When the entire world seemed to shift overnight into working remotely, most companies were busy ensuring that technical connectivity was in place, and that teams had the digital tools they needed to get their work done.

Once the functional aspects of working from home had been addressed, though, organisations started to prioritise a different type of connectivity: keeping employees connected to the organisation – its goals and purpose – as well as to each other.

Employees who have a sense of meaning and purpose are more than four times as likely to love their jobs, according to Workhuman research, and workers who check in with their manager at least weekly are five times less likely to be disengaged.

But how can companies boost morale and deepen employee connections when we are all physically apart?

Better engagement through social recognition

Working from home means we miss out on the serendipitous conversations and interactions that happen when we’re physically together on a daily basis. Most of us have experienced first-hand how these unplanned exchanges can drive new ideas or establish rapport.

Social recognition programs within an organisation are one crucial way to ensure that these types of conversations are still happening, even when people are physically apart. Acknowledging people for what they do and who they are builds a culture of positivity and gratitude, and motivates people to do their best work.

Gratitude reduces stress

Practicing gratitude boosts emotional and physical well-being, according to research by Robert A. Emmons, a UC Davis professor of psychology and expert on the science of gratitude, and is a great way to lower stress. Recent and frequent recognition is associated with higher gratitude levels and lower stress levels.

In fact, employees who have been thanked for their work in the past 30 days report experiencing significantly less stress versus their hard-working peers, per the research. Likewise, workers who were thanked in the last month are twice as likely to trust in their company’s leadership team.

A recognition moment is a reminder of an employee’s importance and value at an organisation, and can lift spirits, especially during times of stress and uncertainty.

Communication and acknowledgement foster inclusion

Encouraging positive communication between peers, teams, and senior leadership – including recognising each other’s contributions – inspires greater feelings of inclusion in the workforce.

Humans have an intrinsic need to belong, and a big part of that is the need to belong at work. We spend one third of our lives at work, so having positive interpersonal relationships and a feeling of belonging are vital to our overall well-being.

Giving genuine gratitude to your peers – and receiving it in turn – is a sure-fire way to feel included at your place of work and to make others feel included too.

Building communities

Global healthcare company, Merck (“MSD” in the UK) is an example of how a large, multinational company is building and maintaining its communities through and beyond COVID-19. Merck has more than 70,000 employees worldwide and has had a social recognition program, called INSPIRE, in place since 2017. Merck has found that social recognition has fostered and driven culture, and continues to forge stronger connections, even in difficult times.

Merck is able to view data on all the recognition moments happening throughout the company, and can see how connections are being made within and between offices globally. This data is shown in the form of a social graph, where each dot is a person, and each colour represents a department or a team. Lines between the dots are recognition moments.

These social graphs illustrate how work is getting done at Merck, shining a light on where communities of connections are appearing and which patterns relate to greater business performance and innovation, as well as where there might be more opportunities to improve the collaboration between groups, if they look siloed or clustered together.

For companies like Merck, many departments need to come together to drive innovation and get the best work done. A single community can represent multiple cross-functional teams, spanning departments and countries, and having a global recognition program in place allows each and every community to work in a more collaborative and interconnected environment.

Keeping connected while apart

The COVID-19 pandemic has radically transformed our work and personal lives, and people leaders are facing the task of not only keeping everyone positive and motivated, but also creating a sense of inter-connection and belonging despite our physical separation.

Leaning into gratitude and building communities in times of uncertainty is a proven way to sustain the human connections that ensure organisations maintain shared purpose, and can thrive even as circumstances change and evolve.

To learn more about Merck’s story and how you can build a culture of recognition at a time when positivity is so desperately needed, sign up to watch the webinar, “How to boost morale and community with your employees,” on Tuesday 16th June 2020 at 11am BST.