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November 13th, 2020

How to foster recognition in a distributed team

  • portrait of Rasa


When it comes to talking about feedback at work, people often focus on how to deliver negative feedback or suggest ways to improve. A lot of people forget about the other side: positive feedback and recognition, which in my opinion, is just as important. When someone recognizes and shows appreciation for my work, it motivates and challenges me to be even better at what I do.

Like many companies, Rasa made a sudden switch to working from home in March, until we could slowly begin the partial return to the Berlin office. And for Rasa employees distributed around the world, the switch to remote would be here to stay. We decided to embrace a remote-first mindset, allowing all employees the option to work from home and making a conscious effort to be more inclusive towards those who had always worked remotely. We adjusted many internal processes like onboarding and hiring, but we also thought about ways to make sure open communication and feedback didn't go silent as the company moved fully virtual.

In particular, we saw an opportunity to strengthen our process for sharing recognition and positive feedback. While our team was certainly doing an awesome job both before and after the switch to remote work, working from home made it harder to share immediate feedback and quick thank yous. We realized we needed specific initiatives to foster recognition.

How you communicate feedback and appreciation matters in a remote environment, since all interactions happen online and not face to face. You might hesitate to give someone a shoutout in Slack, when it would be second nature to thank them in person when you cross paths at the coffee machine. Whether the recognition is for something big or small, at Rasa we want to highlight different ways to give feedback and express recognition - and even which channels can be used.

What we have done so far

There is no doubt that a remote-first work environment requires a different approach to employee recognition initiatives.

Even before going remote-first, Rasa has always emphasized transparent communication on Slack. We dedicated a Slack channel for shout-outs from the team where everyone can send a public message tagging their teammate(s) and sending out a virtual "Thank You for being You!" with a short explanation of why the shoutout is being given. As simple as this sounds, shoutouts provide an important confirmation that your project(s) and the work you do matters to your co-workers. That's why we don't just say "Amazing job" to a colleague, we also give an example or additional comment that says what they've done exceptionally and even how they made you feel by doing it.

Another way to give recognition is by signing up for a shoutout at the All-Hands (our company-wide online meeting). We dedicated a slide to thanking other team members out in the open for everyone to see, and believe me - it is a fantastic feeling to give and receive warm words from your fellow colleagues. To make it even more personal, we ask everyone who wrote a shoutout to read it out loud.

In addition to feedback among peers, we also have structured feedback talks every 6 months plus weekly 1-on-1s with managers. These are important opportunities to freely discuss feedback and receive or give recognition. Every manager has their own style, but we all try to create a safe space to share our thoughts and have meaningful conversations. It is even more important in difficult times to have an honest conversation and check in to see if you are on the right track.

Feedback talks and 1-on-1s with a manager are not the only time we recognize one another - we celebrate Rasa Open Source releases together (also virtually!) and we recognize all the great work we have done as a team when we meet for our bi-annual team offsites. There is definitely a learning curve to giving meaningful positive feedback - not just a "Good job" but what was done incredibly well and how it made you feel personally.

All these initiatives are just the beginning - there is much more to do and more ways to recognize the amazing job that everyone is doing at Rasa. It is a continuous process - iterating and testing just like everything else.

It may seem like a natural thing to give spontaneous shout-outs and say "thank you" to a colleague who just did an outstanding job, however, it becomes harder if you have to do it asynchronously or while working from home. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize the amazing work that your fellow teammates are doing - and give recognition in a timely manner and with a clearly defined comment on what was done well. It not only gives a positive mood boost but also gives a confirmation that actions and projects matter, and that your work matters.