Quarantine fatigue. I have it, you have, your employees have it. As we pass the one-year mark of this unprecedented historical shift in the way we as a society conduct both social and professional interactions, it’s impossible to not long for a “return to normalcy.”
From an employee engagement perspective, “normal” often meant holding in-person events like the annual holiday party, company retreats or maybe even corporate dance lessons. It also meant being able to have spontaneous meetups both in and out of the office.
But we may never return to the “normal” way of working: remote work models are here to stay. HR teams need to adjust to these new models and learn how to engage remote or hybrid employees.
Let me get one thing out of the way: in-person team building can be fantastic. It fosters strong connections between colleagues, brings co-workers closer together and increases team morale. Some of my most potent collaborations have occurred outside of the conference room over coffee, cocktails or maybe a few holes of golf.
The downside with in-person engagement is that there’s a very fine line between “Forced Fun” and welcome additions to already full schedules. Even taking quarantine fatigue out of the equation, the same line applies to virtual events and activities.
So how do we continue to engage with colleagues while respecting the need to be apart? Here are eleven tips for staying truly connected with a remote workforce both during and beyond COVID:
1. Don’t mimic in-person experiences
First, and perhaps most importantly, don’t try and fake an in-person event. Use the online medium to your advantage and create a streamlined, on-demand experience for employees. Don’t try too hard to replicate an exact replica of an in-person event online. Re-imagine the experience from a remote worker’s point of view.
2. Replace the water cooler
Start a virtual “water cooler” Zoom Channel — a space where anyone can jump on and interact with colleagues by department or team. Think of it as an open chat, but with video. A lot of teams are starting “lunch” zoom channels for example, where employees can use that time to socialize with each other and catch up.
3. Create information portals for your employees
Create an Employee Resource Center that contains links to all your live video channels as well as other valuable employee resources. Think of some fun and productive themes and assign a task force to keep them fresh!
4. Use clubs to unite people around common interests
Start some after-work-hours virtual clubs: book clubs, recipe sharing, online gaming, virtual “cars & coffee” etc. Clubs are a great way for employees to discover common interests outside of work and build relationships. This style of relationship building has always been useful for building friendships, and it’s more important in a work world where you can’t rely on proximity to create interactions.
5. SWAG out
SWAG – Who doesn’t like free stuff? This past year, my company sent out some awesome SWAG to thank the team. It shows us all we’re very much appreciated — something I’m reminded of every time I take a sip of coffee from my Flimp coffee mug.
6. Lunch & Learns
Prioritize employee career enrichment opportunities despite Covid social distancing protocols. Virtual training and development sessions are a must. Have thought leaders in the company host informal sessions to discuss certain topics of interest or areas for improvement. Don’t stop there, bring in experts to lead these discussions.
7. Use personalized video
Surprise an employee with a video. Did a colleague just achieve a key milestone? Maybe they just joined the company, recently relocated or are feeling a bit isolated. A personalized video can go a long way in making someone feel appreciated or welcome. It doesn’t need to be fancy. A simple video with a handful of employees sharing welcome messages or newbie tips can be edited together on an iPhone. For key milestones, some organizations have gone above and beyond by hiring professional video communicators to create some outstanding pieces.
8. Create quality in-person opportunities
Give teams an in-person event to look forward to. Take a survey of four fun in-person event ideas and let employees vote on which they prefer. Once the results are in, maintain an open channel of communication regarding when and where the in-person event will take place once it’s safe to do so.
9. Set aside budget for improving home offices
A key element to productive remote work is your employees’ home setup. When they walk into their work area, does it inspire them? Does it feel relaxing and comfortable? Or does it feel stressful, overwhelming, messy, or like their setup holds them back? Remote organizations have long set aside money for remote work stipends, enabling remote workers to build a productive setup at home. Consider encouraging remote workers to purchase ergonomically correct chairs, portable standing desks or new lighting.
10. Master informal communication like Github
Github is a company that is famously 100% remote, and has been for a very long time. Looking to Github for inspiration is a good place to start, and luckily their employee handbook is completely open to the public. They have an entire section dedicated to creating informal communication opportunities for remote employees.
11. Try a lot of different fun ideas and see what sticks
Last, but certainly not least, is adding more fun to the mix. Having fun is an essential part of engaging remote employees. But what your employees find to be fun will differ from person to person. It’s important to try a lot of different virtual events and see which ones resonate. Then, you can build out similar activities from there. Looking for ideas to start?
Happy Hour Box – virtual happy hour
Go Game – virtual game show
City Brew Tours – virtual beer & cheese tasting
Let’s Roam – virtual team trivia event
The Escape Game – virtual escape room
Outback Team Building – virtual murder mystery
OnZoom Events – virtual events focused around specific interests
Don’t Be Afraid of Going Remote
Are you planning on going fully remote, or back to 100% in person? It doesn’t have to be an “either or” situation. If you’re like over 55% of US employers, you’re probably considering moving to a hybrid model.
On the employee engagement front, going digital presents the opportunity to offer a much more nimble and flexible array of options. And with other employers following suit, being able to provide an engaging employee experience for remote employees is a serious competitive advantage in the marketplace when attracting and retaining talent.
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