The trend towards remote work was already increasing before COVID-19, but now the pandemic has sped things up significantly. Since it has slowed hiring for many organizations, a lot of us in Talent Acquisition and Recruitment Marketing have had to shift more of our time from external recruitment to internal employee engagement activities. We’ve had to rethink what our employee experience looks like overnight and find ways to adapt many elements of our in-person culture into virtual experiences.
These remote employee engagement challenges aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Many organizations are reconsidering whether all of their employees will return to the office again when it’s safe to do so. Many tech companies, from Facebook, to Shopify, to Twitter, have announced that they’re moving to a remote-first approach — or are open to allowing employees to stay remote permanently — even after this crisis is behind us.
Since remote work is here to stay for many companies, it will take a fresh approach to employee engagement in order to keep our company culture alive and retain talent. So we asked 4 practitioners to share their strategies and ideas for employee engagement activities to help you navigate this new territory and keep your virtual workforce engaged.
1) Update your communications strategy
Strong internal communications are always important, but they’re even more important when teams are distributed. Consider if there are new channels or content types that you can use to keep employees informed. In addition to their regular monthly town halls, the company has started hosting virtual “ask me anythings” (AMAs) with their CEO and other leaders using Slido.
These AMAs were started to provide updates about things that are changing in response to COVID-19 — like business changes, return to work updates and more. There are also 3 AMA sessions a month for specific teams and focus areas, where the Tech/Corporate, Customer Care and Sales team can ask questions that are relevant to them. These regular AMAs provide the opportunity for GoDaddy’s 7,000+ employees to feel informed and connected to one another.
2) Develop an employee experience task force
Creating a positive virtual employee experience must be deliberate — it takes a lot of cross-functional collaboration and work to get it right. GoDaddy has created a special taskforce to rise to the challenge of preserving and enhancing GoDaddy’s culture while working remotely. Shannon and her team are part of this taskforce, which is also composed of about 20 others from different teams around the organization like Internal Communications, People Operations, Care Leadership, Corporate Events and all of location-specific experience managers.
The team meets weekly to talk about ideas for different social rooms they can create for employees to chat and interact, approaches to improving employee morale and ways that managers can keep teams engaged. They also spend time talking about how to communicate different virtual experiences internally and externally, so employees know what’s going on and so that candidates can get an idea of their virtual interim culture.
3) Leverage your employee resource groups (ERGs)
Employee resource groups can be a great spot to build connections, deliver resources and create activities for different segments of your employee population. If you don’t have any ERGs within your organization yet, it might be an ideal time to think about forming them. Shannon and her employer brand team member sit on different ERGs within the organization and participate in many of the employee experience initiatives that ERG members organize.
If you’re wondering what types of experiences and support an ERG can provide, GoDaddy’s Black in Tech ERG act as an outstanding example. Recently the company organized a learning session featuring Dr. Roosevelt Cohens, a licensed social worker and counselor, alongside leadership. The session talked about how to process, grieve and take action following the death of George Floyd. The Black in Tech ERG helped facilitate the session, which was the most widely attended virtual event the company has put on to date — it attracted 500 employees! This session also led to a few follow-up sessions on topics from Allyship to Intersectionality and beyond that other ERGs have participated in and helped to support too.
4) Host virtual team bonding activities
Social events and team bonding activities are really important for many employees. These types of events help employees to get to know one another in a more casual setting, which can help form more attachment to your organization and lead to better working relationships. Of course, hosting these types of events is much harder with a distributed team — but luckily there are many ways to translate these experiences to virtual encounters!
Employees at Informatica are participating in daily workouts, pet show-and-tell hangouts, virtual happy hours, trivia nights and more to stay connected while working remotely. These events are planned, promoted and conducted using Microsoft Teams and Yammer.
5) Find a way to create “water cooler moments” for remote employees
Informal interactions around the office water cooler (or coffee machine) help to create connections and build rapport between team members. To create these water cooler moments while virtual, the team at Informatica has created different Yammer channels for employees to have more casual non-work related conversations. Some of these channels are organized around different interest areas or geographies where employees are based. They’ve also created a work from home (WFH) channel that has become very popular.
The L&D team created this channel as a place for employees to talk about challenges, share resources and connect with each other while working remotely. This channel has grown in popularity week over week throughout this time period.
6) Encourage employees to share their virtual stories and experiences
We all know that employee stories can bring people together and provide a sense of connection, which makes them particularly important right now. Alex has gamified the employee story submission process in order to encourage people to share more content with each other. Using the company’s awards system, Alex rewards employees who share pictures and stories from their day with “Applause points” that they can redeem towards different prizes over time. Employees share these stories within a specific Yammer channel that Alex has named the “INFAgram channel” (a play off of “Instagram”). From there, Alex chooses some of these stories for external amplification too.
Here are some examples of some of the stories that Alex has sourced from the INFAgram channel for the @lifeatinfa Instagram account:
7) Ask your leadership team to lead events or teach classes
Employees look up to the leadership teams at their organization, but sometimes people in leadership roles can feel inaccessible because they are so busy — and this feeling is only emphasized when you never run into these leaders at the office anymore.
To resolve this, Elly and the leadership team at TextNow are leading Zoom classes on activities that they enjoy outside of work. Their CEO loves food and is hosting cooking lessons and their VP of Engineering is known for her fancy drinks and is leading cocktail prep classes.
Elly always shares her love of yoga with people, so she’s bringing everyone together to reduce stress. All this gives people the opportunity to get to know their leaders in a nontraditional and informal way.
8) Encourage employees from different teams to enjoy virtual coffees together
When in the office, employees often have multiple occasions to interact with people from different teams. Eating lunch in the cafeteria, coffee breaks and even walking to and from the parking lot provide the chance for employees to meet people outside of their immediate teams. To still provide this type of interaction, Elly’s team has relied on the Donut Coffee integration for Slack.
Every three weeks, the integration automatically pairs up two employees who have signed up to participate in the program. From there, the employees can choose to have a video coffee conversation to get to know one another and learn more about what the other person does. This initiative works particularly well for helping new hires feel more connected within the organization!
9) Remember that the candidate experience is part of the employee experience
Current candidates will be future employees and the experience we deliver to them is the beginning of their employee experience within a company. So in addition to continuing to recruit for critical roles, Elly’s team has been finding ways to improve their virtual candidate experience too since their hiring process is now remote. One of their primary projects here is to revamp the TextNow careers website to focus more on their culture and values and less on their perks.
Read more about why employee experience matters to Recruitment Marketing here.
In addition, the TextNow team has also focused on providing candidates with useful information about their updated recruitment process. TextNow is in the minority here though. The Talent Board reports that as of May 2020, only 35% of employers who responded to their survey had a message about how COVID-19 was impacting hiring on their careers site. However, The Talent Board recommends this approach as a best practice to demonstrate you are a transparent employer and to ensure that candidates are fully informed about your current hiring status and any updates to your process.
10) Create an internal “TV Channel”
To bring people together and provide employees with easily accessible learning opportunities while remote, the L&D team at Procore created “Procore TV,” which consists of a varied schedule of live streams for employees. This approach takes virtual events to the next level! People can tune in to microlearning and personal development sessions, meet and greets with senior level staff and even fitness classes.
11) Don’t forget about internal recognition!
When you don’t see your team every day, it can be harder to remember to take the time to recognize people for the great work they’re doing. This is why at Procore the Workplace Experience and Employee Life team has been tasked with managing the virtual employee recognition experience so people continue to feel appreciated for the hard work they’re putting in, even when they’re not in the office.
12) Encourage employees to organize and participate in grassroots initiatives
Empowering people to seek out, organize and participate in initiatives is another way to engage virtual employees. Not everything needs to be organized from the top down! Procore has encouraged their employees to plan and coordinate their own grassroots connection activities.
If you’re thinking of doing the same, you could give your employees examples of the types of events and activities they might organize and provide them with the right tools to connect (like a virtual meeting software tool). From there, you can amplify some of the grassroots events happening to increase visibility and give other employees a chance to join in too.
13) Package up and share these activities with the world
As the Talent Brand Manager (and Talent Brand team of one!), Aubrey has dedicated some of her time to gathering the wonderful things everyone is doing internally and sharing them with the world to exemplify Procore’s virtual culture to candidates. This is important because without an in-person hiring process, candidates don’t have as many opportunities to learn about your organizational culture — so our digital touchpoints become even more important. Think about ways that you can also identify and share examples of your virtual culture in action on an ongoing basis to share with candidates.
We hope these ideas are helpful for you to consider to keep your company culture going and your employees engaged during this challenging time. Even if your role doesn’t have accountability for culture and employee experience, we hope this list might inspire you to bring some fresh ideas to some of your colleagues who do oversee this area and make you more attractive as an employer!