Why Another Virtual Happy Hour Isn't the Answer

Employee engagement is a hot topic these days. With most tech workers still working remotely, the complexity of how to connect...

February 23, 2021

Employee engagement is a hot topic these days. With most tech workers still working remotely, the complexity of how to connect a virtual workplace is top of mind. At the start of the pandemic, we saw a wave of organizations starting with the logical question: if we now must adapt to a virtual world, how do we take what once worked in a physical space and bring that experience to the virtual world? 

Nearly one year after the start of the pandemic, this approach has left us with a flooding of virtual team coffee chats, yoga classes, and happy hours. We responded in the way we thought made the most sense. However, what we see now, is that another virtual happy hour isn't the answer to our employee engagement problem. It's contributing to it.

Employees feel engaged when recognized for their work and reminded of how they are making a valuable contribution to the company and its overall success. Engaged employees understand how their work impacts the company's goals and are confident that the work they do matters. Recognition is a critical component to ensuring your employees feel valued and stay engaged long after the video chat goodbyes are over.

Our workplace and the norms within it are changing at a rapid pace. The old ways of employee engagement must catch up to the times and change too. I don't believe the rate of these radical changes is going away after the pandemic. Instead, I think we'll only continue to see more changes ahead of how we get work done. If we continue to rely on what worked for us in a physical space, we miss out on all of the new opportunities that a virtual space provides. We must explore how to derive the most significant benefits from a virtual world given its future reality. 

The happy hour is not at its best in a virtual space -- and that's okay. There are endless ways to engage your teams that shine in a virtual world. It's time we evolve from our attempts to translate the physical into the virtual world. Instead, I encourage all leaders to lean into the employee engagement initiatives that are better executed in a virtual environment and enjoy the possibilities that these bring.

To get you started, here are some employee engagement ideas that provide a lasting impact in a virtual workplace 

  • Recognize employee achievements and milestones: Recognition leaves employees with a sense of accomplishment and value for their contributions. Workplace recognition can be collaborative, too -- share wins at team meetings and highlights exceptional achievements and virtual recognition leaderboards at company all hands. Employee recognition increases productivity and loyalty to the company, leading to higher retention.
  • Offer flexibility as much as possible: Your employees are working hard amid complex circumstances. Respect their evening time to relax and unplug in the ways that serve them best. You'll benefit from a truly recharged team.
  • Check-in 1:1: For many employees, a personal check-in goes a long way in helping them feel recognized and valued. Shake up the norm and offer to meet 1:1 over a phone call walk-and-talk for an honest check-in. 
  • Embed inclusivity: Partner with Employee Resource Groups to learn about the experiences of employees from different groups. Listen to their perspectives and hear their advice about what they need. Virtual training through conferences or online courses can provide tailored experiences to your employees, making them feel engaged and included. 
  • Continue to socialize and normalize mental health resources: HR leaders should pay special attention to how they help employees navigate their workload and overall mental health. More than ever, organizations should over-communicate the available resources, the value that these resources provide, and the normalcy of pausing to prioritize one's mental health.
  • Survey your employees: Access to employee pulse survey data provides insight into how your employees are doing and what they need. Ask survey questions that dig into what makes employees feel recognized and engaged. The data will enable you to create an action plan around the gaps that exist and go deeper into programming that's working.

Assembly's employee engagement platform creates the foundation needed for meaningful recognition in a virtual world. Employees can give and receive recognition throughout the organization -- engaging with colleagues across locations, levels, and teams with interactive gifs and personalized messages. Time zones and physical workspaces are a non-issue as employees build connections through earned badges and points that can be redeemed for culture awards and prizes.