Trial and error: experiments in engagement

by Benjamin Schmidt | February 13, 2020

 

Workforce engagement is a buzzword. And like all good buzzwords, there’s a lot of hype around it, but something really valuable at the heart of it too. My role as Engagement and Communications Lead has been about trying to find out what kinds of activities and programs reap benefits, and which ones don’t quite make the cut.

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Our circumstances are fairly unique. We’ve got a large proportion of our workforce working remotely, and we’ve got a big focus on gaming. But we’ve been experimenting with engagement for over a year now, and while I wouldn’t say this makes me an expert, I do think I’ve learnt a couple of lessons that are worth sharing.

WHAT IS ENGAGEMENT?

As pointed out by LEADx CEO Kevin Kruse, it’s easy to conflate employee engagement with employee satisfaction, but they’re not the same thing. An engaged employee feels an emotional connection to the organization, which makes them willing to go that extra mile and work towards common goals. A satisfied employee might be happy at work, but that doesn’t mean that they’re committed to the organization’s success.

If that’s the case, then simply making your people happy isn’t enough. Engagement activities need to build an inclusive culture, create spaces for people to connect, and share information from all levels of the organization to foster a sense of community, and this is where we’ve placed our focus (with a large helping of fun too, just for good measure).

BUILDING AN INCLUSIVE ENVIRONMENT

One of the first projects I worked on was helping to define our core values and culture, and there’s one value, in particular, that was close to my heart – ‘Celebrate your inner unicorn’. While the corn factor may seem high, I believe that elevating this celebration of diversity and difference goes straight to the heart of an inclusive culture. We wanted to send a signal to everyone that their contributions were meaningful and valued, and that began with valuing them as individuals.

 

CREATING CONNECTIONS

Stepping into this role, I was nervous and excited about what I saw as my greatest challenge – taking the fun I knew from the office and translating it into something for our growing remote population. And it really has been a challenge. I’m not ashamed to say it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

Our people know their teammates, and perhaps their project or department too, but as we grew, it became clear that we needed to do something to help create connections outside of their immediate workspaces, especially for our remote community. Knowing how successful our in-house gaming tournaments had been, it seemed a logical place to start.

These gaming events, which involved dozens of participants and were live-streamed, worked well but were limited in scope. Though we have a focus on gaming, not everyone is a gamer. We needed to think more inclusively. So we diversified:

  • We tried online parties, where we kept the participants a secret from one another until the last moment. We found Zoom to be the best platform for hosting these so you can see as many participants as possible at once, and online games such as Drawasaurus are great for breaking the ice.
  • We tried a Secret Santa program based on region, where participants send gifts to one another anonymously and are paired at random. This sounds like a logistical nightmare, but Elfster made it a dream.
  • We tried local physical meet-ups, where we encouraged our people to organize social events in their home regions and helped to cover some of the costs. Encouraging them to self-organize meant less administration on our part and empowered the participants with greater agency over their experience.

 

SHARING INFORMATION

In order to be invested in something, you first need to know it. It may seem self-evident but it’s true, and at least in our organization, it was something that we needed to pay more attention to. We needed to find and create avenues to disseminate information about our direction and our achievements more broadly, and not just within departments or specific projects.

We began a company newsletter. Perhaps a bit old school, but the response we received from our community has been very supportive. We use it to highlight the professional and personal achievements of both specific teams and of individuals, as well as use it as a platform to showcase the diversity of our WFH team.

“I really love spending 5-10 minutes of my work day seeing the newest hot takes on what the company and colleagues are doing. Thank you for putting the effort and time to publish this every week, it’s really something.”

We began to live stream events. We started small, with live interviews with different members of our organization, and expanded to live streaming a regular biweekly townhall presentation held for staff to ensure all of our people, regardless of location, could participate – including asking live questions to our speakers. We recently held our first live panel discussion too, where we invited key subject matter experts to discuss topics of interest to our wider agent population.

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                                 Screen capture of our first live streamed panel discussion.


We encouraged others to share too. Try as we might, our engagement team could shoulders alone. Building a transparent and inclusive culture of information sharing falls in everybody’s lap, but with some discrete poking, others have been quick to get onboard. Using Yammer, our C-suite now posts regular vlog updates, and other departments have also taken up regular blog updates on their work too.

IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED…

Then try again! Engagement has been a series of experiments for us, and we’re slowly piecing together what exactly works for our specific circumstances. Trial and error have worked in our favor though, as at each step we’ve continuously asked for and incorporated all the feedback we could get. We’ve been open, transparent, and unafraid to admit to our setbacks, and our community has been extremely supportive and helpful in coming up with improvements and new ideas. That has been instrumental in ensuring that engagement is everyone’s responsibility and our shared success.

 

BENJAMIN SCHMIDT

Ben works as Engagement and Communications Lead from our Utrecht office, a far cry from the sunny beaches of his native Western Australia, but he makes up for it with a frustratingly sunny disposition. When not busy engaging, he disengages by exploring Europe and binge-watching scifi.