How to Celebrate Your Remote Employees: 21 Virtual Employee Appreciation Ideas

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Regularly celebrating employees has a whole host of benefits, several of which include boosting engagement levels, increasing employee retention, and lowering turnover rates. There’s no shortage of fun, out-of-the-box ways to show appreciation for your remote workforce and ensure they know exactly how much they matter, so get creative! In this article, we explore the business benefits of recognition and explain how to show appreciation for virtual employees, including some of the best ideas for thanking individuals and teams. 

Table of Contents

Virtual Employee Appreciation Benefits

How to Appreciate Employees in a Virtual Work Environment

Best Virtual Employee Appreciation Ideas

What started as the Great Resignation — millions of employees quitting their jobs after COVID hit the global map in 2020 — has morphed into something new entirely: the Great Reshuffle. According to BBC, they aren’t just quitting; your former employees are joining the companies that meet their needs and demonstrate value for employees and their hard work. With no geographic limitations on remote workers, competition for top talent is sky-high. But there’s one low-cost, high-impact way for companies to retain and engage employees: show some appreciation.

If you want to know how to recognize virtual employees, you’re in the right place! Keep reading for a full breakdown of when, why, and how to appreciate your employees to drive engagement and retain top talent.

Virtual Employee Appreciation Benefits 

Recognition and appreciation consistently rank among the top priorities for employees. The Harvard Business Review discusses how research suggests that “symbolic awards – interventions such as congratulatory cards, public recognition, and certificates — can significantly increase intrinsic motivation, performance, and retention rates.” Thanking employees is a simple way to boost engagement and morale, lower turnover, and increase overall job performance. 

Boosts Engagement and Morale

Recognized employees are engaged employees and engaged employees serve as the backbone for any thriving business. In fact, 71% of executives cite employee engagement as critical to the success of their business. But what does an engaged employee look like? Not all experts define employee engagement the same. Take a look:

  • Employee engagement defined by Gallup is, “the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace.”
  • And Quantum Workplace defines employee engagement as, “the strength of the mental and emotional connection employees feel toward the work they do, their teams, and their organization.”

The common thread is that engaged employees feel an emotional connection to the company and their work. Recognition is one of the biggest (and simplest) ways to nurture this connection.

Lowers Turnover

The numbers speak for themselves: when asked why they quit their jobs, 54% of employees said it was because they didn’t feel valued by their organization, and 52% left because didn’t feel valued by their managers. And with more than a third of workers looking for a new job, the “war for talent” is more important than ever. The bottom line? If you want to retain your virtual employees, ensure they feel appreciated, valued, and celebrated!

Improves Job Performance

Four in five employees say they’re more motivated to work hard when their boss shows appreciation for their work. After all, who wants to work if no one cares? Thanking employees on a regular basis is directly tied to your company’s bottom line.

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How Do You Appreciate Employees in a Virtual Work Environment?

Outlined below are a few key factors to keep in mind when expressing thanks! The most important thing to remember is that you need to make a habit out of appreciating employees. By making it a regular occurrence, you ensure that your team feels valued and motivated to continue doing their best work.

Create a Recognition-Rich Culture

As Gallup points out, a recognition-rich culture starts at the top, with research showing that recognition from managers or high-level leaders goes a long way. But beyond that, creating a culture around recognition means having formal and informal ways to show gratitude. That means peers should thank one another, too! Develop and encourage peer-to-peer recognition by encouraging leaders and managers to set the right example. 

Be Mindful of Individual Preferences

Remember that recognition isn’t necessarily one size fits all! Be mindful of how employees prefer to be appreciated. While some enjoy the spotlight, others are just as happy with private words of affirmation and thanks. In either case, be sure to capture positive feedback and document it in a people management platform like Lattice for when year-end reviews come around! You can also learn about your team members’ preferences with team building personality tests.

Show Appreciation Often

Skip the outdated Employee of the Month model and practice showing appreciation weekly and even daily. When workloads and deadlines create regular, high-pressure situations, daily recognition can ensure employees know their efforts do not go unnoticed. Try building recognition into your routine with these tips:

  • Every Friday, make a list of three employees to appreciate with a short, personalized note about their performance
  • Publicly recognize an employee’s efforts at your next staff meeting
  • Get creative! Every so often, spontaneously hand out awards like “Noble Notetaker” or “Dream Team”
  • Start a recognition train: Appreciate one employee and encourage them to identify someone they want to thank to keep the momentum going

Be Sincere and Specific

Recognition always feels good, but it feels great when you fully understand why you’re being celebrated. Tell employees and teams exactly why you appreciate them and emphasize how they made a particular impact on the business.

Tie Appreciation to Company Values and Culture

Reinforce company values and culture through your recognition methods and programs! Brilliant Ink, an internal communication agency that helps companies improve engagement, utilizes its own peer-to-peer recognition program which allows its employees to celebrate one another for living company values. By following a similar model, you’ll encourage your people to spot value-driven behavior and celebrate it.

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What are the Best Virtual Employee Appreciation Ideas?

Virtual appreciation isn’t too different from in-person, but it’s important to note that the best ideas are the ones that work for your culture and the people or teams you’re celebrating! Gift giving and saying thanks doesn’t have to be hard, but it should always be thoughtful. Take these ideas or use them to spark your own as you recognize employees in new and interesting ways.

Best Virtual Employee Appreciation Ideas for Individuals

Personalization is the key when thanking individual employees. Put in the extra effort to be specific and thoughtful. If you know they love coffee, find a coffee-related gift! With employee appreciation, it really is the thought that counts!


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1. Just Say “Thank You!”

When it comes to manners, isn’t this one of the first things adults teach children? Always say “Please” and “Thank you!” This is easy and often goes unsaid. After employees contribute to a project, work late, or participate in a meeting, reach out and let them know you appreciated it! 

Saying “thank you” on the spot lets people know you saw their effort and that it mattered. It’s not only polite, but it also reaffirms to employees that you value their efforts and don’t take them for granted. Forbes acknowledges the importance of saying “thank you” and highlights that gratitude is good for the giver too; studies show a connection between gratitude and well-being! 

2. Celebrate Birthdays 

Most people like celebrating their birthday! While some employees might not be okay with the public acknowledgment, all employees will appreciate a gift on their special day! Keep a record of birthdays and celebrate them.

3. Acknowledge Anniversaries

Work anniversaries are a big deal! Acknowledge each anniversary publicly and make a big splash for those extra special milestones like one year, five years, ten years, and so on! The more years, the more celebration!

4. Post a Shout-Out

What internal social channels are available in your organization? Whether you use Slack, Teams, or Yammer, publicly acknowledge an individual’s efforts where the full team or organization can see! Be sure to specifically call out the work done, how it impacted the work and why you’re grateful for this person’s contribution. It doesn’t have to be long, but it does need to be sincere and timely!

Your note might say: 

I want to give a huge thank you to Sam for all her work on the project we finalized yesterday! Whenever she saw an opportunity to dive in and provide support, she took it! In one instance, Sam spotted an error in our calculations that saved us several thousand dollars. 

We are incredibly grateful to have you on the team — thank you, Sam!

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5. Send a Gift Card 

Surprises are great, but sometimes the best gift is one you pick yourself! When you reach out to a coworker or employee to show appreciation, ask what store or website they might like a gift card to. Rather than ruining the surprise, it creates anticipation and drives home that you care about delivering appreciation in a way that’s meaningful. 

If you’re in a pinch and can’t ask, a Visa gift card is a nice alternative that still provides flexibility for the user. 

6. Write a LinkedIn Recommendation

LinkedIn is the modern, public-facing resume. When employees consistently perform well, take some time to write a thoughtful recommendation on LinkedIn about the value they bring to your organization. Include details about how the employee drove business results and how much you enjoy working with them on various projects. This unique way of showing appreciation demonstrates your investment in employees’ career development now and in the future.

7. Send a Themed Care Package

This is a simple option, easily tailored to the recipient. Want to thank an employee that loves candles, sweet treats, coffee, or even coloring? Companies like Knack have curated sets for everyone, from movie buffs to cheese lovers to coffee connoisseurs and more! If you want to get extra fancy, Knack also offers company-branded options.

After a long project or busy season, The Botanical Candle Co. offers a number of relaxing gift packages, sure to encourage your employee to take a beat and de-stress.

Swag.com also offers a variety of care packages designed to make work-from-home employees feel appreciated, despite the distance. They blend fun home gifts with practical items for remote workers. 

8. Send Some Snacks

The way to anyone’s heart is through the stomach. Check out these snack box companies for your next appreciation gift:

  • YumDay is a purpose-driven snack box company that helps conscious consumers discover new healthy snacks while supporting different communities. YumDay has gift subscription options as well as curated snack boxes. 
  • With Sugarwish, you pay in advance and recipients choose between candy, cookies, popcorn, coffee and tea, or dog treats and then choose their favorite flavors. Within days, it’s delivered to their front door.
  • You’ll never send a boring gift basket again with Goldbelly. Gift with ease and choose from a seriously wide array of award-winning, artisanal foods that ship nationwide.
  • Edible offers fruit bouquets and gifts always made to order using only the freshest fruit and gourmet chocolate!
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9. Send Merch Inspired by a Favorite TV Show or Movie

In those two to three minutes before everyone joins the Zoom or Teams call, you’ll likely learn who knows a little too much trivia about Friends, Star Wars, or The Office. Take note and send a mug, T-shirt, or other item inspired by their favorite pop culture indulgences. A quick Amazon search will uncover dozens of gifting options. 

10. Send a Houseplant

As Bloomscape puts it, “Everyone should live with a little more green.” Brighten up the homes of the employees you appreciate by delivering a houseplant straight to their front door within days of leaving the Bloomscape greenhouses. Plants reduce stress, improve air quality, and even increase concentration.

Some folks may not want the long-term plant parent commitment. Try 1800Flowers for a selection of fresh, beautifully arranged bouquets! Bonus: 1800Flowers also offers an array of gift baskets, food baskets, and more to choose from! 

11. Gift a Custom Bobblehead

For those looking to venture outside the box, try a custom bobblehead gift! This is sure to earn a couple laughs on the next Zoom call. My Custom Bobbleheads allows full customization, plus you can even add a pet. They offer hundreds of templates to choose from, making the process of creating this unique gift much easier. 

12. Buy Your Employee an Ember Mug

The Ember Mug is a great option for the constant coffee or tea drinkers on the team! Designed for home or office use, this luxury mug says “thank you” with state-of-the-art technology that not only keeps coffee or tea warm all day but also allows the user to set their perfect drinking temperature within the Ember app.

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What are the Best Virtual Employee Appreciation Ideas for Teams?

Group gifts and celebrations help build deeper connections across your organization! Tap into the benefits of virtual team building by recognizing team wins. But you don’t always need a recent win, incorporate some spontaneity and celebrate teams every so often!

1. Write a Feature Story About Team Wins and Successes

When teams drive business results and deliver big wins, interview and capture their story for your internal channels! By spotlighting teams, you demonstrate that their efforts are praiseworthy, with the added bonus of inspiring colleagues and allowing them to learn from this success story!

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2. Plan a Virtual Escape Room Party

Wait, what? Yes — a virtual escape room. For remote teams, getting together for an activity isn’t always possible. Think outside the box and celebrate team successes by planning a virtual escape room activity. With different themes, from prison breaks to art heists, there’s a virtual escape room for every team dynamic. 

Need help planning the party? Check out this resource for a full breakdown of what a virtual escape room is, how to plan and execute one, how to do it on Zoom, and more!

3. Record a Loom Shout-Out

Tired of typing out emails? If you’re looking for a more efficient, expressive way to communicate and celebrate your team, consider Loom. Loom brings video messaging to the workplace and allows you to record a message to your teams. Instantly ready to share, you can be yourself and show your personality as you appreciate your remote employees. Loom is ideal for widely dispersed, virtual teams. As an asynchronous form of communication, Loom is perfect for organizations spread across multiple time zones with busy schedules. 

4. Host a Virtual Happy Hour

Bring your crew together for a celebratory happy hour after a big win! But before you add a call to the calendars, you might want to consider how to make this virtual happy hour more fun and interesting. Add a theme or activity like beer and wine tastings, mystery games, or even charades! The possibilities are endless and fully customizable. 

Be sure to kick off and close the meeting by reinforcing why and how much you appreciate your team as a whole and as individuals.

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5. Send DoorDash or UberEats Gift Cards, Have a Celebratory Team Lunch

Embed appreciation into the fabric of your company culture. Ahead of your next team call, surprise everyone with a DoorDash or UberEats gift card and make it a team lunch! Your team will definitely feel the gratitude (and they’ll appreciate not having to scramble for lunch). 

Get the conversation flowing by asking team members to share any recent wins they’ve experienced. This gives everyone a moment in the spotlight and spreads the knowledge and best practices around. Close out the call by expressing your appreciation for everyone’s efforts. Bon appétite!  

6. Plan a Virtual Scavenger Hunt

Just like in-person activities and outings, virtual events can help build connections and show employees how much you appreciate them through spending time having fun. So take a break from work to celebrate and try a virtual scavenger hunt! This out-of-the-box idea gets everyone involved, combining engagement with a little friendly competition. 

For tips and guidance on how to plan your first virtual scavenger hunt, Team Building Hub’s comprehensive virtual scavenger hunt guide can point you in the right direction. 

7. Buy a Subscription to Calm or Headspace

What better way to say thank you than investing in the health and well-being of your team? With plans available for teams and businesses, the Calm app offers a host of tools and resources to build mental fitness. 

Headspace boasts a variety of tools and resources for mediation, sleep, mindfulness, and stress management. This gift takes appreciation one step further by demonstrating long-term interest in employee health, happiness, and overall well-being.

8. Host a Trivia Hour

If you like the idea of mixing appreciation with fun team building events, virtual trivia is an easy way to give everyone a hit of dopamine and build excitement through friendly competition. In today’s increasingly digital world, a variety of companies have taken the heavy lifting out of planning your next trivia event. 

  • Crowdpurr is an engagement platform that helps you create amazing mobile trivia experiences for your virtual employees! 
  • TriviaHub can also help you host team building events that your team raves about for weeks to come. 

Looking for more trivia ideas? Check out this virtual trivia how-to guide for setting up your next celebratory team trivia event!

9. Surprise! Half-Day Friday

Time is precious. Giving employees some extra time back at the end of their week will always be a crowd-pleaser. Letting folks sign off early demonstrates your investment in cultivating a healthy work/life balance. When you remind employees that you understand they have lives beyond work, that will go further than any tangible or monetary gift ever could!

Tip: Rather than announcing it on Friday, tell teams in advance that you’ve seen their efforts and want them to sign off early to get a head start on the weekend! When teams know ahead of time, they can ensure they’ve cleared or blocked the afternoon and finished up any assignments.

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Conclusion

These recognition ideas are sure to communicate to employees and teams that you see and appreciate their hard work and don’t take them for granted. Virtual employees can often feel forgotten or disconnected, especially on larger teams. By increasing recognition, team members are likely to feel more engaged and motivated to continue doing their best work every day. With all the benefits and return on investment that come from appreciation, it’s more than worth the try! What are you waiting for?