Do remote employees want to be shown appreciation differently than in-office workers?

One of the biggest barriers to overcome in showing appreciation over a distance is the lack of opportunity for those short chance encounters that occur when colleagues work in the same location.

More and more American employees are working remotely.

  • In 1995 only 9% percent of American workers telecommuted, but in 2015 off-site workers increased to 37%
  • In 2016, 43% of American workers reported they spend at least part of their week working remotely.
  • It has been estimated that 50% of the U.S. workforce has job responsibilities that are compatible with working off-site at least occasionally and between 80% and 90% of the U.S. workforce reports it would like to work remotely at least part-time.

The importance of appreciation in the workplace

Despite the evidence that appreciation is both desired and beneficial to both employees and businesses, not everyone likes to be shown appreciation in the same ways.   We have found that 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 by 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 expertise have identified 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

Differences in appreciation desired?

We began to wonder if those individuals who were in long-distance work relationships desired to be shown appreciation in the same ways as employees who worked on-site. That is:

Do employees who work remotely have different preferred languages of appreciation than those in the general workforce?

To answer this question, we conducted a research study 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 then were compared (the full research study and results can be found in Strategic HR Review, 2018).

How do remote employees like to be shown appreciation?

Both groups preferred Words of Affirmation the most, Quality Time second most frequently, Acts of Service third, and Tangible Gifts the least. But we found that employees in long-distance work relationships chose Quality Time significantly more often than workers on-site. The majority of these switched from Words of Affirmation to Quality Time being their primary appreciation language (48% in general work settings to 38% for long-distance employees).  So 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 have suggested include keeping connected through video conferencing, including them in team meetings virtually and setting up times to talk about non-work related topics. From a practical perspective, the single most important lesson we have learned for effectively communicating appreciation to remote colleagues is that one must be more proactive than in face-to-face relationships.  One of the biggest barriers to overcome in showing appreciation over a distance is the lack of opportunity for those short chance encounters that occur when colleagues work in the same location (in the break room, walking through the hallway, sitting together in the conference room waiting for a meeting to start). All of these provide the occasion to be able to chat for a few minutes, “check in” and see how your colleague is doing.  In long-distance work relationships, these events don’t occur and need to be more frequently planned.

Being valued by their supervisor and colleagues is important to those who work remotely, and communicating appreciation can be done effectively across a long distance. Showing appreciation in the ways that are meaningful to remote team members does take some time and forethought—but the results are worth it!

This article first appeared on Appreciate at Work.

Paul White|is a psychologist, speaker, consultant, and the author of The Vibrant Workplace, co-author of Rising Above a Toxic Workplace and The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.