Appreciate Long-Distance Employees

Two foundational facts shape today’s work environment.

First, we know that employees consistently report that they desire to feel appreciated by their supervisors and colleagues. When employees feel truly valued, good things happen.

Second, more work relationships exist in the context of remote locations. Increasing numbers of employees work in locations separate from their colleagues and supervisor, with virtual teams occurring across cities, states and countries.

According to Forrester Research, the number of people who work remotely will double by 2016, from about 34 million to roughly 63 million people. 

The combination of these two factors creates a challenge for talent managers: How do you communicate appreciation to your team members in long-distance relationships?

First step: Words. Telephones, emails, texting or videoconferences are all accessible methods for communicating appreciation via words. Largely, the challenge most supervisors and colleagues have to overcome is taking the time to do so. Communicating appreciation verbally is the most common method used.

Problem: Not everyone values words. In my work, we’ve found that only about 40 percent of individuals report that their preferred way of receiving appreciation is through words. While communicating appreciation to your colleagues is a positive, doing so primarily through words means that you are “missing the mark” with a majority of your team members.

Why? Because some individuals view “words as cheap,” or have the view that “actions speak louder than words.” By inference, you’re wasting some of your time and energy in these instances. 

Even though words of appreciation can be easily communicated across long distances, challenges remain.

One of the biggest barriers is the lack of opportunity for those short chance encounters that occur when you work in the same location — 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 they are doing or hear about their weekend. In long-distance work relationships, these events don’t occur.

Reaching those employees who value other types of acts of appreciation can be even more difficult. However, in my work with groups who have team members spread across cities, states and the world over, I discovered two important facts: communicating appreciation over long distance can be done, and to do so takes more planning than in same-location relationships.

The following actions can be helpful in long-distance work relationships:

  • Schedule a call occasionally just to chat.
  • Give them your undivided attention when you are talking on the phone.
  • Set aside some time to talk about nonwork related topics.
  • Set up a videoconference.

In the area of providing some act of service, the following actions are effective:

  • Agree to schedule a meeting or call when it is convenient for them, not you.
  • Assign some staff assistance in completing some menial task for them.
  • Work out a plan to answer their phone calls or emails for a specified period of time.

Even when getting some small gift, a little extra effort can be quite effective:

  • 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 effort, it can be done and is important to do. Without ongoing appreciation and support for the work they’re doing, employees who work remotely are more at risk for becoming discouraged, not engaged, with their work.