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by Darius Mirshahzadeh, Endeavor American Loan Services | August 04, 2014
Employee recognition used to be solely handled by the manager or company executive. This top-down approach had its flaws, but worked well enough to survive in the traditional workplace where employees and managers meet, mingle, and interact on a daily basis.

But in a world where many employees now work remotely, employee recognition and incentives must adapt. At Endeavor America Loan Services, we let employees take the lead in an employee recognition system that is democratic, inclusive and engaging, and have seen that effort pay off in a highly productive workforce with low turnover and high morale. Although we are based  in Walnut Creek, CA, we have remote workers who live throughout the U.S.

From the start of our company, we recognized that employees are the best evaluators of performance. So we put incentives and rewards in their hands to increase engagement, collaboration, and teamwork. In the past, democratizing employee recognition would have required a significant time investment and ongoing administrative manpower. But today, technology allows these programs to be run efficiently with minimal oversight. 

Endeavor America Loan Services uses YouEarnedIt, a software platform that allows every Endeavor America Loan Services employee to reward or recognize a co-worker for performance. The software is simple and saves managers the time and expense of building an employee recognition system from the ground up.

YouEarnedIt allows employees to award points to fellow employees based on their performance. Points can be used for prizes, vacation time, unique rewards or professional training. The rewards are given and received in real-time, allowing employees to be rewarded instantaneously for a professional accomplishment. This pattern of recognition reinforces excellent customer service, teamwork and leadership as it happens, connecting a remote workforce through real-time digital feedback. 

For the most part we have designed the rewards so that they can be enjoyed regardless of a remote or on-site locale, however some rewards are more relevant for employees who walk into an office everyday, while others are clearly designed for a remote team member. 

For example our “Jeans for a Week” reward would probably not get someone too motivated if they are working out of their home office where a dress code is not enforced. On the other hand, getting a new ergonomic chair is definitely a great reward for a remote employee who supplies their own office furniture. 

We try to make the rewards gratifying regardless of location, while also keeping the rewards meaningful and balanced for both on-site and off-site employees since some rewards may appeal to one group more than the other in some instances. 

Another thing we do to make the rewards interesting is ask the employees what rewards they would like to see as part of the program. We keep an open mind and allow the employees to have a voice to help make the program more meaningful to the team.

Our commitment to an employee-led recognition program started long before choosing a software platform, however. It all started with the creation of the company’s core values. Our core values and our employee recognition program are inextricably linked. Every award of points in YouEarnedIt is based on our four core values: People Matter, Inspiring Leadership, Strength of Character, Rock Solid Service.

The core values set the standard for the company’s culture. And with a strong company culture in place, employee rewards are based on how well an employee meets or exceeds a company’s cultural goals.

A remote workforce presents both opportunities and challenges for managers and company executives. In the right environment and with the right culture and recognition, remote workers can be highly productive and highly satisfied. In the wrong setting and without the motivation of a strong culture and strong feedback from fellow employees, remote workers can be set adrift in an aimless work world of low motivation and low morale.

We couple YouEarnedIt recognition with regular care packages to remote employees, consistent training programs and team-building exercises that place employees in teams that match their skills.

We believe that employee recognition embedded into the very fabric of a company’s operation is a critical step towards recruiting, retaining and getting the most from remote workers. And coupled with a strong company culture, employee incentives can be the building blocks of a highly productive and highly connected workforce, even when employees rarely meet face to face.

Endeavor America Loans Services’ employee recognition efforts have paid off. Our remote workers are productive and engaged. They feel a strong attachment to a team, even if its members are separated by thousands of miles. Our recruiting costs are non-existent, as employee referrals bring in qualified candidates. And staff turnover, in an industry known for a high rate of instability, is nearly non-existent.

Building a strong company culture and employee recognition program takes an investment of time, effort and resources. But the rewards of recognizing excellence, especially when your employees work remotely, is well worth the effort.

Darius John Mirshahzadeh is the President of Endeavor America Loan Services, a national wholesale and correspondent mortgage bank headquartered in Walnut Creek, CA, that he founded with Mike Mirshahzadeh and Ali Vafai.