12 MIN READ
In 1984 when Madonna declared we were all living in a material world, we listened and mostly agreed. In 2020 and beyond, the pandemic declared we are all living in a virtual world, and we had no choice but to listen and completely agree. Whether your professional world was virtual or entirely in-person before, life’s different now, and it has been for a while. Zoom fatigue, burnout, lack of connectivity to your colleagues, feelings of loneliness, unhappiness, unproductivity, and detachment—just to name a handful of the struggles that have affected us as individuals, but also entire organizations and their cultures. There are challenges that come along with living in this virtual world, indeed.
In-person events are still taboo, organic conversations nowhere to be found, and the norm of workday chatting and break room conversations are a thing of the past. While remote work has some positives, such as saving money, cultivating a better work/life balance, and spending more time with family, it takes a more concentrated effort for employees to engage with one another and be active participants in the workplace culture. The million-dollar question has become: how do we create meaningful interactions in the workplace that foster connectivity and job fulfillment when our only tool is a virtual platform?
As the Events Intern here at XYPN, my job consists of managing all things related to events and engagement, and I'm here to shed some light on the approaches that have been working for us in fostering connectivity. In this blog, we will discuss engagement ideas that force you to learn more about your colleagues as “humans” and not strictly as professionals. This tactic is necessary in cultivating interpersonal connections organizationally-wide in our virtual world. Investing in your employees through virtual engagement initiatives will reap bountiful benefits for your organization in the future.
Humans need real, genuine, and authentic communication and connection. Through enhanced communication during virtual engagement, you will see a boost in job satisfaction, greater productivity, heightened retention rates, decreased turnover, and overall happier team members. The biggest mistake that organizations make when trying to boost engagement in a virtual world is taking the “human” out of the individual. While you still want to keep a level of professionalism with workplace interactions, it is essential to be more empathetic and understanding of your colleagues as a whole, especially during these unprecedented times.
How can you implement these ideologies into your organizational culture to focus on the “human” and navigate a pandemic where virtual reality is the only reality? Below are five tips for increasing engagement, boosting employee morale, and aiding connectivity virtually. These five tips will help you to maintain your company culture while prioritizing your employee’s well-being in a professional manner. From silly to serious, these resourceful pointers will transform your workplace into a productive, motivated, and positive atmosphere rooted in wellness and engagement.
Tip #1: Create a Communication Plan
While it is essential to draw the line between what is personal and professional in a workplace setting, getting your organization through a global pandemic and expecting results requires you to lean a little more on the personal side. It is important to be understanding, empathetic, and kind in all forms of communication. Make sure that you pick a communication platform and style that works for your culture. Here at XYPN and AdvicePay (AP), we have integrated Slack—an innovative communication platform that allows you to communicate with your employees in a group dynamic or one-on-one. In addition to Zoom, emails, and phone calls, Slack creates a productive atmosphere where employees can go to feel a sense of unity. The most successful organizations prioritize the employee experience by optimizing communication and valuing the individual as a whole person, not a moving part in the pursuit of an end goal. Slack provides an appropriate avenue for offering employees more informal communication in a virtual setting.
Tip #2: Encourage Health and Wellness
Health and wellness have been a topic of conversation for some time now. Many studies show that employees are more likely to perform better when their health is optimized. What ideas can you incorporate into your organization to promote health and wellness?
For starters, Create a Wellness Committee (see details below). If you have not yet created a wellness committee in your organization, this is a great first step in optimizing employee health. At XYPN and AP, we value wellness—so much so that we made it a core value: “Be Well Being You.” The wellness committee at XYPN does numerous tasks, from optimizing the usability of our employee wellness website (a one-stop-shop for all things wellness) to planning events and webinars that teach on topics surrounding mental, physical, social, intellectual, and financial health. These added benefits create a safe place for employees to discover their own wellness ideologies through a rooted and grounded committee within the company.
XYPN and AP’s Wellness Committee Mission: To create an environment and culture that inspires each teammate's ability to be well being themselves through providing opportunities, education, and support around cultivating wellness in all aspects of their life.
Tip #3: Team Events + Tips for a Successful Event
What do you think of when you think of “team events”? For some, these two words might make you cringe as memories flood in of you and your colleagues doing yoga in matching t-shirts at a local park. For others, this might spark the memory of obligatory events that felt time-consuming and forced. For some, these words actually bring memories of FUN! We can all agree that team events bring connectivity to your workplace, but how do you make events have a positive reception and impact? How do you incorporate team events when everything is fully virtual? Below are some tips and tricks for integrating successful virtual team events into your organizational culture:
Diversity is Key
Everyone is different! From their cultural background, ethnicity, knowledge, beliefs, arts, customs, capabilities, and habits—you are not going to find a “one-size-fits-all” event. The key to event planning is mixing it up. To do this, you need to understand your audience and your work culture. Once you understand your workplace culture, you can start to brainstorm entertaining and engaging event ideas. As an internal event planner at XYPN, the hardest part of event planning is taking yourself out of the equation. I have my own customs, beliefs, and opinions on what a “fun” event means to me; however, this may drastically shift from person to person. Everyone has different definitions of “wellness,” and ultimately, your events encompass your wellness ideals as a company. Therefore, to be successful, you strategize by planning unique, practical, and captivating events that cover a wide range of inclusive activities.
Consistency is Vital
People like consistency, especially in a professional setting. When you start to plan events for your organization, make sure that you understand your capacity. Questions to ask yourself are:
- Do we have the capacity to plan and run these events?
- Do we have a set budget for event planning?
- How will these events fit into our workday structure?
- How often and at what time will we run these events?
At XYPN and AP, we believe that events should not exceed “normal” working hours. We are incredibly protective of our teammates’ personal time, and therefore, our events act as a break in the workday, not an obligation after work. During these unprecedented times, having a virtual event every single week has boosted employee morale tremendously at XYPN. Some key takeaways:
- Be sure to be consistent. If you plan an event every week, keep doing that. If you want an event every month, start with that expectation.
- Consistency is vital to bringing normality to virtual events.
Eliminate Mandatory Obligations
We all dislike mandatory happy hours or obligatory yoga sessions, so eliminate this pressure and make it optional! With so much stress and Zoom fatigue revolving around the typical workday, it is important to make these events optional. The last thing you want is your event turning into an obligatory Zoom meeting that isn’t any different than the serious work call your teammate just came from. Lastly, optional events are fantastic in that they attract those that are actually interested in the event. After a few months of event planning, you will be able to gauge event popularity, which will help with future event ideation.
Navigating Zoom Fatigue
Your employees and colleagues have spent all day on Zoom in work meetings—how can you motivate them to attend a Zoom event? The best way to tackle this issue is to make the events engaging, fun, and thoughtful. Plan events that are unique and worthwhile to attend. If the employee or colleague can extract something meaningful from the event, then it is a success!
Some tips for navigating Zoom fatigue:
- Make the events interactive. Be sure to split team members up into breakout rooms so that they feel involved in the conversation. Large Zoom meetings can be intimidating, especially if the event requires individual participation. Breakout rooms are perfect for game nights or lunch & learn discussions.
- Use Zoom features such as the chat or reactions to engage your event attendees. These features are event “enhancers” in that they make the audience feel more connected and engaged to what is happening on the screen.
- Use the share screen or whiteboard option to show the screen from a different perspective. This will help mix things up!
- Encourage participants to keep their cameras on during the duration of the Zoom event. After all, the goal is to make the event as interactive as possible, and staring at a bunch of your colleagues' names on a screen feels detached.
Event Ideas in a Virtual World
During the last five months, XYPN has planned and delivered around 45 events. All events have been 100% virtual and over Zoom. Below, I have listed some of the top events that XYPN has hosted. These ideas will help you brainstorm ways to keep your virtual team connected:
- Cheesemaking: XYPN hosted a cheese-making event! This event was incredibly popular with our team members. We contracted with a cheese-making company that sent out individualized boxes to each participant and spent the evening making cheese and pairing wine.
- Happy Hours: This is a great event if you are looking for something that is cost-effective and easy to put on. We do a weekly happy hour every Thursday for our team members. You can mix it up by creating happy hour themes such as “Meet Your Pet: Show and Tell,” where everyone brings their pet on Zoom, or “Travel to Different Places,” where everyone shows a picture of their favorite travel destination and a story.
- Fitness Series: Working out is a fantastic way to boost productivity and team member happiness! Every Wednesday, we host a workout class. Each month is a different theme. We have hosted yoga, HIIT, pilates, and core classes. In the upcoming months, we are looking into Barre and Taekwondo.
- Meditation Classes: We have daily meditation classes (XHale) led by Maddy Roche, Senior Director of Member Success at XYPN. This 15 minute guided meditation every morning is a perfect way to set your intention for the day by incorporating wellness and mindfulness into your morning routine. (Side note: this event is open to all XYPN members.)
- Escape Room: This was a huge hit! Escape rooms are great virtual events because you can pair colleagues together cross-departmentally. If you’re looking for a little intellectual competition that necessitates team members to interact, this is it!
- Wreath Making: Around the holidays, we got crafty with wreath making. This event catered to those that preferred a hands-on event! We gathered tiny add-ons such as local pine cones to add a little Bozeman charm.
- Cooking and Baking Shows: Everyone loves food! These events are lively, engaging, and full of great food. We focused on different areas of interest, such as gut health, mastering cooking skill sets, and creative recipes to provide diversity in these cooking shows revolving around health and wellness.
- Trivia and Bingo Nights: If you are looking for an engaging and interactive event, this is it! You can design many entertaining themes for creating the perfect game night.
- Soap and Candle Making: Want to find an event that creates a lasting product and can be repeated? Get artsy with melt and pour soap making and candle crafts!
- Other Ideas: More events that we have put on together have been sculpting air plant pots with a talented Bozeman artist, making handmade cards together for Valentine’s Day, visiting non-profit organizations for talks and tours that fit our culture, doing cross country ski lessons, wine and paint nights, as well as film festivals with popcorn.
The best part about all of these events? They are 100% virtual! By surprising your team members each month with interactive and exciting events, your team will find it easier to stay connected in this virtual world!
Tip #4: Fostering Personal Connections
Engagement is not just about “checking in,” but it is taking the time and effort to foster personal connection. While it can be difficult to draw the line between personal and professional, it is important to remember that everyone is human. Especially during COVID-19, when our perception of “normal” workplace connections has been shattered, taking the time and effort to cultivate transparent and honest connections has never been more important. At XYPN and AP, through our Slack communication platform, we recently rolled out an app called Donut.com. Through Donut.com, we created an integrated Slack channel called #donut-be-strangers—a virtual space that replaces watercooler talk. Every day in this channel, we post personal ice breaker questions so that the workplace culture feels more connected as a whole. In other words, the donut channel is a conduit for lighthearted team building. Some example questions we have posted in this channel:
- Where are you looking forward to traveling after COVID-19?
- What is your favorite drink?
- What is something that made you smile today?
These questions create avenues for genuine connection and foster a sense of community and belongingness amongst the organizational culture. Through our Donut.com app in Slack, we also do weekly introductions. The pandemic took away the ability to meet people in the organization cross-departmentally. The solution? Try to replicate this idea virtually. As part of this effort, we implemented our weekly introductions. Each week, we pair different team members to each other across all departments. Reaching out is not mandatory, but it is a fun way to meet new people! You can send a quick "Hi!" or set up a virtual coffee meeting—whatever avenue suits you best for an introduction. This initiative has taken off and has been an excellent resource for staying connected virtually!
Tip #5: Silly, Small Ideas That Actually Work
Now, let’s talk about the small things! It does not always have to be a grandiose gesture to be perceived as genuine and thoughtful. Finding ways to keep your virtual team connected takes a concentrated effort, but finding avenues for success can be easy. Methods to keep employee morale up as we fight this pandemic can be found in simple, silly, and small things.
- Birthday Cards: This is an excellent way to show that you care! Hallmark offers a yearly subscription to e-cards for only $5 a year. You can choose from endless themes, holidays, and colors to give the perfect gift. Putting together a document that outlines team members’ birthdays and then sending them a small card is an excellent way to make them feel cared for within the organization! You don’t have to stick only to birthday cards as you can send these cards to everyone in your organization for any announcement, holiday, or special occasion.
- Healthy Recipes: While we mentioned above that the food events were a big hit, sharing healthy tips and tricks has proven tremendously popular! At XYPN and AP, we value the importance of sharing through inspiration—yummy recipes satisfy the bill. Team members submit recipes that they have tried, loved, and want to share. The recipes are available to all team members. This is a great way to meet new people and connect over food—solidifying our values as a company of celebrating wellness and leading a healthy lifestyle.
- Swag Gear: Everyone loves SWAG! Not only is swag a plus for your company through increasing brand awareness and cost-effective marketing, but it fosters retention and promotes loyalty. Handing out mugs, caps, t-shirt, or socks can be an excellent way of showing your employees that you value them. Showing thankfulness and gratitude towards your organizational culture will keep your team feeling connected and happy! As an added perk, you can also raffle off swag gear for team events, such as shipping an item to a team member that won the trivia night or a baking contest.
While we can all agree that keeping your virtual team connected during these unprecedented times can be challenging, there are so many positive ways to virtually bring connectivity and happiness back into the workplace. Whether implementing these ideas is temporary or long-term for your organization, we hope you can find value in the lessons and successes you will find along the way.
The key takeaways:
- Prioritize engagement through creative team events.
- Recognize the importance of connectivity in the workplace through health and wellness initiatives.
- Foster personal connections through enhanced communication.
By understanding these values, you will be on your way to creating an organizational culture that genuinely values its team members and the “human” aspect of each talented individual. In return, your team members will respect and value the organization as we all navigate living in this virtual world while being very real people.
About the Author
Tess Hollister has a passion for making authentic connections with people, whoever they may be. The energy she brings with her is enough to light up any room—especially zoom ones. As XYPN’s Events Intern, Tess can’t get enough of planning fun, inspiring, and engaging events from ideation to delivery that celebrate inclusion and connectivity. When she isn’t busy planning unforgettable events for her teammates, she plans them for herself. She loves to ski, rock-climb, mountaineer, trail run, and will be hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) this summer—an event that will keep her busy for four months!