rewards and send them to individual facilities, creating a time-consuming administrative task on top of postage fees.

Our simple ordering process, and digitally fulfilled rewards, massively simplified that process, removing the need for physical fulfilment. The combined effect is less time, and less money, being spent to deliver better rewards.

Jackie Reynolds, the Love2Shop Engagement Consultant who managed the project, added: “What’s good to see is how easily their staff have adapted to their new rewards. Many clients have concerns about changing their staff rewards, especially if it involves technology, but our experience is usually that employees adapt quickly to the switch. It’s heartening to see that’s also the case for this challenge, given how important these rewards are to the client.”

Our contact inside the company said: “All our worries about switching from plastic to digital evaporated straight away. The codes are so simple to use that our staff have had no trouble making the switch. Crucially, we’ve also been able to keep engagement high, and keep rewarding our amazing staff through a difficult time.

“Appreciate, and our account manager Jackie, have done a great job helping us quickly make the change, and making sure that our incredible staff get the thanks and rewards they deserve so much during this difficult period.”



*At the request of our client, this case study has been anonymised.

employee recognition ideas for when the piggybank is empty

15 Cheap employee recognition ideas that work

Having no budget to implement your employee recognition ideas shouldn’t hold you back. All you need is a bit of thought, creativity and the will to execute your plans.

Cash-value rewards are exciting, and they do positively affect motivation and performance. But they should be treated as an amplification tool to recognition. Praise should be dished out regularly to employees, regardless of whether rewards are available or not.

Recognition works when it embraces an employees’ need to be valued. Everyone wants to know their work is worthwhile, and they want to feel that they’re contributing to something bigger than themselves.

So, it’s not good enough to simply shrug your shoulders and complain you have no budget. You can start with almost nothing and still show your employees that you value their daily contributions with regular recognition.

No-cost employee recognition ideas


1. Verbal recognition

verbal praise is a great employee recognition ideaSay it and mean it. Let staff know the great work they do is valuable, and it’s helping your business reach its goals. Verbal recognition is personal and emotional. It can have great upticks in employee morale.

The only downsides are that it’s fleeting. And it’s difficult to connect verbal recognition with your company’s values without coming across as stilted.


2. Written recognition

Written recognition, such as a small note or a letter, is very effective. You can present it alongside a verbal recognition, and it becomes a little trophy. It’s also much easier to include a mention of your company’s values in a written statement.

It might seem like a small gesture, but taking time and care is always valuable to staff. You putting effort in validates the effort of staff and helps them see how valuable you think they are.


3. Team-level recognition

Not every team has a stand-out star. Not every project has a lead individual to single out for recognition.

Teams might achieve goals through exceptional teamwork, or problem solving. They might work across departments, or incorporate new ideas quickly. Equally, they might have acted on their own initiative to lay the groundwork for an upcoming project.

In these situations, it would be hard to single out one employee, so recognise the whole team. Call them in for a meeting, praise their exceptional efforts, and perhaps offer a reward of some kind.

A lot of companies that don’t have a budget to work with use flexibility as a reward. Time off for a whole team, an early-dart in an afternoon, or for individuals to use some extra flex-time.

4. Ask for feedback

Having a voice in the company matters as much as hearing one.

When someone demonstrates exceptional effort or achievement, listen to them. Offer the employee a chance to give their feedback on what’s happening in the company.

You might gain valuable insight from your top performers. And the employee will see that you don’t just treasure the value of your work. You see value in their thoughts and ideas too.


5. Boast achievements internally

Lean on your internal communications to showcase the achievements.

Even if you don’t have anything formal in place for internal communication, you can write an email. Depending on your position in the company, you might limit that to your department or division.

The wider your message goes, the bigger the impact of the recognition. But we understand not everyone has that luxury. If you have the seniority though, go company-wide.

If you’re casting the net wide, ask other managers for suggestions. They’ll nominate the stand-out performances from their teams. With care and consistency it could become something your employees look forward to seeing.


6. Share achievements externally

Share your teams’ wins with the world.

Take to social media, your website or your monthly newsletter. Use these mediums to highlight your employees’ recent successes.

Setting up a LinkedIn page, or a Facebook page, and connecting with your customers costs you little. And it would give your employees immense pride to have their work highlighted there.

Some companies squirm at the idea of putting things out in the public. We understand that. But as long as what they’re doing lines up with your values, you should fine.


7. Noticeboards or whiteboards as a makeshift wall of fame

If you can spare one, whiteboards and noticeboards are extremely useful. It’s not as advanced as proper employee recognition software, but it has its own low-tech charm.

You’re limited only by what’s available around you. Written notes, photographs, letters from clients, certificates or more.

Your little wall of fame could quickly become a popular centrepiece of the office.

It won’t be measurable like a formal platform, but it will be fun for your staff. And it doesn’t have to go away if you do introduce a formal platform.


8. Measure achievements and progress

Measure progress towards personal and departmental goals. Acknowledge employees when they get past milestones on their way to those goals.


9. Celebrate milestones

It costs you nothing to write down and always make sure to acknowledge your employees’ milestones.

Birthdays, work anniversaries, or product launches. Anything that you know your employees will find valuable, make a note of it.

This one is so simple you can’t lose. And as we’ve outlined before, we think it’s important to recognise all employee longevity. Even after just one year.


Be creative with your employee recognition ideas

If you can peel off even a bit of extra cash, recognition possibilities start to open up.

Start with the culture of your company. Not just the formal values you lay out for staff to adhere to – the way your employees actually interact with each other.

Take that, and get creative with your employee recognition ideas. There are some really energising, funky recognition systems out there that don’t break the bank.

We’ve seen some creative, successful ideas put together with very little real budget.


10. Stickers or badges

Stickers are cheap, but fun and disposable. Pop one on an employees’ equipment, their workstation or their document folders.

Badges, also, give you a little creative outlet that’s easy to implement. Your staff might wear them on their uniforms, attach them to lanyards, or affix them to the back of their chair.


11. Picking the team lunch

If you can afford to foot the bill for a team lunch, let a star performer pick the weekly or monthly meal, however best suits your team.

Team meals are a great way to coax your staff out of their shells a bit. Having one team member pick the meal might also give you a glimpse of your staff’s personalities and let them create deeper bonds together.


12. Time for projects

In today’s world, almost everyone is time poor. Professional lives blend and blur with the personal, and both can suffer for it. A lot of good ideas tend to go to rust when employees don’t get the time they need to develop them.

As an act of recognition, you might give an employee the space to develop an idea. If it’s a really good idea, the company could stand to gain from it being developed. And your employee will enjoy a sense of personal ownership over the project.


13. Charitable acts

Put aside cash for a monthly donation to a smaller charity of choice. Big charities will barely notice a £50 donation, but many staff have charities close to their hearts. So target smaller charities with causes close to your staff’s lives.

A donation in their name would mean a great deal to your employees, and would have a bigger impact on the charity.

Or perhaps your employee would appreciate a bit of time for volunteering for a cause of their choice. As we pointed out above, everyone is perpetually stretched for time. And extra activities like volunteering are often what takes the hit when staff allocate their time.


14. Group trophies

Rather than shelling out month after month to make an office full of trophies, just buy the trophy once. The monthly winner of the trophy gets to keep it at their workstation for a month.

For an extra twist on this employee recognition idea, make it a vote. Offer your staff the chance to vote on who should be recognised every month. You can read our blog here on why we favour a bit of democracy in the workplace when it comes to recognition. Our recognition platform, Shout!, is based on the idea that employees should have a say in what’s important and who gets recognised.


15. Car washing

Invite a car wash team on site to clean and detail someone’s car. Or maybe offer money off a bike service for a bicycle commuter. Train commuters are bit harder, but you can always be creative – Kindle books, books on tape, Acast podcast subscriptions. Just use your imagination and your knowledge of your employees.



Making your employee recognition ideas work

Good employee recognition ideas keep individual personalities in mind. Look around your office, and look at what makes them tick. Look at what generates humour, enthusiasm and participation in your teams. Take that as your starting point and use it as a launching point.

Just remember not to discard the basics. Whatever funky initiatives you decide on, keep them linked to your company culture and values.


Put values in the spotlight

More than once in this piece we’ve mentioned values. We talk about them so often because they’re so important. They’re vital to shaping the attitude and the culture of your company.

Focus on your company’s values to get more out of your recognition. Filtering recognition through your values puts employee behaviour through a lens. It lets them see how their work contributes to a greater whole.

This is a building block towards an engaged workforce.


Be consistent

Make recognising staff a habit. Build it into your daily, weekly and monthly work. A lot of staff will notice if you suddenly start then stop something or lose interest over time.

If you buy into the idea, make sure you show your staff that you buy into the idea.


It’s not complicated or expensive to recognise employees. Platforms and cash-value rewards have an impact, but they’re not the focus.

They’re a welcome addition but the crux of your effort needs to be about making employees’ value feel seen, welcome and treasured.