Business leaders often overlook the power of a simple ‘thank you’ – possibly because being a leader is, itself, a thankless task. Yet in scattered teams, distanced by remote work, showing your appreciation can have a transformative effect.

It’s something I’ve witnessed first hand during the pandemic. As soon as we went fully remote, our teams started using the ‘thank you’ tool in our digital workplace – which lets people show their appreciation – more liberally. This wasn’t dictated by any new policies. It was the physical absence of colleagues that prompted an organic outburst of gratitude.

These genuine messages of thanks for great work, help and support are now a regular fixture in our company social media feed. It has been a gentle yet persistent reminder there are humans behind the avatars, and that they may be in total isolation.

Through this simple act of committing our gratitude to type, and through the small action of explaining why we’re grateful for a job well done, or offering some moral support, we have been able to show emotion and lift each other during an especially dark time.

But it’s not only during a global pandemic that recognition holds power. Data suggests making it part of your culture could be a transformative decision. Research by Deloitte shows that employee engagement, productivity and performance are 14% higher in organisations with recognition programmes in place than those without, and a mere 15% boost in engagement can result in a 2% increase in margins.

Further research from Deloitte’s Talent 2020 survey also puts recognition in the top three most effective non-financial factors for staff retention. However, it warns that recognition programmes may fail because of their tendency to focus on financial recognition, rewarding service or tenure, which employees may not value.

Another problem is that recognition has not historically been a peer-to-peer pursuit. Praise for good work was seen as the sole preserve of managers and leaders. But a fascinating survey of more than 200,000 employees by TinyPulse found that it is our peers, and not money, that is the number one influence on colleagues, and the source of 20% of all employees going the extra mile. Clearly, the new world of work calls for decentralising recognition.

Three ways to boost camaraderie:

  1. Make ‘thank you’ tools available to your teams. This will help you keep track of praiseworthy work, and spot those who go above and beyond for their colleagues, but it will also make it easy for people to show their appreciation with the click of a button and few choice words.
  2. Saying ‘thank you’ has a snowball effect. The more people that do it, the more will be encouraged to do it. But don’t force it, turn it into a popularity competition, or reward the action of saying thanks: this needs to be an organic response if it’s to be genuine.
  3. Organise some fun. Social events, even virtual ones, keep the bonds of friendship strong and teams tight. Games nights, escape rooms, interactive quizzes are all readily available, and online offerings are getting ever more creative as remote work continues to have its moment.