We were in survival mode when the COVID pandemic struck in March 2020, but now we need to think about moving forward. Despite not knowing everything about the pandemic – its timeline, long-term impacts, and when we’ll get back to “normal” – we as tech entrepreneurs have to keep plugging along. But, one thing is critically different: employee engagement and wellness is no longer optional.
Pre-pandemic, there were many studies linking employee engagement to revenue growth and innovation, but now it’s a matter of survival. As we grapple with a new remote reality and struggle with the mental health fallout from COVID, employee engagement and wellness is a topic that has to be prioritized as part of every work day.
As Co-founder and CEO of virtual employee experiences company Wavy, I’ve helped tech companies across Canada, the US, and UK host virtual events that are actually fun and design a remote company culture that’s meaningful. Here are some key takeaways I’ve seen for how to prioritize employee engagement during a pandemic:
Opportunities to connect are critical
You simply can’t have a successful, connected, thriving team without building opportunities for connection – in a remote world, they don’t happen automatically. To truly succeed during the pandemic (and beyond), you need two kinds of connection opportunities:
- Ongoing light touchpoints: Asking how people are doing during stand up or ad-hoc check-ins can go a long way. Opting for video or audio vs. written chats makes a big difference!
- Focused experiences: Carving out time to connect and build new shared experiences that aren’t about work. Without the office, it’s hard for impromptu outings/experiences to happen. Setting aside (and prioritizing) the time for socializing with colleagues is a must!
Mix physical and digital
No one likes lengthy Zoom webinars where you stare at a screen for an hour. They want to take part in the fun. As you think about creating shared experiences for your team, merge the physical and digital world. Having a virtual yoga session? Send everyone company swag mats ahead of time. Doing a cooking class? Give everyone a grocery gift card so they can buy the ingredients. This doesn’t always have to cost money – you can plan custom experiences like virtual meditation and mindfulness that don’t require add-ons. Making sure events are interactive, hands-on, and a two-way experiences is key!
Bring health & wellness into the conversation
More than ever, wellness is emerging as a specific – and desirable – experience. Especially as people deal with uncertainty, isolation, and loss from the pandemic, businesses that want to prioritize employee engagement need to think of their employees’ wellness and mental health. Luckily, many practitioners are offering virtual events. At Wavy, we work with some amazing wellness experts like Kaila McManus, Chivon John, and Antonio Lennert.
Frequency is your friend
The low barrier (and often lower cost) of virtual events means they are easy to run frequently. Couple that with the constant change and uncertainty of a pandemic, and there is absolutely reason to increase the frequency of events. When upping the frequency, the key to avoiding fatigue is to make sure you’re offering different, unique, and variable experiences. Also be sure
to add flexibility around choice to attend, event times, and what kind of engagement you’re asking for from staff. People all try new things in their own way, so be cognizant of that as you plan (and when in doubt: ask your employees for feedback)!
A new engagement paradigm
Employee engagement used to be focused on getting the most out of employees. Now, it’s focused on shared experiences and helping employees feel fulfilled, so in turn they can be an active part of your team. It’s a subtle difference, but it has big impacts on how companies prioritize engagement. As we navigate the pandemic and everything it’s throwing at us, it’s time to rethink what employee engagement and company culture looks like. Taking it back to the basics: it’s about fostering real, meaningful connections between teams. About creating opportunities for remote teams to come together – whether that’s for an icebreaker before a meeting, a casual check-in, a wellness workshop, or full-on virtual celebration. Your employees will thank you for it!
Shawn Hewat is co-founder and CEO of virtual employee experiences company Wavy.