The changing workplace: Appreciation and remote workers

Additionally, rapid technological changes have created an entirely new category of employee, the remote worker. And their ranks are growing.

The culture that we live and work in is subject to constant change over time. And in recent years, that change has occurred at a highly accelerated rate. Rows of desks filled with stenographers and secretaries are well in the past.  In the 70’s, offices looked like cubicle farms, and these, in turn, transformed back up to open office plans, attempting to encourage communication and collaboration.

Additionally, rapid technological changes (from the phone, to faxes, to emails, texting and videoconferencing) have created an entirely new category of employee, the remote worker. And their ranks are growing.

In 1995, 9% of U.S. workers telecommuted. By 2015, 37% of employees reported in a Gallup poll that that they worked off-site. And in 2016 43% of employees spent at least part of their week working remotely. A recent survey of 500 managers and executives found that:

  • 53% of companies in the U.S. continue to have standard workplaces, with nearly every employee coming into the office four or more days a week.
  • 37% have a main office with some people working remotely.
  • 10% have no office space at all.

These changes in our daily work cultures impact (and create new challenges) in how we relate to those with whom we work.  A key question has arisen: How do you effectively communicate appreciation to your team members in the context of long-distance work relationships?

Communicating appreciation effectively to remote staff and virtual teams is challenging – but the data from our research shows it can be done. Yes. Communicating appreciation has changed due to cultural influences. But the foundational aspects of appreciation (the need to communicate regularly, in ways meaningful to the recipient, and authentically) haven’t changed.

In the newly released edition of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, we devote an entire (new) chapter to address the issue of appreciation with remote employees, and virtual teams.  We share specific examples of successful (remote) appreciation that both managers and employees have shared with us, and the resulting guiding principles we discovered.

Research: Differences in Appreciation Desired?

Additionally, 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 find out, we conducted a research study where we compared almost 90,000 individuals who had taken the MBA Inventory. The majority of individuals had completed the general workplace version of the MBAI but over 2,500 used a version specifically designed for Long Distance workers.

We found that employees in long-distance work relationships chose Quality Time as their primary language of appreciation more frequently (35%) than workers on-site (25%). 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. Specifically, using videoconferencing to “check in” and including them in team meetings virtually can help these team members feel valued.

There are more findings than we can report here, and a number of additional practical action steps are described in the book’s remote employee chapter, but one of the most important lessons we have learned for effectively communicating appreciation to remote colleagues is that you must be more proactive than in face-to-face relationships.   While communicating appreciation in long-distance work relationships takes time and forethought, it can be done and it is important to do so.

Without ongoing appreciation and support for the work they are doing, employees who work remotely are at risk for becoming discouraged, not producing to their capability, and eventually quitting.  Take the time and effort to communicate how much you value your staff who work in a different physical location, and the return on your investment will be well worth the cost.

This article was originally published on Appreciation 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.