How can we keep that all-important social interaction alive and kicking when we are limited to staring at each other through a Zoom window?
Seven weeks ago the UK Government took the unprecedented step of announcing that travel would be restricted, certain businesses would close, and we would all be experiencing a very different lifestyle for a while. We have now come to call this “lockdown”.
Many businesses, JustPark included, have been fortunate enough to be in a position where we can ask most of our employees to work from home. Also, many businesses, again like JustPark, have been in the unfortunate position where we have had to take advantage of the Coronovirus Job Retention Scheme (or “furloughing”). Both of these situations have thrown employees (because let’s not forget, furloughed employees are of course still employees) into the unknown – a situation where they are remote from their employer, remote from their colleagues, and in many cases remote from their friends and families too.
This has created a situation where employers must hugely increase their level of communication if they want to maintain (or, perhaps, increase) employee engagement. Keeping remote workers up to date with what is happening in the business can be tough if we are all used to having chats in the office as we walk past each other’s desks, if we are used to bumping into each other whilst getting coffee, if we are used to joking around with each other at lunchtime.
I am fortunate enough to work in a mobility technology scale-up in London (no, we are not based in Old Street before you ask) where we have a really awesome social culture – everyone genuinely gets on really well and we are used to hanging out after work; probably more than we should if we are being honest (you know who you are). But how do we go about keeping this up during lockdown? How can we keep that all-important social interaction alive and kicking when we are limited to staring at each other through a Zoom window? Is it even important that we do? I tend to think so…
What we are doing
We have put together a few (well, more than a few) initiatives to drive employee engagement, communication, and wellbeing whilst we are all working remotely. These initiatives are super-important for furloughed employees too: the mental health toll of being furloughed during lockdown can be tough, and as an employer we absolutely have a duty of care to our furloughed colleagues, perhaps now more than ever. Let’s not forget that there is also a (of course secondary) commercial benefit to this too: the more engaged, informed and included furloughed employees are, the shorter and less intense their re-onboarding process will be when they return to working for the organisation with their team mates.
I thought I would share what we are doing to keep these engagement levels up…
- Daily coffee mornings – regular 30 minute sessions where people can drop in and talk about anything on Zoom. We set vague topics, but they usually go off track! This is a nice way to keep in touch with colleagues that you are not directly working with.
- Regular All Hands meetings – we have moved from doing these bi-weekly to weekly. We thought it was important to share things more frequently than we would if we were all in the office. We keep them informative, but also very honest and interactive. We also jazz things up by having fancy dress ones once in a while. Seeing your CEO in a very tight Spiderman costume definitely breaks down barriers.
- Bi-weekly quizzes – we have an awesome pair of quiz masters at JustPark who have been hosting some remote quizzes for us. We might run out of topics soon, so we are toying with bingo or Pictionary (OK, so this will be an experiment…)
- Encouraging continual learning – when lockdown started, we accelerated the implementation of Sunlight, an online learning platform. Most people seem to have more time to fill, so we are proactively encouraging everyone to sign up to online courses or buy books that will help them to achieve their goals in the Individual Development Plans.
- Weekly birthday and anniversary celebrations – every Thursday at 16:00 we celebrate the birthdays for people born in that week. We are lucky enough to have our own chef at JustPark who, in addition to cooking great lunches for us all every day, bakes a birthday cake for whoever’s birthdays we are celebrating. Whilst we can’t all benefit from the cake side of things whilst in lockdown, we still get together remotely to celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries (believe me, hearing 100 people on a Zoom call all “singing” happy birthday is both frightful and hilarious at the same time)
- Weekly photo competitions – each week there is a different topic and we all submit entries for consideration, and vote for the winner (“vote” is probably being kind to a process which entails seeing which photo gets the most emoji reactions in Slack). The winner gets to choose the topic next week
- Regular 121s – it is tempting to deprioritse 121s when working remotely, so we have made a particular effort to make sure that these continue to happen, with a focus on ensuring that everyone’s mental health is a topic at the top of the agenda.
- TikTok competitions – yes, this one puzzled me for a while. Whilst I technically just about qualify as a millennial, until two weeks ago in my head TikTok was a wonderfully mediocre song from Ke$ha (I have now been schooled by my GenZ colleagues). Each week three people take up the challenge to record a TikTok video of their choice. The winner gets, well, kudos. Some of the creations have been really great!
A mixture of fun and serious
We find that keeping the social aspect alive, and having a bit of fun is really important for keeping everyone’s spirits up. In this seemingly new normal of lockdown, letting off steam and making each other smile shouldn’t be taken for granted. However, we also know that the serious things are just as important now as they ever were, and line managers play a crucial role coaching and developing their teams to deliver, and doing this effectively whilst remote is something that we are helping them with.
A mixture of old and new
We have a mixture of traditions that we are keeping, and new initiatives that we have introduced. I think that both are important for different reasons – people need to feel a sense of belonging to an organisation and rituals are a great way to achieve this; but successful organisations must of course grow and adapt to different circumstances. What is certain is that what we will be doing in six month’s time will probably also be different to what we are doing now, as we learn and adapt our approach to make it even more effective.
What else is going on out there?
It would be awesome to hear what other organisations are doing, and hopefully spark some debate and interaction from others about what is working (and maybe not working) in other places. After all, this is not a competitive endeavor – we should all be sharing how we are helping our employees during this time. Feel free to post some comments, or chat with me at email@example.com
Stay safe everyone!