As we head into our second marathon, creating meaningful connections among a remote workforce is only going to become more difficult. What initially worked in 2020 might lose luster in 2021 as Zoom fatigue sets in.
Below is the formula we use among our team to create engaging remote events. This simple process has sustained our connection and serves as a go-to bedrock to foster our culture.
Step 1: Start with how and feelings. We know everyone starts with Why - but we already know the why. You want to create connections and engage your team during remote times. So we start with this question, "How does your team (or whoever you are engaging) want to feel?" This also takes into account the question of "Who?" Who are you inviting, what are they feeling?
This question is key. I remember one of the most memorable events we planned was a Summer Olympics event. My team has several younger members and they were longing for that last day of school feeling when you couldn't wait for the school's field day. So that is what we planned and that feeling (tug of war, face paint, t-shirts, camaraderie, snow cones, etc.) ran through everything we did. To this day, the team still reminisces about that memory. After all, that is the goal - feelings. Culture is all feelings. Culture is how your employees feel about the company and how the company makes them feel. Always, always, always, start with feelings.
The latest event we did I found in this team-building article. Then we made it our own. Our team was longing for an intimate connection filled with storytelling and a quiet, cozy feeling. We were entering the fall so people wanted a warm vibe. So we tapped into the ancient tradition of telling stories around a campfire. That's how "Tiny Campfire" was born.
Step 2: When? Once you get the feeling you wish to evoke, now is when you lay out the "when." Get a date. We surveyed our team by having them vote via emoji on what day of the week would work best as I didn't want to infringe on parental or social schedules. Also, this process of asking "when" builds excitement and helps with better participation and upfront commitment. In this step, you'll want to lay out a timeline of communication. Here is what we did:
Set the date - then back in your comms schedule from there.
Week 1: Ask for the best date/time to host the event.
Week 2: Send out a save the date - we used Punchbowl's electronic invite function.
Week 3: Send out a pic to show behind-the-scenes planning. You could say something like, "Want to know why we are packaging 300 marshmallows, stay tuned to the employee intranet/portal for more details."
Week 4: Post an engaging video. We use Animoto, it has great holiday video templates. Just plug in your photos and text.
Week 5: Post or send calendar reminders or a calendar invite and send heads up to people to give you their current home address. We mailed a kit with gloves, a battery-operated lantern, marshmallows, skewers, a small Hershey chocolate bar, and 2 graham crackers. I bought everything at the Dollar Store (the graham crackers were prepackaged in appropriate servings - see photo above).
Week 6: Mail kit home - direct mail is a great channel to use during remote times. Team
members geeked out over getting this great gift mailed to their home. I posted a pic of all the boxes in Slack on the day that I mailed the tiny campfire kits home.
Week 7: Send reminders and host an amazing event.
Week 8: Post celebration - post pics and quotes from the event to celebrate and keep the feelings going. You could also send a follow-up gift that matched the messaging or theme. Our team was struggling with allergies so I gave a party gift of local honey and hand-stamped a message that went with our fall theme.
Step 3: Define What. What exactly do you want your team or employees to do? You must act like they are students in your classroom. Layout, step-by-step what is going to happen and what they need to do. We wrote out a step-by-step guide (see below) that outlined exactly what to do during the event. Be sure to give an out to people who might not be comfortable with what you might be asking them to do. For example, we gave everyone a powerful question that would evoke a personal story. In my instructions, I gave an out - see below.
Step 4: Identify all your channels. We touched on this a little but we identified our frequency of communication and where we were placing all the build-up. Below are the channels we used:
Google Calendar Invite
Step 5: Post celebration. Be sure to capture funny moments via video, photo, and writing. You can use these to post the memories you created. This is key in sustaining the feelings you initially wanted to evoke. Capturing the memories provides a foundation to establish seasonal traditions. And traditions evoke feelings of security, happiness that employees can consistently count on. Hint: For employees who missed the occasion, they can get a glimpse into what they missed, and in my experience, they won't want to miss the next event.
This is the process we've used time and time again. And time and time again, team members ask "Are we going to (fill in the tradition here) again this year?" They also share the memories and excitement with new team members and new recruits. We know feelings come and go, but if you have a process that can ride the wave and tap into the current emotional state of your team, your events will be in tune and you'll sustain connection no matter the circumstance.