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This Philly company is managing remote-work stress by gamifying employee rewards

By August 9, 2023No Comments

(This column originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer)

More people are working remotely than ever before. That can be an attractive benefit for employees and a cost saver for employers, but it can also create challenges for many employers. A recent Gallup report found that debates about in-person versus remote work are a leading cause of stress for many workers.

How can employers address this problem while still making sure that your remote employees are being productive? What can be done to maintain a positive company culture when you employ people who are spread out among geographic areas? While some companies use software to monitor their employees, others have succeeded with a more positive approach: team-building applications.

“Humans are social animals,” said Raphael Crawford-Marks, the CEO of Bonusly, a popular team-building and rewards platform that’s used by thousands of workers around the world. “We build trust and rapport much more easily when we are having in-person interactions with our colleagues and companies allowing their employees to work from home are looking for ways to keep those interactions and maintain relationships.” and other rewards and team building platforms like Awardco, Worktango and Motivosity aim to help solve that problem. These applications are being used by a growing number of companies to improve employee happiness and engagement, help to boost collaboration and to provide awards to employees for a job well done, regardless of where they’re located.

While each application has its own specific features the approach is generally the same: Using a mobile app or a desktop browser, a manager or fellow employee can award points to their colleagues as recognition for achieving certain goals or to highlight good effort. The points accumulate over a period of time and can then be cashed in for actual rewards like gift cards, donations to charities, company “swag” or straight cash.

“From our executive team to our entry-level positions everyone has access to our rewards application,” said Shakena Lum-Cox, a director of talent development and diversity at Benefits Data Trust in Philadelphia. “Managers and senior leaders as well as any other staff person are able to give to their teams and team members give back to each other. It’s really helped our company culture.”

In 2019, Benefits Data Trust, which helps people in communities nationwide access benefit programs and employs more than 300 employees across the country, was looking for a tool that could help workers focus on achieving certain key internal metrics as well celebrate their staff who worked directly with clients. After initially starting with a small group, their team building application (Bonusly) was deployed company-wide with significant success. And then 2020 happened.

“When the pandemic hit we became a remote-first organization,” said Lum-Cox. “We knew that being in the office is easier to recognize good work but as we grew and employed more people around the country we expanded our team building application to keep us all together, even though we weren’t in the office.”

Lum-Cox says that her company’s internal rewards platform has become an important way for managers to make sure that their staff are still connected.

“People can use the platform to really recognize each other for their good work and have a sense of togetherness and celebrate wins across teams,” she said.

For employees, the benefits are simple: compensation in various forms for a job well done and even a way to be recognized for an anniversary, birthday or other milestone. For managers, team building applications go even further by providing performance metrics for workers that can then be used in employee reviews and help determine annual pay raises and bonuses. Most importantly, it’s all done in real-time.

“Recognition is a form of positive feedback,” said Crawford-Marks. “It needs to be timely, it needs to be frequent, it needs to be visible.”

There are some drawbacks, however. Some organizations may not like the “competitiveness” that the software creates, others may bristle at getting a reward for what is considered to be just part of their normal job responsibilities and there are always people who prefer not to be in the spotlight.

Like any benefit, there is an added cost to the employer as well. In addition to the software’s monthly fee (Bonusly costs anywhere from $3-$5 per month per employee with custom pricing available) an employer would have to fund the purchase of gift cards or other awards and cash payments.

I also mention — being an accountant — that employers need to be careful how they treat these awards for tax purposes. In most cases, the IRS would consider these payments as compensation and would be both taxable and reportable on their annual W-2 form.

Regardless, I’ve personally seen many companies use a rewards platform to integrate with their existing payroll or human resources system so that they can build a better culture in this remote working world and enable their workers to stay focused on their goals. More importantly, it helps to bring employees together even when they’re working in another part of the world.

“It’s hard to build a team culture when so many people are working from home,” said Lum-Cox. “Our application has really helped us to keep our company’s values up front for our employees.”

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