Microsoft’s Newly remote research, published in June 2020, analyses data on its newly remote workforce and found that across many of its customers’ businesses, a trend cropped up very quickly after the shift to remote working: virtual social meetings. In response to the lack of natural touchpoints, such as grabbing lunch in the cafeteria or popping by someone’s desk, employees found new ones.
Due to the constraints of the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, businesses followed these trends to adapt to the new way of working; these ranged from group lunches to happy hours, with themes such as ‘pyjama day’ and ‘meet my pet.’ Overall, social meetings increased by 10% in a month and scheduled one-on-ones among employees went up by 18%. It appears that the once dreaded meeting has now taken on a new role as an important means of connecting with colleagues. A calendar audit is a simple and informative measure.
Managers can support this enthusiasm to stay connected by deliberately and carefully planning social events, and include competitions with rewards for the ‘best of’. There are so many ways businesses have chosen to use the camera feature on a phone or work computer and share the results: cocktails, fancy dress, most uncomfortable home office, most luxurious home office, best virtual background; the list is endless.
Employers can design the competitions to encourage everyone to take part and have many prize categories, to spread the feel-good factor that winning generates as widely as possible. By all means, count who logs on, top up the minutes spent working, but if the goal is engagement, it is the laughter that will connect people. During a time of crisis and uncertainty, it is important to measure the number of employees who partake in these activities, which can be more effective over other traditional business inventions to get a pulse check on how employees are feeling regularly.
Kate Cooper is head of research, policy and standards at the Institute of Leadership and Management.