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How to use remote recognition to retain top talent.


Whether in-person or remote, creative teams need recognition. Here are some tips on how to make recognition fun and effective.
DATE: May 29, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Recognition can go a long way toward retaining your team and building a positive company culture.
  • Some ideas include crowd-sourcing recognition, elevating their profile through company-wide forums, giving the gift of time, reviewing performance in a visual way, and making it fun.
  • Giving small prizes, such as gift cards or books, can be a cost-effective way to show your team you value their development.

Listen: How to use remote recognition to retain top talent.

Your creative team deserves recognition for their exceptional efforts and dedication toward achieving success in the face of adversity. While they may not be expecting huge raises and promotions, they are most certainly watching to see if their hard work is valued.

Our InsideOut Design Leader Community gathered to share how they are getting creative to make sure their teams feel recognized, despite the challenges of screen fatigue, economic uncertainty, and a heck of a lot to get done. Since budgets and company cultures vary widely, senior leaders agree that there's no one-size-fits-all way to go. But whether you've got a plan in place or you're scrambling to create one, these ideas are sure to spark new ways to celebrate and reward your team—just in time.

Crowdsource recognition

Don't go it alone when it comes to identifying and sharing wins with your staff. Design leaders in our community found clever methods to capture accomplishments that really resonated beyond a manager's pat on the back.

One VP requested “One Nice Thing” from everyone on his team about each person on the team. He then compiled all the answers to distribute to individuals, collecting many data points quickly with a small ask from his team. Other leaders have used online tools like 15Five or dedicated Slack or Microsoft Teams channels (#kudos, #high_five, etc.) to constantly collect wins, build a culture of celebration, and increase employee engagement. If those sound daunting, create an easy, low-cost Kudoboard in realtime or simply work with what you've got.

Carve out part of existing meetings for recognition. One senior leader in NY uses their standing monthly all-hands meeting to acknowledge hard work by soliciting successes from the entire team and sharing them in a simple presentation. Another leader uses the last 10 minutes of their departmental meeting for “Shout Outs.” As you're planning for next year, consider external awards like the IHAF Awards, The Webby Awards, or others to get industry-wide recognition from outside the company and, as a bonus, help with recruiting for your “award-winning team.”

Elevate their profile

Another simple way to recognize a job well done is to look up for help. Many of our InsideOut design leaders are leveraging the clout of executives and companywide forums to make sure their staff end up in the spotlight.

One NYC VP shared that her CEO announces a “Win of the Week” every Friday, based on nominations from their leaders, bringing to life stories that make an impact on the business. One CEO hosts a bi-weekly call to share updates and includes recognition for a staff member in every single one.

A design leader in LA is sending a survey to uncover who her team thinks has contributed the most this year, with the intent of having their top stories shared in the well-attended global update call in January. Even simply asking an executive from a partnering department (marketing, product, engineering, and more) to take the time to recognize great work can mean the world to a staff member—and it takes little time to do.

Give the gift of time

Speaking of time, don't discount the fact that almost everyone on your staff could use more of it. Whether for personal endeavors or for deep, focused work, time is a resource that many employees are afraid to take.

One Seattle senior leader found a creative way to give time off. She's soliciting peer recognition and then selecting a winner. The prize? A “Disconnect Day.” She also encourages every team member to block time and set an Out of Office message to honor the focus time they need to deliver on their work. Supporting staff in setting boundaries goes a long way toward showing that you understand and value what they do.

Another leader shared that her department head gave each staff member a $5 Starbucks gift card and three hours of time to take a much-needed break after a particularly trying period. Small investment, huge reward in showing employee appreciation. Equally meaningful is providing learning opportunities for your team. There's an abundance of free online training and events out there right now, but suggesting a course isn't as important as helping an employee make the time to take it.

Review your reviews

Most of our roundtables on the topic of “Celebrating and Rewarding Your Team” ended up with a discussion about performance reviews. While tackling a virtual review process is a post unto itself, design leaders shared many ways they're pivoting to make this year count.

One brilliant leader is utilizing a free Figma template originally created to evaluate candidates in their hiring process to craft a compelling visual performance review. Using key competencies for each role, this tool enables healthy discussions of how staff are progressing toward goals, helps identify emerging leaders, and enables a self-review that puts everyone quickly on the same page.

Not surprisingly, many design leaders have created visual review documents that show instead of just tell, and all agreed that this year more than ever, the self-review is critical. Discovering what staff value and see as important accomplishments in a truly challenging year allows leaders to recognize effort and recalibrate.

Make it fun

This point may seem obvious, but many leaders shared that defining what's “fun” for an entire remote team is no easy task. A New York VP pointed to an article from Katie Dill that illustrates the importance of learning your employee's recognition language before trying to acknowledge your team.

That said, most leaders had creative ideas for celebrating their teams. Here are a few:

  • Host a mini-design challenge or hack-a-thon to give teams a chance to stretch their creative muscles without looming deadlines.
  • With small or larger budgets, creating team-branded swag or even well-designed stickers as appreciation gifts can appeal to creatives without breaking the bank.
  • For the holidays, some senior leaders sent out small kits of ingredients for teams to decorate gingerbread houses, cupcakes, and cookies. Low budget, high creativity. Added bonus? Get your marketing / product / engineering team to judge a winner.
  • Gift future winnings (or at least a chance) by giving lottery scratchers to your team.
  • Help teams support causes they care about by giving charity gift cards or donations.
  • Books that help elevate their craft are a simple, cost-effective way to show your team you're invested in their development.
  • Send handwritten cards. Take the time to write a personal, thoughtful message to recognize accomplishments and say, “Thanks.”

The best news? You still have time to acknowledge the exceptional effort your team has displayed this year in achieving their goals and making strides toward success. 

And let's face it. Your team will remember how you handle challenges, and whether or not they felt valued along the way. So take the time right now to be sure you're the leader they'll stick with. The effort it takes to make recognition a priority will be well worth it.

If you're a senior design, experience, or operations leader of an in-house team and want to connect with others who share your unique challenges, let's talk. Our InsideOut community hosts roundtables to support the learning, growth, and sanity of our members, and I'm honored to get to facilitate those discussions.