As I enter my third year of leading an entirely virtual company, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ve seen virtual environments impact employee morale.
After the initial shock and uncertainty of going virtual in March 2020, many team members shared how much they appreciated the flexibility of a virtual office environment. However, as the months wore on, I saw what’s been widely documented: people were working longer hours, and some were suffering from burnout. No sooner was a team member done with one item than they moved on to the next. Work had been reduced to a series of Zoom calls, Slack messages, emails, and to do’s.
To combat this, my co-founder Bruno Van Tuykom and I quickly did more to try to bring fun and team building to the virtual workplace — from company get-togethers to 1:1 virtual chats. Even with these efforts, I felt something was missing.
Slowly, we came to realize that simply having more time off, or more virtual social time is only part of the answer. A crucial aspect of getting back a feeling of fulfillment and connection that can be lost in a virtual environment was being more intentional about celebrating successes.
In an office, getting together to celebrate a win — bringing on new customers, signing new partnerships, launching new products — was natural. You might go out for lunch, get a drink after work, or just see each other in person and offer congratulations. Early on, we even had a bell to ring in each new user (which was quickly retired for obvious reasons). When you’re working virtually, just sending a few celebration emojis in Slack before moving on to the next task doesn’t cut it.
I’ve found that being more intentional around virtual celebrations has boosted employee morale, and made everyone more excited about the work we do. If you’re looking for ideas for being more creative or intentional about celebrating successes and milestones, here are a few of my favorites:
Getting the Whole Team Involved in Positive Feedback
No matter how busy we all are, during our weekly meetings we set aside time to offer specific, positive feedback or a note of appreciation about the work done by individual team members that we coined team shoutouts. We open shoutouts up to the whole team, so anyone can give recognition to each other.
Planning Thematic Celebrations
When you get a big initiative over the line, a thematic celebration can be in order. For instance, when we launched Spanish language telehealth services last year, our team celebrated with a company-wide, online salsa class, along with Spanish trivia.
Finding Meaningful Ways to Recognize Anniversaries and Birthdays
Too often, I see managers hold events for team members who are leaving, rather than celebrate those who are celebrating years of successes working at the company. For work anniversaries, we will send a personalized note and a small gift to team members.
When it comes to birthdays, you can find creative ways to go beyond the virtual greeting card. For each team member’s birthday, we give the person who had the most recent birthday a small budget to get a gift for the next person. We’d had team members buy things like audio books and arts and crafts kits to add a bit of personalization to each gift.
Celebrating Important Moments in Time
Celebrations don’t have to be limited to company successes or holidays. You can also look for ways to get your team more involved in recognizing important moments in time.
For instance, during Black History Month, we gave each team member a small budget to donate towards a non-profit from a list that our team members curated including supporting Black mental health, maternal health for Black mothers, and supporting Black women in STEM. This was a way for the team to learn about the work of these non-profits, and feel like they could more easily support these organizations. We also did something similar to celebrate Pride Month last year by providing a budget to team members to donate to organizations supporting the LGBTQ community.