Topic: Employee Recognition


Show Your Gratitude with These 15 Virtual Employee Appreciation Ideas

Employee recognition is vital, whether employees work in the office or remotely. Here are 15 virtual employee appreciation ideas to inspire and motivate your people.

Insights from

Updated on 

February 12, 2024






We love the poignant words of Dana Ullom-Vucelich, “At the very core of our humanity is our care for one another. Heartfelt appreciation provides sustenance for another day.” We agree that standing beside and recognizing each other is a key part of who we are, and it deserves to be part of our workplaces. While it may be easy to recognize and celebrate the wins of those who you see every day, how do you show appreciation for remote employees who aren’t in the office?

As the workforce starts to move to more people working away from the office, how do we provide that “sustenance for another day” in our day-to-day roles as coworkers, leaders, and mentors? What, if anything, should be different about how we lead and motivate our teams? The following 15 virtual team recognition ideas provide some suggestions for appreciating and inspiring the people who pull us through—even if they’re not with us in the office.

The best forms of recognition arise from a spirit of heartfelt appreciation.


Virtual backgrounds for conference calls to celebrate employee milestones while working remote.


1. Create meaningful recognition experiences for virtual workers.

Often virtual workers are forgotten and don’t receive formal or informal recognition at work. But even when they do, the recognition is either sent as an email or not presented to them at all. These are missed opportunities to help remote employees feel appreciated and build connection with the team.

Create a meaningful recognition experience for remote workers. Gather up the team on a Zoom call, utilize fun, customized virtual backgrounds to make it a celebratory environment, and invite peers to speak during recognition moments. These shared experiences are surprisingly powerful for both the remote worker but also the rest of the team.   

Employees celebrating in a team meeting


2. Make sure your appreciation is personal.

Making recognition personal is fundamental to conveying genuine appreciation, not just going through the motions. Since most of our communications are discerned through non-verbal cues, people are remarkably astute at assessing whether our recognition is sincere or phony. The same holds true in the physical and virtual world of recognition.

Being personal means being authentic, knowing the details, and being specific. Here is a simple framework to help you structure your thoughts so that what you say will be authentic and personal, whether you are recognizing someone’s great work face-to-face or remotely.

It’s easy to remember with an acronym: SAIL.

  • Think about the Situation your coworker faced when they did what they did—perhaps a challenging customer situation, a broken process, or a missing team member.
  • Think about the Action they took. What specifically did your team member do that turned things around—such as staying with a patient, rescheduling a stuck traveler, filling in for a sick employee?
  • Think about the Impact this team member had, the difference they made. Was it saving a customer relationship? Developing a faster process? Averting a crisis?
  • Finally, Link what they did back to the purpose of your team or organization. In other words, how did their actions contribute to your company’s mission, vision, values?

When your expression of appreciation is specific and personal, it will be meaningful. Whether the message arrives through email, on a phone call, video conference, or in chat, SAIL changes how they receive your message.  Don’t just recognize—really appreciate.

Company swag and a Yearbook for celebrating years of service at a company


3. Include the family.

Virtual workers often struggle with the unfortunate blurred line of their work and home life. Our home offices are now our work offices, along with our kitchens and living rooms. We see into the homes and lives of those we work with on our video calls. We see partners and children—and cats and dogs—coming in and out of our meetings.

Remote work is helping us see a much richer, more multifaceted view of our colleagues, in ways that deepen our relationships and our connections. Does it not then make sense to honor and appreciate those we work with by inviting their family members to join in on recognition experiences too? Family members are making sacrifices, juggling new challenges, and trying to give your team member the physical and mental space to do their work.

Work-from-home appreciation can celebrate everyone involved—whether they’re on the company payroll or not.


Culture Cloud Employee Recognition Software and Services through O.C. Tanner


4. Use current tools.

Tech tools are helping us adapt to our new realities of working together. The same is true for recognition tools. Modern mobile recognition apps are more essential now than ever. They help us send a quick ecard, give digital points, or even nominate a hero coworker for a President’s Award.

Integrated recognition tools like Culture Cloud make it easier and more top-of-mind for us to express appreciation when responding to coworker emails. We’re seeing real-time victories on social recognition walls. The resulting likes and comments on teammate successes make recognition a more inclusive experience for everyone.

However, some team members may still not be aware of all the tools available at their fingertips to recognize and appreciate coworkers. Make sure all employees know where these tools are, how to use them, and are empowered to give and receive recognition. And model what that looks like by regularly using them ourselves.

5. Celebrate with food.

When everyone is in the office, it’s not uncommon to bring a team together over lunch or a treat. This tradition shouldn’t end just because not everyone on your team is at the office. A free meal is always appreciated and is a quick way to let someone know you are thinking about them and recognize everything they do, even if they are out of the office. A host of food delivery apps and services can help you pay for a meal and have it delivered anywhere.


Remote employee calling into a Zoom team meeting


6. Celebrate silent heroes where they are.

Take a minute to think about members of your team who provide support, who work behind the scenes to get things done, especially those who are consistently (and thankfully) the “low drama” types. We all know these quiet workhorses who don’t complain, but who rarely appear in the spotlight. These teammates often get overlooked because they care more about their work than their ego. They make things happen without fanfare or expectation of reward. You know who they are.

Have you personally thanked them for what they are doing, or for something they have quietly delivered just recently? Do they know how much you appreciate their work?

As you seek to reach out to these silent heroes, remember that not everyone wants to be recognized in the same way. Those members of your team that strive for the spotlight will appreciate public recognition and acknowledgment, but your silent heroes may not want that level of attention.

Get to know your remote team, understand which members thrive in the spotlight, and identify those who would rather receive recognition in a small group or privately.

Remote employee working in the kitchen with their child

7. Encourage giving.

When they think of recognition or appreciation, most leaders think it’s all about receiving. It begs the age-old question, is it better to give than receive?

In recent research by the O.C. Tanner Institute, the data shows the impact of giving to be every bit as powerful as receiving. When anyone gives recognition to others, they experience a significant lift in their engagement levels, wellbeing, and connectedness in the organization. You can leverage those benefits of giving as part of your organization’s recognition program by allowing employees to give.

Employees can be an active part of nominating and choosing people to be recognized. They work and collaborate with each other and may recognize actions that managers may not see. This empowers your entire team to see the good in each other and highlight the hard work and jobs well done.

Remote employee working in their home office


8. Magnify success.

Employees need the sustenance of positive daily communications, recognition moments, and experiences. Unavoidable waves of demoralizing news can destroy morale quickly. Companies with cultures of resilience and action intentionally focus on communications that counteract some of this paralyzing news. They work hard to stabilize employee hearts and minds with hope and confidence.

Thriving companies inspire employees by looking for opportunities to move forward. They magnify what is going well, what employees are doing right, where they are succeeding, and how each person is contributing and making a difference.

Successful organizations where employees feel appreciated pull people together to celebrate even small victories, giving special attention to those activities that will give rise to even bigger gains and forward traction. Celebrating individual and team success proves what’s possible and inspires those looking to make a difference.  

Remote employee working on a laptop with their dog

9. Provide growth opportunities.

Learning and development should be an essential part of any organization and is a key part of ensuring your employees have the knowledge and skills to do their job. While basic training should be available to all employees, a great way to celebrate some employees and recognize their actions is to give them specialized training.

Specialized professional development opportunities can range anywhere from a new book in their area of expertise to an all-expenses-paid trip to an industry conference. Be sure any learning and development opportunities are available and easy to access for remote employees.

Sending a thank you note to a coworker using employee recognition software


10. Appreciate informally.

Your acknowledgment and appreciation of your employees should mimic the size and scope of what they are accomplishing. Not every accomplishment is a major event that must be publicized to the masses; not every appreciation needs to be a large tour de force.

Recognize the small wins that remote employees do and share them with your team in informal moments. This can help remote workers feel appreciated, noticed, engaged, and connected to the company.

Remote worker calling into a meeting


11. Organize digital activities.

Remote workers struggle to feel a sense of community and connection. You can show appreciation for what they do by facilitating small activities that help them draw closer to the rest of their team. To get the most from these digital games, contests, and projects, find activities that are meaningful for your employees.

Workplace culture may always be easier to build up in the office. Any activity you can make accessible to your remote employees will be appreciated and make them feel included.

Remote employee working from their living room


12. Make a personal connection.

Remote workers often feel overlooked if they’re treated like nothing more than a face and a name during video meetings. The only time they get to interact is when talking about work. They don’t get to talk about their personal life, passions, hobbies, or any of the other small talk that happens throughout the day in an office.

Break this habit and show that you appreciate remote employees for everything they do by getting to know them personally. Instead of talking about work, make time to understand better who they are and their needs.

It may feel intimidating for some employees to share personal details about their lives. They may clam up. This is okay. Continue to talk and share with them personally while giving them the opportunity to share (or not). As they become more comfortable, they may start to open up and connect with everyone they work with.

Sharing employee recognition notes on a company-wide social wall


13. Publicize accomplishments.

Rewarding a great employee with an employee of the month plaque or parking spot is a great idea for your in-person workers, but those rewards have no value for remote employees. They’re not going to use the parking spot, and they’re never going to see the trophy. Instead of giving them a physical artifact that’s stuck at the office, consider rewarding them with digital recognition.

Let people know that your remote employees are the best by shouting it from every platform you can. Share their wins and tag them on social media. Send out a company-wide email acknowledging what they’ve done. Create a section of your website that showcases how awesome your employees are. Or use your recognition solution’s Wall of Fame feature to share stories of the great work they’ve done, and invite their peers to like and add their own comments to the recognition.

Remote employee working from their living room


14. Reward with time.

Remote workers struggle to draw the line between work and home, leading to burnout. Show your appreciation for the endless task of juggling work and home life by giving them time to do their work and respecting their PTO.

Provide focused time where no one can schedule anything with your remote workers. This applies to everyone from the CEO to your clients, so remote workers have dedicated time to focus on their job and get their work done.

Paid time off should give employees the time they need to relax their mind, step away from work, and come back refreshed and focused. Employees shouldn’t feel that their PTO will be punished by more work when they return or that their time off isn’t genuine. Too often, organizations expect people on PTO to still be responsible for attending meetings, responding to emails, and dealing with “emergency” tasks. PTO isn’t a meaningful reward for remote employees if they’re still expected to perform their job.

Making PTO true time off where employees can take a step away from work becomes a valuable reward in celebrating success.

A remote employee working virtually in their backyard

15. Help employees set and reach goals.

Goal setting is another important way to help virtual employees feel connected and appreciated when they reach them. Take some time to set specific goals for your remote workers, both goals that are company-related but also personal development goals. Appreciate their efforts along the way and when they achieve those goals.

Your employee recognition solution may have tools to create specific initiatives or campaigns that let leaders set goals around a project, align efforts, and reward employees when they accomplish great things together.

If you’d like to talk to the employee recognition experts at O.C. Tanner about how we can help craft fantastic experiences for your virtual employees, please reach out to us.

About The AUTHOR:

related Resources

6 Reasons To Choose O.C. Tanner for Employee Recognition

Here are six reasons why O.C. Tanner is the ideal employee recognition partner—based on client survey data and testimonials.

Large Multinational Energy Company: Reducing Attrition With True Appreciation

Moving from transactional to true appreciation helped this energy company impact attrition.

Employee Rewards Strategies To Motivate and Retain Employees

Explore how monetary incentives, non-monetary perks, and recognition programs motivate employees and enhance retention in organizations.

By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.