CEO and Executive Creative Director at Tribe, Inc., working with global brands to build employee engagement.
Are your employees growing weary of mandatory social activities? Many companies with large percentages of their office employees working from home have been promoting a range of online social activities in an attempt to replace the office camaraderie of pre-pandemic workdays. The Zoom coffee chat or cocktail hour is perhaps the most common, but we’ve also seen online trivia and Pictionary as well as online book clubs and escape rooms.
However, not everyone is eager to spend yet another hour of their day interacting with people online. Even if the activity is presented as optional, some employees feel pressured to attend, especially if their managers are the ones organizing the event.
There’s a wide range of work-from-home experiences.
It’s important to recognize that different groups of employees have different experiences of working from home — depending on their personality type, career stage and home life. In our recent national survey of employees working remotely due to Covid-19:
• Those who identified as introverts reported higher job satisfaction working from home than extroverts did.
• Employees under 30 were more likely to miss the face-to-face time of the office.
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• Only 38% of those with young kids at home said they missed office camaraderie, compared to 66% of those without small children.
• Some single people living alone are reporting feelings of isolation and disconnection.
Consider activities with payoffs beyond fun.
Fun for the sake of fun can wear thin in a remote environment, so you might think about connecting people online for activities that offer other benefits. For instance, in our study, introverts were less likely than extroverts to be interested in videoconferencing with peers for coffee or cocktail hours. But they might be more interested in a video call for a Q&A with the company leadership. Consider activities that connect remote employees around a more productive purpose, such as these suggestions:
• Mentor program: Enlist more senior employees to mentor younger ones who are missing the day-to-day learning they would ordinarily gain from watching their colleagues in action in the office. The mentor and mentee could be in different departments or even different countries because connecting remotely removes that geographic barrier.
• Wellness challenges: You might consider programs that create pairs or teams of employees to help keep each other accountable for weight loss or smoking cessation efforts, or an online competition for daily steps goals. Connecting around wellness is also a great way to level the playing field between management employees and the rank and file, offering employees a human connection with leaders that isn’t based on the organizational hierarchy.
• Inclusion and diversity forums: If you already have employee resource groups (ERGs) or other affinity-based organizations in your company, invite them to host webinars for discussions on key issues. This could include both those who identify with that group and those who consider themselves its allies. There’s a lot of momentum around this issue now, so it’s a timely way to help create social bonds between employees.
• Mental health programs: The ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic — not to mention the other challenges presented by 2020 — has taken a toll on employees’ peace of mind. Consider speakers or activities that help employees better manage their stress levels and their anxiety, depression or feelings of isolation.
• Volunteerism and charitable activities: Although you may not be planning in-person volunteer activities during the pandemic, your employees can still come together to help others. You might create groups to organize no-contact food drives, shop online for holiday gifts for at-risk kids or have video chats with residents at an assisted living facility. Give your employees opportunities to share kindness in their communities while connecting with each other.
Although the pandemic will eventually be behind us, it seems that working from home will still be the norm for many employees. What we’re learning now about engaging and connecting our people remotely will continue to serve us, even after bumping into each other in the break room becomes a possibility again.
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Author: Elizabeth Baskin, Forbes Councils Member