Many employers (and employees alike) understand the importance of rewarding employees, but it can be tough to figure out how to do it right, aka, in creative and meaningful ways.

Creative employee recognition ideas

Types of employee recognition

IMO, employee recognition can be divided into two main categories:

  1. Employer-driven, and
  2. Peer-driven.

Employer-driven recognition is given by the company (or higher-ups) to the employee. This is often displayed in the form of shout-outs, anniversary gifts, birthday decorations, and gift cards.

Peer-driven recognition is given by one employee to another. Because employees don’t have the same power to give their peers physical gifts, this is often shown in the form of public recognition and Slack “thank you”’s.

When it comes to each type of employee recognition—especially peer-driven—it’s obvious we can do better for our teams and for our peers.

The importance of rewarding employees

We spend ⅓ of our lives at work.

Because of this, most times, all employees want to know is that what they’re doing a great job—and that all of their valuable time is worth it.

And it’s certainly understandable why many HR professionals and managers tend to overthink employee recognition. Points systems, gift cards, admin work, oh my!

According to officevibe’s study on employee engagement, 82% of employees think it’s better to give someone praise than a gift. Sometimes, giving meaningful recognition can be as simple as saying, “thank you, you’re awesome”.

Next time you want to recognize a teammate for a job well done, try this formula:

I saw you did (insert thing), here’s what it meant for me/my team (insert impact), and this is what it says about you (insert positive trait).

Creative employee recognition ideas for remote teams

We mentioned earlier the importance of building a culture of not only employer-driven recognition but peer-driven recognition as well. This comes especially in handy with remote teams.

HR resource: Three common compliance things to keep in mind when working with remote teams.

A huge benefit of peer-driven (or Peer to Peer, as we like to call it) recognition is its tendency to help build shared leadership.

This type of recognition reminds the whole team what they’re working towards and that their work isn’t just landing somewhere in a far-off galaxy. And with a remote team, peer-driven recognition can take many different forms, but there are plenty of ways to establish a peer recognition program that sets the tone for positive company culture—even if that culture lives online. 

Establishing a peer recognition program

1. Make it visible to your whole team 

Create a Slack channel or open forum that your whole team has access to. Giving praise that’s visible to the entire company is oftentimes more valued by the employee and it can influence behavior across teams. Just like in your favorite rom-com, a confession of love and appreciation that’s publicly displayed is far more influential than a private proclamation.

2. Be consistent 

Make recognizing employees a part of your weekly messaging, that way your employees know when to expect it and will be encouraged to give kudos of their own. So, let’s say every Friday in your kudos-specific Slack channel, you get the ball rolling by giving a shout out and from there other remote employees can add compliments and claps as they see fit.

Many times, team members will see work that they’re really impressed with, but move on without acknowledging their co-workers. This can be especially true in a remote setting, so having a consistent place to put those types of comments make team members all the more inclined to share their compliments.

3. Weave it into the culture 

Remind team leads how important it is that they not only recognize their members but encourage their team to give shout outs to one another.

Cue: “We’re All In This Together” from the hit film “High School Musical”.

4. Keep it real

Be genuine. Don’t just add it as a part of your weekly to-do list. The fastest way to kill an effort is to start doing it as a matter of habit. Give kudos to people who are really earning their recognition, and only when you truly appreciate it.

Positive peer to peer recognition is a powerful and often overlooked way to reward your employees. It goes a long way, but here are a few other, more creative ideas to add to your reward & recognition program tool belt.

1. Offer home office perks 

The great thing about having an office for your employees is the technology they might not have access to at home, and that technology can make a huge impact on their day-to-day.

Having a tablet, an extra monitor, or high-end headphones could make their job more satisfying. But rather than choosing things for your remote or flexible employees to have at their disposal when not at HQ, consider giving employees a home office allowance. It’s a perfect way to show your employees you care about their workspace and want their working day to go by as seamlessly as possible.

2. Celebrate together

Even when your team is entirely remote, celebrating wins—both big and small—is a great way to connect with your team.

Take TaxJar, for example. Their team is completely remote, and they still manage to make a giant celebration out of birthdays and anniversaries They even recently held a successful team-wide “Cake Wars” competition. It takes a bit more effort, but you can have your remote team and celebrate it too. See what we did there? 😏

3. Support learning and development

Rewarding your team with an opportunity to continue their education shows that you understand their need to expand their development. You could give your team access to online training courses with an online service, or simply gift them with an allowance that goes directly to education.

At Zestful, we give our employees $365 a year to spend on education and that allows our team members to expand their skills or learn something new in whatever way works best for them.

4. Surprise your team members

If you want to go above and beyond, sending a team member something unexpected is a thoughtful gesture to show your appreciation for their hard work. Plus, everyone loves getting goodies in the mail—so going the extra mile by sending cookies, gift cards, flowers or a cake is a sweet way to reward your employees.

Storytime: When out sick recently, Zestful team member Kate received a flower arrangement from her peers… that looked just like her dog. “It cheered me up instantly,” Kate said, “and those kinds of caring gestures are irreplaceable.” ❤️

5. Bring everyone together

Having a remote team is a tremendous asset, however, there’s nothing that can replace an in-person gathering to foster connections and make recognition come to life. If your budget allows it, consider hosting a biannual team gathering.

This can take the form of a company-wide retreat, an in-office hack day, or an all-team vacation. Making the effort to bring your team together in person here and there will ultimately make their remote relationships stronger.

As you start thinking about ways to implement rewards recognition for both your in-office crew and remote team members, remember to encourage peer to peer appreciation, stay consistent and genuine in your efforts, and think about rewards that make your team members feel valued. This will lead to more successful communication and overall job satisfaction among your employees.

And to that, we say:


Sierra Carter (she/her) is a freelance copywriter based in Chicago. As a creative copywriter, her writing is rooted in storytelling. She's worked with a variety of clients including StarKist, TAMKO, S&T Bank, British Airways, Michigan Ross University and SHOP 'n SAVE.

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