What do ukuleles, trivia competitions, and mixology classes have in common? 

They’re all tactics companies have employed in an effort to break the monotony of quarantine for the many employees who are continuing to work from home. 

The fact that many companies are being forced to delay returning to the office is creating new challenges for leaders, who need to keep their employees engaged and productive even as quarantine wears on for many. 

Additionally, the fact that the Covid Trap phenomenon our founder Stefan Wissenbach identified months ago is now in full effect makes the focus on the engagement of employees working from home all the more important.  

For the uninitiated, the Covid Trap is the temporary spike in employee engagement, creativity, and productivity the onset of the pandemic – a common enemy and uniting force – inspired in teams across the world. As the crisis wears on, employee engagement is starting to suffer. 

We’re seeing evidence in our aggregate engagement data, with the numbers coming down from their peaks earlier this year. And we’re not alone – this quote from a recent Harvard Business Review article summarizes the effect of the Covid Trap perfectly: 

The unexpected high points brought on by the crisis are waning. Quick decision-making. Efficiency of meetings. Honest, concise, and frequent communications. Freedom to organize your day and work from home. Informal and authentic team interactions. Several teams mentioned that they actually miss the stimulating rush of the emergency and the profound feelings of significance and community that they experienced during the lockdown.”  Leading Into the Post-Covid Recovery 

So how does one go about maintaining team culture and employee engagement for a fully remote team?

An intentional plan for employee engagement 

The key is to think of employee engagement ideas in terms of a strategy, rather than an activity.

First, identify the problem you want to solve or the cultural attribute you want to strengthen. For example, here are some of the most common concerns we’re hearing from leaders: 

  • Are team communications becoming fragmented? Are some people fading Into the background because they’re not the extroverts their peers are?
  • Is fatigue setting in, caused by the relative isolation of working from home, making days feel more like drudgery? 
  • Are alignment and focus an issue? Are leaders concerned about productivity, prioritization of work, and getting projects done on time? 
  • Do you still have nagging concerns about retaining top talent, whose skills are suddenly more portable than ever as more and more companies are working from home?

As you can see these are different issues, and aligning employee engagement ideas to the underlying drivers of the issue you’re trying to resolve is crucial for delivering the outcome your team needs. 

Aligning engagement activities to help resolve issues

Here are some simple employee engagement ideas to get you started in aligning engagement initiatives and activities that will achieve the outcomes needed to improve the area of the business you’re targeting. 

Communications 
  • On a daily basis, get everyone talking at the beginning of a meeting by having all participants share what they’re feeling great about that day. It takes just minutes and unlocks smiles, common interests, and new conversations. 
  • Use a communication-intensive game, such as a virtual escape room, virtual murder mystery game, or a virtual adventure game to open up the communication channels while having some fun. 
Fatigue 
  • If meetings at your company have devolved into necessary evils that drain energy, it’s time to re-tool your approach. Try our EPIC Meeting (™) format to make your meetings tighter and more satisfying for your team. After a couple of weeks, you’ll see an improved connection and much higher energy. 
  • Bring the fun, and give people something to talk about.  We loved the ideas for creating space for informal interactions in this post from FMP Consulting. 
  • Get people moving. Encourage the team to take at least one walking meeting each day.
Alignment 
  • A common issue for many employees right now is role clarity, especially if the company has undergone changes post-Covid.  Encourage leaders to evaluate roles and responsibilities, in the context of the actual work being done. This will ensure employees’ work is aligned with the company’s direction, and also open up opportunities to recognize employees for their contributions.
  • Make a game of it with an “Accountability Chart.” Have each employee provide a slide with their three primary accountabilities. Put the slides together in a deck, and mix them up. In a virtual meeting, match people to their accountabilities, and leave plenty of room for questions and discussion. 
Retention
  • Growth and development are important to high performers.  Take advantage of the current situation to assign tasks to strong performers as stretch goals. This is especially useful for tackling temporary projects related to changes the pandemic requires of your company. 
  • Virtual Learning:  Reinvest the dollars you might have spent on off-site training or conferences in a learning platform that can help all employees, such as Udemy or LinkedIn Learning
  • Encourage a culture of learning by creating fun virtual learning opportunities, and encouraging employees to set a personal goal of developing a new skill during this time.

As you build your engagement strategy, try to find a mix of activities, finding some that inspire, some that teach, and some that are just plain fun. 

Speaking of fun – we’re in such an unusual time right now, and many aspects of our usual lives are on hold. Bringing fun and variety to the workplace is important in a way it’s never been.  Take some inspiration from the recent Wall St. Journal article, about the creative ways companies are bringing perks to their at-home employees to boost morale and team connections. A quote from Jennifer Daniel, chief HR officer at Schrodinger, Inc. sums it up well:  

“A mantra that we’ve been sharing with managers, especially, is, keep the fun and the social going, because it’s going to be a while.” 

Taking a few minutes to plan your engagement strategy will help your team develop longer-lasting, sustainable engagement that will help see them and the whole organization through the Covid-19 recovery.  For more employee engagement ideas for your remote team, see the replay of our recent webinar that took a deep dive into the subject!