Virtual Employees & Appreciation: Practical Tips

January 18, 2017 1:37 pm Published by

How do you communicate appreciation to a colleague who works virtually?

This is a growing challenge for supervisors and colleagues in today’s world of work.  The following statistics have been discovered about remote worker trends:

  • 53% of companies in the U.S. continue to have standard workplaces, with nearly every employee coming into the office 4 or more days each week.
  • 37% have a main office with some people working remotely.
  • 10% have no office space at all.

Increasing numbers of employees work in locations separate from their colleagues and supervisor, with “virtual teams” occurring across cities, states and countries.

This creates a challenge for work groups that needs to be addressed: How do you effectively communicate appreciation to your team members in the context of flexible work arrangements? (In fact, this question led us to develop the long distance version of the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ­– to provide practical action steps with remote colleagues.)

Appreciation Across Long Distances

We have discovered two important facts:

  1. Communicating appreciation over long distance can be done effectively; and
  2. To do so, takes more planning and intentionality than in same location relationships.

One of the biggest barriers to overcome is the lack of opportunity for those short chance encounters that occur when you work in the same location – coming into the office in the morning, while getting something in the break room, walking through the hallway in the office, or 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 others are doing. In long distance work relationships, these events don’t occur.

The result is that most, if not all, interactions with your long distance co-workers are focused on work and the tasks at hand. This, in turn, can make your relationship feel very cool and distant with no personal warmth involved at all. One of best ways to overcome this challenge is to intentionally schedule some interaction times focused primarily on “chatting”, hearing about what they did over the weekend, and sharing what is going on in your life as well.

Words of Affirmation

Words of affirmation usually are not significantly different across long distances.  But even though words of appreciation can be easily communicated across long distances using email, text or phone calls, challenges in doing so effectively remain.

You can share a compliment when talking or in writing. But there is less opportunity to communicate “face to face”, so arranging a videoconference also can be helpful.

* Set aside some time to talk about non-work related topics at the beginning of a scheduled call.

* Schedule a call occasionally just to chat.

Quality Time

For those who feel valued when others choose to spend time with them, the following actions can be helpful in long distance work relationships:

* Give them your undivided attention when you are talking on the phone (don’t multi-task).

* Set up a videoconference with your team, as a group, to chat and get caught up with one another personally.

* When possible, include them in team celebrations (successes, birthday parties).  They may choose not to participate but being invited sends the message to them they are important.

Acts of Service

In the area of providing some act of service, we have found the following actions to be effective in communicating appreciation between long distance co-workers:

* Agree to schedule a meeting or call when it is convenient for them, not according to your time zone.

* Assign some staff assistance in completing some menial task for them, so they focus their energy on tasks only they can complete.

* Work out a plan to answer their phone calls or emails for a specified period of time, so they can focus solely on a getting a project done.


When getting some small gift for your long distance colleagues, a little extra effort can be quite impactful:

* Find out their favorite lunch spot and arrange to pay for their meal.

* Do some investigation about their preferred place for coffee and dessert and get them a gift certificate there.

* Send them some food, spices, magazines or sports memorabilia that are hard-to-find where they currently work.


While communicating appreciation in long distance work relationships takes time and forethought, it can be done and the results are significant. Without ongoing appreciation and support for the work they are doing, employees who work remotely are more at risk for becoming discouraged, not producing to their capabilities and eventually quitting.

Take the time and effort to communicate how much you value your staff who work in a different physical location than you do and the return on your investment will be well worth the cost.

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January 18, 2017 1:37 pm

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