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Team Appreciation Is More Critical Than Ever. Here's How To Show You Mean It

VTS CEO and co-founder Nick Romito

Even on a good day, more than half of U.S. workers are unhappy in their jobs. During the coronavirus pandemic, recent studies reveal that percentage is even higher. 

Now, as more companies are offering their employees the option to work from home "indefinitely," managers, HR and business owners are forced to consider this caveat: Studies have found that remote workers tend to be more disengaged and harder to retain. Other studies dug in deeper and indicated that perhaps it’s not the employees that are the issue, but management

With the extra distance between managers and employees and the reduced ability to check in and boost morale, companies that had never done much in the way of "team appreciation" find themselves scrambling to show they care. And companies that had always practiced team appreciation find themselves needing to boost efforts into high gear.

Multifamily owner, development and property management firm Bainbridge has just traded up its annual team appreciation week into an entire fiscal quarter. Beyond Zoom happy hours, commercial real estate companies are sending pandemic care packages, maintaining ongoing anonymous surveys where employees can safely voice their concerns, launching newsletters and holding online pet meet-and-greets to try to make sure their teams know they care. 

But keeping people engaged and conveying your sincere appreciation without being there in person is a challenge, and some efforts will inevitably fall flat. Bisnow sat down (virtually, of course) with Nick Romito, co-founder and CEO of VTS, which in June was flagged by Globe St. as one of CRE’s "Best Places to Work" in 2020.

Romito shares some advice on how his company has built team appreciation into the company culture. 

Set Your Baseline 

Romito said that leadership should expect employees to reflect the company's values in their work. But if an employee goes above and beyond, that's when special recognition is in order.

“Set your baseline,” Romito said. "Decide what constitutes "exceptional." What are the values or goals you want your team to chase? If they achieve them, you will know that's worth celebrating."

Build Appreciation Into Your Company’s DNA

Through semi-annual "Values Awards," a monthly "Values Spotlight," and a constant, real-time feed of shoutouts in an appreciation-focused Slack channel called '"VTS Wins," the company recognizes members of its 250-person team who’ve done something to stand out.

Plus, Romito said, each department at VTS has its own ongoing series of awards or nominations. 

Of the Slack channel, he said: “You’ll see the whole thing filling up with ‘amazing job.’ It’s now become part of our culture.”

And when team appreciation becomes a part of a company’s culture, leadership will figure out ways to build it into everything they do. Each department now has its own appreciation program.

“They’re recognizing people all the time.”

“In 2020, people shouldn’t have to wear their mission on their sleeve,” Romito said. “They should feel motivated by the fact that they’re on a team that celebrates them all the time, and candidly, that also lets them know when they’re not doing great. It’s a culture of accountability.”

Romito added that accountability as a counterbalance to the celebration of good performance is what makes the latter authentic and gratifying, as opposed to just a gesture. “We’re not a fan of participation medals.” 

Source Employee Praise From Peers

“When the nominations come from the folks on the front lines, that’s so much more valuable,” Romito told Bisnow.

Katie Higgins, director of public relations and content at VTS, added: “It’s a really cool process when you see these nominations flood in. We ask for specific examples [of how an employee has gone above and beyond with regard to a particular company value]. Nick gets up and does a presentation for every employee per value, and is able to list direct quotes from other employees — what they’re saying about each other — and it’s just a pretty cool experience as a recipient of that award to see the CEO of the company running through all of these amazing things your co-workers have said about you.”

Don’t Waste Time On Empty Gestures

Compliments are nice, but how can you make sure your team knows you mean it?

In the semi-annual, nomination-based team recognition ceremonies, each of six award recipients receives a $1K bonus.

The financial incentive isn’t enough to necessarily motivate employees on its own, Romito said, but it demonstrates a commitment on the part of the company that lets employees know this isn’t just an obligatory pat on the back.

Romito said that modest investments of time and budget to recognize employees pay off. 

“We’ve seen that the happier people are, the better they work. Those two things are very connected, and we’ve seen the ROI there.”

Contact Alexandra Marvar at