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Social distancing is going to kill your employee retention unless you do this one thing

When you consider that leading a team effectively results from the leader’s ability to build trust and rapport with others, a barrier, real or perceived, creates new obstacles.

Social distancing is going to kill your employee retention unless you do this one thing
[Source images: manopjk/iStock; RakicN/iStock]

This past week, I was scanning through my Facebook feed when I came across a video of someone cutting hair with a clear plastic barrier between themselves and their customer.

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I’ll admit that my first thought was, “Who has this contraption in place so that I can go get a haircut?”

After reflecting on this for a bit, however, it struck me that the pandemic and the changes in how we interact with one another in work settings will, in many ways, place a barrier between leaders and their teams.

Consider, for example, the last time you spoke with your employees face-to-face. If it was recently (possibly you’re one of the few businesses permitted to maintain your operations), then you were likely at least six feet apart and minimizing the length and frequency of your interactions.

There was, and will continue to be, an invisible barrier between you and your team.

When you consider that leading a team effectively results from the leader’s ability to build trust and rapport with others, a barrier, real or perceived, creates new obstacles.

The lack of physical interaction will be yet another barrier, even for those who will not return to an office environment, but instead will be leading a team that works virtually.

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How will leaders break through and maintain or improve their level of trust with their team when these barriers exist?

Personalized appreciation

Over the past several years, I’ve managed a virtual team, which, at one point, consisted of 20 team members, all living in different parts of the country, working remotely.

Since I personally spent considerable time traveling, there were many long phone calls, Zoom meetings, and periodic personal face-to-face meetings, albeit without the physical distancing limitations we have today.

These interactions all helped to communicate effectively, but even combined, they did little to build trust. It wasn’t until I began using what I call “personalized experiences” that I began to experience a shift in how employees communicated, both with myself and with others on the team.

It began with something simple, like sending a handwritten thank-you card for no reason other than to say, “Thank you for a job well done.” The response to such a simple approach was powerful, with employees often calling me immediately upon receiving the cards to say thank you.

So, I took this idea of personalized appreciation and began to expand on it, transitioning from a handwritten card to a gift card, to a small gift. I then transitioned to sending personal messages of thanks by text and video, all with the objective of creating a strong sense of appreciation and building trust and rapport in the process.

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Consider the individual

Fortunately, personalizing appreciation does not have to be time-consuming, although to get started, you may want to schedule time in your calendar to ensure it happens.

Begin by considering the individual.

What’s something unique about them that you appreciate? Possibly it’s their willingness to speak up in meetings, how they recognize other members of the team for their efforts, or a small task they completed for you that was helpful.

Then consider how best you might offer this appreciation in a personalized manner. You could write a note on a card that specifically mentions what you appreciate, or you can recognize them in a meeting, allowing their peers to share in the appreciation.

Whatever way you choose to recognize them, make sure you balance your efforts across the team. It might be easy to come up with something you appreciate about your star performers, and more difficult for others. But when you invest the time in finding something unique you appreciate about everyone, you bring the collective level of trust and rapport up across the team.

Personalize recognition and gratitude

Consider the last time you received something that made you think you were appreciated or special. Possibly it was a card in the mail, or a gift card sent to you via email. I recall receiving a personalized card from a past boss of mine in the mail, with no rhyme or reason as to why it was sent. On the inside of the card, my boss wrote, “Shawn, thanks for all that you do for us!”

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That little card still sits upon the shelf in my home office to this day as a reminder of how simple, personalized experiences can go a long way toward building trust and rapport.

Sure, the idea of sending a personalized card, message, or small token of appreciation isn’t new. That said, it also isn’t a strategy that many leaders use on a consistent basis with their teams. Statistics from several institutions have been telling us this for years.

So, at a time when we all have physical and mental barriers being introduced between us, it’s important that, as leaders, we find new ways to build trust and rapport between ourselves and our employees. Demonstrating appreciation through personalized experiences is just one, albeit simple, way that can ensure we maintain trust, rapport, and engagement.


Shawn Casemore is a speaker and facilitator who works with entrepreneurs and business leaders to align their teams, “wow” their customers, and grow their businesses.

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