Virtual High Fives Build Trust and Improve Team Camaraderie

Here’s the kind of basketball statistic you probably don’t see “passed around” much (…pun intended…). During the 2009 NBA season, legendary basketball star Steve Nash, then with the Phoenix Suns, gave his teammates some sort of gesture of support or affirmation—a high five, low five, slap on the back, and that kind of thing—an average of 239 times per game. It’s the kind of thing that undoubtedly had a tremendous impact on his team’s cohesiveness and performance.

Spark a Change 

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With many of us now working from home or working on projects with colleagues based in different states, we may wonder if there is a way for us to show appreciation on our new, virtual “home court”? There are a few tips to make an impact on how we recognize hard work in the digital workspace.  I did some research to find some ideas about morale boosting options that will benefit the federal community. I learned that there are a variety of creative options available to make a difference.

Leverage the Tech to Recognize a Virtual Workforce

“Team messaging apps, such as Slack and more recently Microsoft Teams, are fantastic platforms for reproducing an in-office dynamic of “interconnectedness, empathy, and trust,” says Eileen Lopez-Tome, acting assistant associate director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Field Operations Directorate’s Program Management Office.

According to Lopez-Tome, “a simple act, such as tagging a teammate’s message with a thumbs-up emoji or smiley face, shows that you hear and appreciate their point of view.” She encourages employees to consider tagging someone with an ‘at’ symbol (@) to share praise about their accomplishments in an easy and meaningful way on a public forum. She stated that these “small gestures go a long way towards building an upward spiral of trust, improving camaraderie, and reinforcing that it’s all about the team.”

Make the extra effort to reach out and recognize a teammate. Just like an in-person high five, it may feel awkward the first few times, but with practice, it may quickly become second nature, and you might see the profound positive effect this has on you and your team.

Turning gears of a virtual high five Tips to Share Virtual High Fives

  • If your team uses a digital communication platform, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, consider using emojis and the “like” buttons liberally to virtually reach out and high-five your teammates.
  • If a teammate makes a comment or suggestion, don’t leave them hanging. Tag their message with a virtual high five!
  • Tag a teammate with an “@” in a public forum to recognize the good work they are doing. For example, you can write: “@johnsmith, way to go leading that tough meeting!”
  • Did you notice that a teammate expressed frustration during a morning team meeting? Give them a quick call to check in on them. The worst that can happen is they might realize you care about them.
  • Designate the “dead space” before or after virtual meetings as informal water cooler time for team members to touch base with one another. This allows staff with hectic schedules breather time and an opportunity to connect with peers.
  • Schedule optional after-hours “Virtual Happy Hours” (using personal devices) with teammates to informally gather and stay connected outside of work in a more relaxed environment.


Authors: J. Brett Hollowell and Ju Suh, Field Operations Directorate, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency.

Note: The mention of various entities, services or technologies is not an endorsement or promotion. It is simply a reference.