The uncertainty fatigue is real. Those “how we’re handling COVID” emails from every business we’ve ever patronized have died down and many of us have settled into something resembling a routine, but most of us are still isolated from friends and family. We’re gearing up for a long summer of, yes, more uncertainty, with only the dim hope of an ambiguous return to “normal life” to cling to. This ceaseless uneasiness with no discernible end in sight is simply the pits, and when big wins feel like a thing of the past, surfacing the small ones – securing a grocery delivery slot, finally getting around to watching The Wire – is simply essential to our emotional well-being.

Found! 6 research-backed ways to make your team more effective

So how can we harness the power of small wins in the workplace, such as it is? Or, put another way, how can we mindfully celebrate each other’s incremental acts of progress when we’re all stuck at home, staring down a formidable to-do list? Our research shows that team goal-setting and achievement-celebrating can have a huge impact on team morale, even when we’re not dealing with a global crisis. Even a “great job!” callout at a team meeting or a passing high-five in the hallway can go a long way to help individuals feel appreciated and teams feel connected. But as we all know, meetings are now virtual and high-fives are definitely not a thing; so maintaining that accomplishment-oriented team togetherness when there are so many competing priorities can easily fall by the wayside. Luckily, it’s probably easier than you think.

Fostering a recognition-rich environment

According to Gallup, the most meaningful recognition comes from managers (and managers’ managers, and their managers, all the way up to the executive suite), but that the happiest teams are forged in a “recognition-rich” environment, where acknowledgment and appreciation flow freely up, down, and across hierarchies. This certainly includes public declarations of pride for individual and team-level accomplishments, but positive feedback between individuals gets the job done too – literally.

How to build a happy team

In any environment, the liberal application of employee recognition – including budget-friendly verbal acknowledgments and words of praise – makes for more engaged team members, which means higher productivity, better retention stats, and, well, happier people. In this environment, where basically the entire workforce is struggling with a veritable smorgasbord of challenges to productivity and emotional wellbeing, a boost in confidence in ourselves, our teams, and our workplace can help get us through the day.

Atlassians enjoy one long-standing company tradition in particular that embodies this focus on the simple yet powerful act of expressing appreciation: our Employee Kudos program. Any employee can nominate a coworker for going above and beyond their job description with a Kudos, which is a small gift – think Amazon gift card, movie tickets, or charitable donation – delivered to the nominee.

Given the prevalence of remote team members at Atlassian, we already had a process in place for remote Kudos, which limits gifts to remote-friendly vendors and utilizes a template for easy electronic delivery. Of course, now that all Atlassians are working from home, all Kudos are remote for the time being.

Ways to celebrate the little wins

Employee Kudos are a celebrated tradition for Atlassian, but there are lots of ways that anyone who wants to acknowledge the hard work of a team player – meeting a goal, shipping a project, picking up some slack for a teammate in need – can do so, anytime and from any distance. And while tight budgets are a reality for many, especially as unemployment soars and nearly all businesses are struggling, unfortunate circumstances don’t preclude anyone from letting a teammate know that while they may be out of sight, they’re certainly on your mind. Here are some ways to celebrate a teammate gratis.

  • Karma Bot: So now might not be the best time to add an Employee Kudos line-item to your company budget, but you can tap into that same sentiment with the Karma bot app, available on several communication platforms, including Slack and MS Teams. Send your work-mates kudos (AKA good juju) with an @ mention to put a little pep in their step.
  • Snaps: Take five minutes at the beginning of each team meeting, virtual or otherwise, to acknowledge those mini victories that might otherwise fade into the background. For example, “Snaps to Beverly for being on call every night this week,” then everyone, yes, physically snaps their fingers.
  • Team social hour: If your team has recently finished a project or accomplished some other goal, organize a virtual coffee date or happy hour and raise a mug/glass to yourselves. In addition to marking an achievement, scheduling social time with your team can fill that void in your heart where watercooler catch-ups used to live.
  • Wellbeing cards: These spirit-lifters started out as an internal project, but now we’re spreading the love. Download and send one of our Wellbeing Cards to someone who did you a solid, or someone who may be struggling. They’re basically electronic hugs (bonus: they double as beautiful home office art for those with access to a color printer).
  • Managers – share team wins with the organization at large: As I mentioned, managers are in a unique position to build up their direct reports, and they shouldn’t stop at team-level plaudits. Rather, higher-ups should spread the word to their counterparts far and wide, so HR knows that the sales team hit their target, and the dev team gets a look at the major project design just shipped.

If you happen to be a manager keen on beefing up your team’s recognition game and have resources to spare, you might look into establishing a formal peer-to-peer recognition program a la our Kudos program. Here are a few other ways to call out a win for a small chunk of change.

  • Food delivery: Is your teammate always raving about her local Thai spot? Call ‘em up and gift her with a pad Thai lunch. Many formerly eat-in-only restaurants are getting creative, and may now be offering pickup or delivery. Bonus points here for supporting a local business!
  • Gift card: Another way to prop up your teammate AND help a local economy thrive is by purchasing gift cards for establishments that are not likely seeing much business these days. If you know of a favorite clothing store, hobby shop, or, heck, an artisanal cheesemonger with your colleague’s name written all over it, say thank you by letting her choose just the right thing. Note: probably best to limit yourself to e-commerce for now…
  • Charitable donation: There’s no shortage of charities needing support right now. Choose one near and dear to your colleague’s heart and make a contribution in their name.

Above all, whether your team is totally crushing it while working from home or most of you can barely find the time or energy to check your email, remember to practice empathy. It might come naturally for all of us to “be nice” to each other considering the dark cloud we’re all living under, but don’t let everyday professional accomplishments go unnoticed or unacknowledged. Those “recognition-rich” teams may just be better off in the long run, as individuals and as a group. And we all could use a win right about now.

Celebrate those little wins to keep your team motivated