How to build a hybrid recognition program

We all know the stats–employees like hybrid work. US employees are as likely to say they’d prefer a hybrid work set-up as they are to say they drink coffee every day. In other words, hybrid isn’t going anywhere. 

But there’s a problem. 

A 2022 survey by Gartner found that more than three-quarters of hybrid employees felt disconnected from their company culture. Workers are twice as likely to describe hybrid work as “emotionally exhausting.”

So, if you want to maintain a thriving hybrid company company culture, you’ll need to carefully consider how to engage and support your employees for the long-haul. And employee recognition is one of the most easily deployed, and most effective, ways to make that happen. 

Armed with the right hybrid recognition program, HR teams on the front lines are best placed to help employees feel satisfied and fulfilled in their roles. Companies who look after their people well are likely to come out on top when the storm clouds eventually part.

The challenges of hybrid work

Hybrid and remote work was forced on many companies by the pandemic–but this new normal is actually one of the best ways to protect your business from the various challenges we’re living through. It saves employers spending money on real estate, boosts productivity, makes life cheaper for employees–and, most importantly, it's what they want.

However, remote and hybrid work can be challenging for managers: 

  • Communication, collaboration, and relationships can be more difficult–and managers need to show a high degree of trust in employees. 
  • It’s harder to keep track of employee progress and achievements across different locations and systems and to keep perks equal for in-office, hybrid, and remote employees. 
  • This is a particular issue for managers of younger workers. Millenials and Gen Z have higher expectations when it comes to mentoring. These employees value getting constant feedback on their performance and are more invested in working collaboratively than Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. These are things that are easy to neglect when it comes to a distributed workforce. 

In fact, Gartner believes remote and hybrid work themselves may actually lead to increased turnover if not handled correctly. Hybrid and remote employees may be less invested in their workplace and have fewer work friends or chances to make a social connection to their organization. This makes leaving one hybrid position to do hybrid work for another employer an easier choice. 

How employee recognition can help maintain a strong hybrid working environment 

Although it’s been more than three years since the pandemic made us all adapt our work lives to Zoom calls and Teams meetings, many companies still haven’t optimized their recognition programs to meet the needs of hybrid or remote workers. By now, your hybrid team may well be feeling undervalued and invisible. 

By implementing a great hybrid work employee recognition program, you can easily maximize the benefits–and minimize the drawbacks–of hybrid and remote work arrangements.  

Why is recognition important?

We all know getting recognized for your work makes us feel good. But why? 

When we receive recognition, our brains release a chemical called dopamine. 


  • Makes us feel happy
  • Doesn’t last long 
  • Helps us learn what is good and bad

If we don’t get enough dopamine, we start to feel frustrated, anxious, and unmotivated. 

Because dopamine disappears quickly, the effects of momentary recognition are short-lived. This is why recognition should be a frequent habit for managers. 

When people receive dopamine hits again and again for the same or similar behaviors, the association between the action and the reward is strengthened, encouraging people to perform the same actions in the future. 

So, recognition is not only essential for psychological well-being, but it also helps reinforce positive behaviors.

The business case for recognition

Research by the Boston Consulting Group shows that while higher pay is the 4th most important factor for employees, “globally, the most important single job element for all people is appreciation for their work”. For employees who are already paid competitive wages, proper recognition has a greater impact on loyalty, retention, and productivity than a pay rise.  

And, in a Glassdoor survey, while 37% of employees were motivated to work harder by a fear of losing their job, and 38% by a demanding boss, 81% of employees were motivated to work harder by appreciation. 

Maciek Kubiak, Head of People at PhotoAiD, points out the pitfalls of not having a great hybrid work employee recognition program: “All current trends, like Quiet Quitting and the Great Resignation, explicitly show the results of neglecting recognition programs,” he says. 

“Employees who don’t feel valued quickly get overwhelmed and dissatisfied with work, looking for new career opportunities.”

Jo Taylor, Managing Director of Let's Talk Talent, is pretty blunt about the need for recognition.

“You will lose your best staff if they aren't allowed to work from home, and if they aren't being recognized for their contribution,” she says.

Recognition is also attractive to new recruits, who now put well-being as one of their highest priorities for employment. Recognition also offers a convincing alternative to promotion in companies with a less hierarchical structure and limited options for moving upwards in seniority.

How to get the maximum ROI from a hybrid employee recognition program 

Bobbi Kloss, the Director of Human Capital Management Services at the Benefit Advisors Network, says that an effective hybrid recognition program begins with ensuring that you have “the right people in the right seats for both employee and manager”. 

“Supervisors need proper training to manage a remote or hybrid team,” she says.

“Hybrid work forces an employer to be creative in the delivery of recognition programs. Leadership buy-in and being physically present during recognition times is essential, as is consistency in management of the program.”

For Jo Taylor, success also begins with managers. “A dedicated hybrid employee recognition program needs managers who care about their team and individuals in it,” she says. 

Anja Bojic, communication author and researcher at COING, agrees: 

“You simply have to know better than to give everyone the same gift card for New Year’s,” she says. 

“Invest some time in getting to know your employees through online virtual activities. Show them they truly matter through the gift you give them. If the best you can do is the same gift card, make sure to include a personalized note for every employee.”

In short, when preparing to implement a great hybrid employee recognition program, managers need to:

  • Build relationships with your employees;
  • Agree on OKRs with workers and decide what progress and success look like;
  • Specify the objectives of your recognition program and decide how you will know if it’s working;
  • Make a budget–and stick to it;
  • Be prepared to adapt to the changing needs and expectations of workers. 

Once you’ve laid the groundwork, you can begin to design your hybrid work employee recognition program.  Keep the following 7 principles at the front of your mind:

1. Communicate

Communication is key. Maciek Kubiak says that poor communication and weak involvement are “common problems in the hybrid work environment”. 

“This can stop employees from sharing their achievements with managers,” he says. 

“As a result, managers stay unaware of their team members' accomplishments, and subordinates feel undervalued. So, excellent communication is a must in this kind of work, because it also ensures excellent work satisfaction for employees.”

Communication is important, not just for keeping up-to-date on your people’s progress, but also for finding out what motivates them. Talk to your employees or survey them about what kind of recognition they prefer.

2. Get personal

You should be prepared to tailor rewards to match employee needs and interests. For instance, while extroverts thrive on public recognition at meetings or events, introverts might prefer a one-to-one form of quiet recognition, such as a friendly chat or even a handwritten note. 

Anja Bojic believes choice is a crucial element of a great hybrid work employee recognition program. 

“Allow employees to choose from perks that they find practical, enjoyable, fun, useful — whatever they need actually,” she says. 

“If you have employees who are parents they might enjoy a family day at the zoo, but those without kids might not like it, right? Think in terms of different cultures, generations, and professions.”

3. Remember the mission

Your recognition program should be tailored to your own company culture, not a cookie-cutter template borrowed from other firms. 

The program should be used to strengthen company values and encourage employees to meet objectives. 

If you make your recognition criteria specific and pick them to enhance performance outcomes, you can fairly and consistently recognize employees who demonstrate those values through their work and who help your firm achieve its goals. These employees will act as a signpost for other staff, pointing the way towards success.  

Maciek Kubiak explains how PhotoAiD uses its recognition program to “underline strengths that are important” for the company’s goals. 

“One of our main values is experimenting. So, our employees can get extra quarterly benefits for their successful tests and innovative ideas,” he says. 

“This way, our recognition program goes hand in hand with our values.”

4. Recognize and repeat

As we saw, the dopamine hit provided by recognition that makes us feel happy is short-lived and needs to be repeated to encourage desirable behavior. So, make recognition a frequent occurrence. Schedule time every one or two weeks to recognize notable staff contributions.

5. Go digital

A great hybrid employee recognition program needs to be built on a digital platform, for both in-house and remote workers. This will create a single, unified recognition experience for all workers, regardless of their location. What’s more, the reporting features built into most digital recognition platforms will help you avoid any unconscious bias against hybrid and remote workers. 

6. Team up

A great recognition program should make space to reward hybrid teams as a group and let them celebrate together. This is an effective way to foster camaraderie among employees spread across multiple locations.

7. Spread it around

Not all recognition needs to come from the top down. In fact, peer-to-peer recognition has been shown to be twice as good as supervisor recognition. You can encourage a healthy horizontal recognition culture among workers with the right employee recognition software. Software like HiThrive can allow teams to run their own regular nomination campaigns to reward a job well done. 

How should you measure the effectiveness of your hybrid recognition scheme? 

Once your hybrid work recognition program is up and running, you’ll need to keep an eye on it to make sure it's meeting your needs and be prepared to do some tweaking if it falls short. 

So how do you find out what’s working?

Anja Bojic says managers need to “be straightforward and ask”. 

“Ask your employees what they like, what they dislike, what they hate, what they love, what’s useful for them,” she says. 

“Don’t be afraid of the feedback you might get — use it to craft your hybrid employee recognition program better!”

Maciek Kubiak says regular employee surveys are “the best solution from all I have tested so far”. 

“It's an efficient way to identify if employees' work satisfaction is growing,” he says.

Michelle Hague recommends looking at the engagement and productivity of your employees: 

“If you are seeing positive results, then you can be sure that your program is on the right track,” she says.

Christiaan Huynen, CEO and Founder of, says that when giving out awards, “It is very important to remember that most, if not all of the criteria should be based on data that can be measured”. 

“The best way to make sure this happens is to make sure that all of an employee's tasks and responsibilities in a hybrid arrangement are set and agreed upon by both management and the team members,” he says. 

“This makes it easy to see who is going above and beyond what is expected of them, as the starting point is the same for everyone.”

Is your employee recognition program working for your hybrid team? 

A great hybrid work employee recognition program shouldn’t be a pain to implement. With the right recognition software, you should be able to effortlessly integrate recognition into your existing tools and workflow. That way, your hybrid team can experience reward and recognition for their hard work, right in the flow of their everyday tasks. 

HiThrive is built to help you get your recognition program up and running in short order.

Our system seamlessly integrates with your existing enterprise platforms, allowing for manager-employee and peer-to-peer recognition to take place in real-time–not just once a quarter. 

You can tag core values to reinforce the contributions that drive success and customize the platform with your own brand identity., keeping your remote and in-house employees plugged into your company culture, no matter where they are. The built-in insights and reporting tools allow you to analyze performance across multiple locations, track your program’s success, and share data.

Why not schedule a demo today and discover how HiThrive can help you create a better employee recognition program for your hybrid workforce?