As we enter the post-pandemic era, most of us will find the workplace has changed. Remote work, which had been a dream for many workers, became a reality over the past year, as at least 42 percent of the U.S. workforce shifted to working virtually full-time from home. Now that the pandemic is subsiding, the Conference Board reports that 40 percent of employers are planning to have workers return to the office, but 61 percent of white-collar employees say they would like their company to let them continue to work remotely indefinitely, and of that number, almost 30 percent of working professionals indicate they will quit if they are told to return to the office.

As a result, it's likely that we will see the emergence of a hybrid workplace, in which most companies have both an in-office staff as well as a permanent virtual staff. For many businesses, this will be a new challenge to navigate, as they attempt to maximize the motivation, commitment, and productivity of all employees, regardless of where they are physically located.

How Do You Best Recognize Employees?

Whether employees are working in the office or at home, all motivation starts with the person. What do they most value? What do they most want from their work experience? How do they like to be recognized? These are good questions to start with in any company, but ones that, in my experience, most companies have not asked. Instead, employers tend to assume they already know the answers to these questions. "Employees want money, benefits, and promotional opportunities," would be a common response. I ask, "Is that what they said?" They say, "No, but it's what we're spending most of our budget on, so it must be true." 

Not necessarily. I've had the opportunity to ask thousands of employees across the country how they would like to be recognized when they do good work. Almost all of the time, the answer doesn't involve money. "A personal thank you from my manager," is a top response, along with "Being called out in front of others for a job well done," or "A written note of thanks from my boss, someone else on the team, or a client." Such simple acts are what make employees glad for the work they did and eager to do similar work again --especially for the person who noticed their efforts in the first place. It's a universal principle that what gets recognized gets repeated.

What Else Is Important?

From my research, other specific behaviors that employees find motivating include: being asked for input and ideas; direct, honest, two-way communication; being given autonomy and authority; being involved with decisions (especially those that affect them); a periodic focus on their careers and future; and being given support when a mistake is made. None of these behaviors are difficult to do, most have little if any cost, yet most managers do not specifically do these things. For example, in one study conducted by Maritz, only 12 percent of employees say they receive meaningful recognition at their workplace, even though, according to Gallup, 67 percent say recognition is their top performance motivator.

How to Apply This in the Hybrid Workplace

First, take the time to find out what all your employees want, individually or in a team context. Second, strive to do those things for both in-person as well as virtual workers. For example, you can do a "praise barrage," in which each employee on your team is singled out for 100-percent positive comments by other team members about what they most value about working with that person, and you can include those who are working virtually via a Zoom call. It only takes 10 minutes or so, depending upon the size of your group. Third, consider doing even more for your virtual workers, because, chances are, they already feel both out-of-sight and out-of-mind from everyone at the office. Fourth, follow up with face-to-face recognition with everyone whenever possible.

Do these things and you'll be well on your way to having the hybrid workplace work best for everybody -- employees and managers alike.