Rewards, Recognition & Remote Work: How to Keep Your Employees Connected and Engaged in Today’s New Work Reality

Remote employee receives text message saying great job
Welcome to part four of our five-part thought leadership blog series, Elevating the Employee Experience for the New World of Work You can read parts one through three here.

As a leader during these uncertain COVID times, you have finally gotten your organization somewhat settled in with working remotely, but now new concerns arise and the need to create a virtual culture tops your to-do list. It is clear your employees are disconnected and disengaged. The work environment and productivity levels are stagnant and blah. Meetings are boring and employees are Zoomed out! A survey by Ginger found that 88% of workers are experiencing moderate to severe stress and 62% noted losing at least one hour of productivity a day as a result of COVID-19. The remote environment has left them feeling overwhelmed and burned out. And with social distancing mandates still in place, there is little to look forward to. Vacations have been cancelled; school is virtual; sports are almost non-existent; community events are on hold indefinitely; and family and friend outings are shunned. The day-to-day tasks of work and home life frames the day, week and month. It feels like Groundhog Day every day. You feel the same way but need to steer the ship and help your workforce stay afloat. Question of the times: How to keep employees engaged and connected in today’s fluid COVID environment?

We can all agree this pandemic has lasted way longer than expected with no end in sight. It’s time to be innovative. It’s time for a culture reset. A shift in the environment where employees are energized and motivated; where they feel their safety, wellness and contributions matters—they KNOW that THEY matter! And this combination aligns with the organization’s mission.

A simple way to keep employees engaged, motivated, and productive is through consistent rewards and recognition. However, traditional approaches and programs won’t meet the demands of today’s remote and complex work environment. Here are a few ways organizations can amplify their total rewards and recognition efforts to fit the new work reality.

1. Focus on Virtual Wellness

Get creative and ramp up health and wellness events and resources virtually. Ask employees what support they would prefer to enhance their wellbeing. Options range from daily, virtual stretches or exercise programs, to fitness and weight loss/health management programs available through insurance or commercial companies to health and fitness apps (many are free!) that encourage group participation. Gather resources for employees to access online and send frequent notifications for new and/or updated information. Here are other ideas that can be distributed as “Wellness Tool Kits” for all employees:

  • Insurance carrier sessions for mental wellness for work/life balance, managing remote work and family, stress/anxiety reduction, staying healthy during COVID, sleep management
  • Virtual sessions for financial wellness
  • Socially distanced community events
  • Virtual exercise and/or meditation
  • Fitness challenges
  • Offer health & wellness days/fairs such as: Flu shots, blood drives, healthy living (what expertise can health insurance provide?)
  • Online recipe exchange or cookbook
  • Start a company book club
  • Provide family activity resources, such as virtual tours to community and world attractions, family-friendly live events, educational links and more
  • Host a virtual or online movie night where employees can grab popcorn at home and watch a movie together, commenting in a chat line

2. Invest in New Training & Development

Traditional in-person training is no longer an option in many organizations. Employers must rethink how we carry on with training and professional development in our new remote setting. It’s time to reinvent the way employees are trained. What software can be utilized? Can we learn in other ways than the traditional classroom setup? Options to consider include:

  • Skill development as employees fill multi-functional roles remotely due to furlough/layoffs
  • Virtual team building activities
  • Virtual “Lunch & Learns” or online learning centers to enhance professional development around:
    • Adapting to change
    • Time management skills
    • Working effectively while remote
    • Implicit bias, diversity, etc.
    • Leadership training/performance management
    • Trust in the workplace
    • Communicating remotely
  • Communication software overview to conduct meetings online based on needs, such as: Zoom, Slack, MS Teams, Miro, Mural, Stormboard, Loom are some
  • Improve and update Onboarding program to reflect remote status

3. Get Innovative with Your Benefits & Perks:

Other benefits, rewards and recognition programs can support employees in many ways. Explore additional resources, experts and on-the-spot rewards that could help employees reduce stress, stay motivated and improve their overall employee experience, such as:

  • Remind employees of health insurance benefits for health- and fitness-related perks
  • Encourage employees to take time off, including shutting down their PC, email and work phone
  • Provide or notify employees of telehealth and medicine options
  • Offer small monetary and non-monetary bonuses like half days off, Meeting-Free Fridays, and gift cards for career milestones or work achievements
  • Send an employee a meal for the individual or family via Door Dash or other food delivery services
  • Review & update policies, PTO, benefit plans, compensation structures, and safety procedures
  • Offer online subscription apps for wellness such as Peloton, Beachbody OnDemand, premium MyFitnessPal and more
  • Implement virtual reward and recognition programs (e.g., virtual Happy Hours, coffee, break times)
  • Provide weekly activities, such as picture activities online, appropriate & clean jokes
  • Create a virtual/online “water cooler” where employees can take a break and have a work-free conversation with their co-workers
  • Consider partnering with external resources to provide caregiver or educational support


Recently I’ve recommended several of these ideas to clients to help them re-engage their staff and improve their work environment, even if it’s in their home office. Employees expressed how much a No-Meeting Friday and fewer Zoom calls allowed them to step out of “Groundhog Day” and focus on their work while at home. By offering these types of recognition, employees feel that their employer hears them and are responding to their needs.

Showing employees you care about their well-being means more today that it ever has. We don’t know when we’ll get back to the brick-and-mortar office days and, as employers, we need to be open-minded, flexible and creative to offer rewards and recognition that fit the current environment. We can’t change the COVID world overnight, but we can rally around the employees we have and show them how valuable they are through rewards and recognition. Doing so will boost trust and foster a sense of community which will ultimately strengthen the organization.

Diane Tarka, PHR, SHRM-CP
Senior Consultant
CCI Consulting


Are Your Rewards and Recognition Programs Adapted

for the New Workplace?

Rewards and recognition are key elements of an employee engagement strategy. In today’s shifting workplace environment, organizations need to evolve their rewards and recognition strategies to meet their employees’ evolving needs.  Working with HR and senior leaders, we help organizations understand how they can improve their rewards programs to increase retention, boost engagement and improve performance.  Get in touch to learn how we can help you optimize your rewards and recognition strategy for the new reality of work.

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Read Part 5: Managing the Employee Experience in a Downsizing Environment

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