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The rise of digital gifts in the workplace

by Helen J. Wolf
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Article by Shouta CEO Carly Shamgar.

Nathan Gyaneshwar knows a thing or two about hospitality. It’s the bread and butter of his start-up, an online marketplace that supplies the world’s leading hotel chains.

The first rule of hospitality: timing is everything.

In the case of workplace valuation, the timing was once every quarter. After the dust settled on the financial reporting, senior management would pick a few all-star employees for recognition and mail them a company-branded gift certificate.

One day, weeks away from the end of the next quarter, the employees opened their emails to find a digital gift card waiting for them — for no reason other than to acknowledge their efforts. More employees were receiving gifts than ever, and while the amount each had to spend was smaller, somehow the surprise of the contribution made it grander, like a bottle of champagne sent to your room, compliments from the concierge.

This response sums up why Gyaneshwar thinks digital gifts are more than a fad. In corporate cultures where time is of the essence, he is one of many CEOs who recognize the positive potential of instant gratification and instant appreciation.

Digital gifts – same thought, new packaging

Before we go any further, let’s take a moment to unpack what a “digital gift” is. The name explains the most; it is a gift you receive virtually. But a misconception about digital gifts is that they must be redeemed almost.

In reality, a digital gift has all the benefits of a gift card or prepaid credit card, with the added convenience of being accessible from your phone. Tap and pay at your local cafe/restaurant/cinema, just like you would with any card in your smartphone’s digital wallet. Same behavior, now tied with a (virtual) bow.

Less administration than old-school

Employees’ preference for digital gifts over “analog” alternatives is a bonus, but for many CEOs, the move to a digital platform starts with their schedules.

The current work trends indicate that working from home will continue to exist even after the new normal is no longer fresh. Eliminating the commute can make the workday easier but complicate certain administrative tasks, such as coordinating gifts and rewards. Before the shift to remote working, custom printing and sending gift cards were costly and time-consuming. For Gyaneshwar, the switch to digital was a no-brainer: “The process of recognizing people has no administrative burden. If I want to recognize someone, I can do it now. I don’t have to talk to anyone.”

Not only is there less red tape, but there are also fewer red-line items, as digital gifts reduce printing and postage. This cost meant it was only worth sending gifts starting at $50; now, CEOs can easily yell a $5 coffee or a $10 Friday drink at their employees.

The general trend towards more gifts in smaller steps bodes well for employee culture. Especially in our virtual workplace, where face-to-face interactions are more limited than ever, employees notice every gesture of appreciation, no matter how small.

Digital gifts – not just internally

Boosting workplace morale is just the beginning — or the end, if you’re CEO Ray Wang. After noting market confusion about the payment platform in his company’s workplace, Wang targeted potential customers with an email survey.

Now an email survey by itself is almost destined for the spam folder. So Wang decided to experiment by offering a small reward as a digital gift that recipients could redeem once the survey ended. Immediate gratification yielded immediate results: Wang’s survey garnered 200 responses from a highly targeted audience by spending half the marketing budget.

Now the CEO is brainstorming other ways to leverage the virtual goodie box to boost employee recruitment and retention. “There aren’t any restrictions on how you use it,” she says. “It fits everyone’s lifestyle, especially how we live now. The possibilities are endless.”

Not a bad way to give a gift

They say, ‘it’s the thought that counts,’ and it turns out that an age-old saying is more true than ever in the digital age. Digital gifts encourage leaders in various industries to think about how and how often they show their appreciation to teams and customers.

You could argue that gifts in the workplace aren’t going anywhere. I’d say the opposite: with intuitive digital platforms, workplace gifts are now going everywhere. It’s only a matter of time before they reach your workplace.

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