In response to COVID-19, as organisations restructured and ‘pivoted’ (everybody drink), we also witnessed the biggest shift in HOW we work that any of us have ever seen. Overnight, offices became ghost towns as we started a world-wide working from home (WFH) experiment.

While there had been a growing number of organisations offering flexible working arrangements, no one anticipated a shift of this magnitude at this speed, leaving many completely unprepared1. For some, their new approach to engaging their employees at a distance is one that was hastily crafted and is now being kept together with tape and blind luck; although many of the tactics don’t necessarily reflect the business’ purpose or culture.

Wherever you sit on the spectrum of working full-time in an office to WFH, and everything in between (including labels like flexible, remote, distributed, blended workforces), the workplace experience is undoubtedly undergoing dramatic transformation. COVID-19 has created a new problem for organisations: how do you remotely engage your employees?

As specialists in the world of experiential, we have a few thoughts on how to go about tackling this problem. As our Head of Strategy, Jessica Quiney, puts it: “‘Experiential’ encompasses more than just your live or digital event deliverables; it’s also all of the everyday interactions that you have with your colleagues.” In our post-COVID world, many interactions are now almost entirely digital, but little thought has been given to how the workplace experience is translated from an in-person interaction to a digital one.

So why does this matter? Even before the mandated social-distancing that COVID-19 brought with it, many people were already struggling with feelings of loneliness and isolation. Now let’s add to that the new reality of our new distanced working arrangements and it’s easy to see how employees are starting to struggle2.

We won’t trot out the mountains of research that illustrate that an engaged workforce is a more productive workforce – we all know it’s vitally important. When we were all together in an office, organisations had employee engagements programmes to match: team breakfasts/lunches/dinners, Friday night drinks, team building days, yoga and meditation classes, gym memberships, training workshops, not to mention superior snacks3. COVID-19 has disrupted these traditional employee engagement programmes and organisations need to fill the gap. It’s the same challenge, but in a new environment.

It’s unlikely we’ll ever fully revert back to the office-only working structure. There are some companies, like Twitter4 and Atlassian5, who are embracing WFH and considering making the change more permanent. In June, key findings from Australian research showed that once employees do return to the office, 93% want the ability to work remotely if at any point they feel unsafe6. Further local research suggests that employees are looking for a semi-permanent return to the office with up to 60% of those surveyed indicating that they want to split their working time between home and office7.

For the moment at least, office life is over and with it, the majority of the traditional tangible experiences we used to engage employees and develop our culture. Given our new reality, what do you want your workplace experience to be? What initiatives can you implement to ensure your workforce remains connected and engaged? We’ve pulled together a few suggestions to help you think about how you can reframe your organisation’s workplace experience programme.

Social Engagement

“Offices are more than just a place to do business – they are meeting points for social and cultural exchanges.”8 But without an office, how do you create a sense of purpose and belonging? How do you develop the culture of your organisation remotely? A good way to approach this is to leverage micro cultural trends that are growing organically. For example, are your employees scheduling socially-distanced Zoom calls on a Friday night to virtually drink together? You could harness that, build on it and offer a company-wide cocktail masterclass; our friends at Sweet and Chilli can help you with that.

Physical Engagement

The office often plays an integral part in how organisations define their culture through physical artifacts and touchpoints. Is the culture of your organisation heavily tied to the physical space? With everyone working from home, often at the literal kitchen table, can you provide employees with some of the physical trappings of the office and even help them create a differentiation between their work and personal spaces?

Some organisations have opted to help their employees create their own home offices by providing them with screens, chairs and even desks. Our friends at Display Wise can help your employees upgrade from the kitchen table with their easy to assemble desks. Available in a range of different colours, a new desk could help you to bring an essence of your corporate culture into the homes of your employees.

Wellbeing Engagement

Even before COVID-19 hit, the global workforce was stressed out9. Employees not only need support, they need to be given the tools to strengthen their resilience. Our charity partners at A Sound Life can provide personalised remote meditation programmes to bolster your employees’ mental health.

Top tip: make sure your senior leadership team is getting involved! Employees often don’t feel empowered to use the products/services offered if they don’t see the execs using them too. Your senior management needs to walk the talk.

Are you looking for answers to some of the questions we’ve raised here?

Every business is unique and we want to help you translate your organisation’s original employee engagement programme into offerings that align with your culture and purpose. Submit your Workplace Experience query below to set up a time to meet with our Head of Strategy, Jessica, to unpack your engagement challenges and uncover insight-driven ideas.

Experiences Evolved: Planning for success post COVID-19

A George P. Johnson Australia & New Zealand Report, June 2020.

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