Careers

Connecting through appreciation, even remotely

Sep 01, 2020

We all like to feel valued at work and know that what we are doing matters. Showing appreciation is a great way to convey this to others. Often, people will be unaware of how to best express appreciation to their colleagues. Charlotte Keating provides some simple ways of how you can enhance your connection with the team, even when you can’t physically be in the office.

Stephen Covey said in his bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival; to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.”

Sometimes, a simple ‘thank you’ is not enough.

It’s good to be aware that we all have different ways of receiving appreciation. What makes one member of the team feel appreciated may not necessarily make another feel valued in the same way. According to research by Dr Gary Chapman and Dr Paul White in their book The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, we all have a primary language of appreciation. Even though we can accept appreciation in other ways, we will not feel fully valued at work unless it is communicated in our primary language. This means that the intended message may get lost in translation and not have the result the sender anticipated.

The five languages of appreciation

Knowledge of these five languages can make you aware of your own appreciation preference while also helping you advise which methods of appreciation your colleagues may respond to best.

1. Words of affirmation

This is verbal praise which makes others feel validated. It is the most common primary language of appreciation in the workplace.

Ways to express words of affirmation to a colleague

  • Sometimes, a quick “thank you” in person or by email is sufficient; however, it’s best to be specific and to use the person’s name, e.g.: “Sarah, I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciate you being such an organised person. It’s been especially helpful during this crisis knowing that there is a structure in place.” 
  • It’s worth remembering that some prefer to be acknowledged in private (in person or via a call/email or a handwritten card), while others like public praise (which could be done from a distance though cc’ing relevant individuals or thanking them on a group video call).

2. Quality time

Here you are spending time with your colleagues and giving them your undivided attention – even just a few minutes during the day to discuss their progress on a project, allow them to vent frustrations or seek advice. 

It is possible to spend quality time remotely – and it is important for one's mental health to do so when physically working away from others.

How to spend quality time with a colleague

  • Schedule a video call with them, even if it is just to have a quick, non-work related chat to catch-up. Avoid distractions during the call. 
  • Keep all of the team appraised of relevant matters, particularly when the casual interactions of a shared work environment are not possible. 
  • Organise a video quiz with the team, or online after-work drinks 
  • Using the “breakout room” function provided by some video conferencing platforms like Zoom is a great way to split up a larger group, making it easier to have more manageable conversations that everyone can participate in.
  • Have a virtual check-in during the day, just as you might stop by their desk to say a quick hello.

3. Acts of service

While we all have our own roles and tasks to complete, working collaboratively and helping out colleagues is a great way to show that we value them.

How you can show appreciation by helping out a colleague

  • One of the main requests in an office is for support with technology, and you may still be able to provide remote assistance to colleagues having technical issues, e.g. helping with video call accessibility.
  • Simply ask, “is there anything I can help with?” and reassure them that you can spare the time if you have it.
  • Clarify what area they need help in and how to go about the task before starting it.
  • Schedule calls at a time of day that works best for them.

4. Tangible gifts

Give a thoughtful gift to a colleague. The material value is not important, only the thought that goes into the gift.

How to give gifts to show appreciation 

  • Personalise it – gift them a voucher for their favourite restaurant.
  • Keep it simple – arrange for nice coffee beans to be delivered to their door or, if you’re in the office, drop a cup of coffee to their desk.
  • Send a “certificate of appreciation” via email or post. There are various templates available online.

5. Physical touch

This relates to appropriate, professional physical contact. Personal boundaries are incredibly important here. Naturally, this is the least common language of appreciation in the workplace.

Ways to use physical touch to show appreciation

  • A firm handshake, a high-five to celebrate a win or an appropriate hug.
  • It is clearly impossible to handshake when social distancing. Virtual high-fives through screens or using appropriate emojis can get the same message of respect, appreciation, support and encouragement across to team members. 

Determining your colleagues’ appreciation language

Before you move forward with applying any of these appreciation languages, you should figure out a colleague’s preference first.

  • Observe how they show appreciation to others. Often how a person expresses appreciation reflects their preferred way of receiving it; and
  • Listen to their main concerns, complaints and requests, which can provide clues as to what feedback or assistance they require. 

Contributing to others’ wellbeing

Anyone can make a positive contribution to the team through expressing appreciation, no matter what their role is. While it’s great to get encouraging feedback from a supervisor, peer support is so important, now more than ever, to keep motivation levels up. It’s not just about recognising results, it’s about recognising people and what we value about them. 

Feeling genuinely appreciated boosts morale and well-being. It’s not our job to make others happy, but it’s important to remember that when we show regular, authentic appreciation, it raises not only the self-esteem of others but also our own.

Charlotte Keating FCA is a qualified life and business coach and founder of Act On It Coaching.