Points North

6 Ways to Boost Employee Engagement with Virtual Experiences

on Mar 31, 2021 in Business

If you’re reading this, you’re likely already on board with the importance of employee happiness and its benefits to your team, organization and business goals. But just to set the stage, here’s a (sharable) reminder of the benefits of tending to your company culture:

Oh, the Humanity!

The most important aspect of your team is that it’s — wait for it — made of people. Talented people that want to have a sense of belonging. Your people need to feel connected now more than ever — a tall order while we all do our best to avoid in-person contact. Luckily it’s not an impossible feat with a little thought and purposeful execution. 

Company Culture Affects Employee Engagement

But beyond the humanity of it all, a sense of belonging and connectedness will benefit you as a team, a leader and a business.

According to Harvard Business Review, when employees feel that sense of belonging, the company bottom line benefits. “High belonging was linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. For a 10,000-person company, this would result in annual savings of more than $52M.” Employees perform better, are more loyal and are less burnt out.

The Importance of a (Virtual) Water Cooler Remains

The office water cooler is for more than just talking about the latest episode of WandaVision — it’s also a means impromptu work chats and informal idea sharing, both of which add to the feelings of belonging and engagement. 

And what’s more, that sense of belonging, engagement and happiness for an individual, creates better colleagues.

When we don’t have the water cooler, we remain in our siloes so that we aren’t connecting, we aren’t communicating, and we are missing out on these small but key office-cooler-only connection points. Office banter makes for a smoother operation with fewer hiccups, all of which lead to a happier work life.

Harvard Business Review expands on the idea that belonging is tied to performance, “Employees with higher workplace belonging also showed a 167% increase in their employer promoter score (their willingness to recommend their company to others). They also received double the raises, and 18 times more promotions.” The increase in employee pay and promotions is a result of their increased engagement that led to increased performance.

Now that it’s even more clear that team building is critical, what can you virtually do about it? Employee-focused companies are increasingly using a wide range of virtual experiences — all with different goals — to reinforce belonging, team building and to contribute to a positive culture. 

Fresh Zoom Ideas for Reinvigorating Employee Engagement

Whether you’ve been searching for new ideas — big or small — or have intended to implement some cultural activities but haven’t had the time to do the research, here are 6 tried and tested ideas to choose from (or implement them all!) to maximize culture and team engagement:

Idea #1: The Rotating Coffee or Lunch Hang

Let’s start out with a fairly simple, but impactful option: The virtual coffee or lunch date. This is a low-lift option that’s easy to implement. Employees who opt in (and they can opt out at any time) will each week be randomly assigned a colleague to virtually have coffee or lunch with (their choice). 

During these hangs, participants should keep the conversation more fun and light in an effort to get to know each other better. The goal here isn’t to talk about work projects or tasks but to get to know each other, build that sense of belonging and camaraderie that, in turn, benefit projects, work and employee happiness over the long term. 

For those talking for the first time, it might be a little intimidating. To make it less intimidating, you could offer some suggested starter questions such as, “Fave childhood memory” or “Fave TV show you are currently watching.”

Here are a few tools that make this easy to implement and manage on autopilot:

Idea #2: All-Company Virtual Events

The all-company virtual events take a bit more planning but with so many virtual experiences available, they don’t have to be a huge burden. Whether you decide to block off an entire afternoon for a series of events or host one all-company activity, there are a number of fun virtual experiences available. 

Find a brewery or winery who will do a virtual tasting. For example, one tech company chose Sierra Nevada to host a virtual beer tasting. Sierra Nevada provided a list of four different beers that they would be discussing during the tasting. Each employee could then choose the beers they wanted to purchase for the tasting and the company reimbursed them for $15 worth of Sierra Nevada.

Other events I’ve seen have included:

Idea #3: Add a Twist to Your Virtual Happy Hours

The virtual happy hour isn’t new, but may need a twist to keep it fresh and fun. One team I worked with recently had a standing “happy hour” meeting every Friday from 4:45 – 5:00 as a way to wind down before signing off for the weekend and to have some casual team time outside of the usual team meeting.

Adding a twist may mean:

  • Using a random question generator and each person gets a new question
  • Providing a dedicated time for shout outs. Being intentional with recognition and gratitude is a great way to reinforce a sense of belonging and provide group recognition and visibility into how their peers are working together.

And with virtual onboarding and offboarding being new for everyone, the virtual happy hour is a great way to welcome new members to the team or to thank members who are moving on to different roles. 

Idea #4: Quarterly/Annual Strategy Sessions

Strategy and brainstorming sessions can still be successful virtually with a little planning, thought and structure. A few tips and tricks to consider as you plan a strategy session:

  • Make sure one or two people are in charge of thinking through, structuring and prepping for the day. What are the outcomes for the day? What are the tools/documents you need to collaborate and achieve these outcomes? What information does the team need to know in advance?
  • What is the best structure for the meeting? Is this one long group discussion or does it make sense to divide and conquer by splitting into breakout groups and then bringing your ideas/work back to the group? Is there any prep work that can be assigned in advance by individuals or the group? If the goal of the session is to create a bunch of ideas and then choose a few, think about how you want to arrive at your final choices. Ranked choice voting? Does everyone get 5 votes to use them how they see fit?
  • Regardless of how the day is planned (even if it’s a chunk of time dedicated to solo work), make sure the time is blocked on everyone’s calendars in advance. It’s also best to let key colleagues who aren’t joining the meeting know you are unavailable during this time block. If you use Slack or Teams, mark yourself as do not disturb.

Idea #5: The All-Company Meeting

All-hands meetings are possibly more important now than ever, ensuring that everyone feels up-to-date, engaged and bought in to what’s happening with the company and other departments. 

You may learn that frequency and length may need to be adjusted from your prior cadence based on content and appetite for meetings of various lengths. Some companies meet monthly, some have shorter meetings every two weeks, keeping the agenda fairly focused.

In addition to the regular updates such as company goal and revenue tracking or major product updates, here are a few extra agenda items to consider:

  • Training sessions, whether this be product-specific or general productivity training
  • Celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries
  • Introduce new employees, thank exiting employees
  • Ice breakers in breakout rooms
  • Elicit content from non-management team members as well
  • If your company is on the smaller size, introduce shout outs in this format as well

Idea #6: Unlock Individual Potential with (Virtual) Employee Coaching

Coming full circle with the data we discussed at the beginning of this article, a number of forward-thinking companies are offering additional benefits and resources such as the help of confidential coaches for employees. Bravely is one such company created to connect employees with professional coaches who provide a confidential outlet and the tools they need.

As the team at Bravely puts it, “Any moment in an employee’s life at work can be make-or-break. Over time, all of these experiences collectively build—or erode—a company’s culture and performance.” Offering a solution such as this not only shows your commitment to employee engagement and company culture, it helps each of your employees actively engage in the improvement and ownership of that culture. 

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