Now that the oppressive uncertainty fatigue of the past few years has given way to an uneasy kind of “normalcy,” teams and families and individuals alike are relearning how to embrace the good. While big wins might still feel a bit out of reach, surfacing the small ones – finally planning that vacation, discovering a ritual that bonds your team together – is an important part of our healing process.

So how can we harness the power of small wins in the workplace as it exists now? Or, put another way, how can we mindfully celebrate each other’s incremental acts of progress when so many of us are physically apart, and may be for good? Our research shows that team goal-setting and achievement-celebrating can have a huge impact on team morale, even when we’re not recovering from 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. And even if your team is scattered across the globe, 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 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.

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.

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. Remote Kudos simply limit gifts to remote-friendly vendors and utilizes a template for easy electronic delivery.

Ways to celebrate the little wins

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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, 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. Bonus points here for supporting a local business!
  • Gift card: 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.
  • Charitable donation: There’s never a shortage of charities needing support. 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 or you’re all still reeling from that doozy of the early 2020s, remember to practice empathy. It might come naturally for all of us to “be nice” to each other, 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.

Celebrate those little wins to keep your team motivated