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Keeping remote employee engagement authentic in “the new different”

Nick Winn
3 min read

Most companies have recently passed the rather unexpected one-year anniversary of remote work. The novelty of team Zoom quizzes, welcoming pets or children to the camera and comedy backdrops have long gone. We are no longer in “the new normal.” This is the “new different” and at the centre of it is a remote workforce which – if you believe recent research from Microsoft – will be mostly unwilling to return to full-time life in the office post-pandemic.

Whilst the idea and concept of remote work has been around for several years, it took a global pandemic to facilitate tangible change and demonstrate its feasibility beyond places like Silicon Valley. Most workforces seem to have made the adaptation incredibly well. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who believes the workplace as we knew it pre-March 2020 will return.

As such, companies need to look beyond patchwork solutions for ensuring employee engagement . How do we move past the idea of Zoom cocktail hours and find the sweet spot of authentically engaging employees and reaffirming their relevance, all whilst sitting at their kitchen table? What can be done on a more consistent basis to replace the virtual one-off wine tasting every quarter or so?

9 in 10 people will use virtual sports in a post-COVID-19 world

Getting fit seemed to be at the top of everyone’s agenda during the first lockdown. Quarantining at home and a limited choice of how to spend your leisure time saw search queries such as “Workout video” more than double in popularity from the beginning to end of March 2020, according to Google Trends. As gyms and training centres were forced to close their doors, sports influencers, sports-based tech apps and fitness companies pivoted to provide virtual solutions to real-world problems.

Data points towards traditional sports benefitting from this virtual evolution once a sense of normality returns. Figures from Asics fitness-tracking app Runkeeper highlight a 667% rise in registrations in the UK during April 2020 and a 105% increase in monthly active users compared to the same period in 2019. It also reported a 98% spike in the number of people in the UK heading out for a weekly run. With less need to travel, more leisure time at home and a new sense of gratitude for being able to actually be outside, the popularity of running, cycling and hiking has skyrocketed.

Unsurprisingly, organisers of mass-participation events are already salivating at the thought of a surge in numbers as and when onsite events re-open.

Consumers have also educated themselves on how easy it is to get fit without the intimidation factor of going to a gym. Data revealed in a recent webinar from Funraisin shows that 9 in 10 people will continue to use virtual workouts even after it is safe to return to gyms.

Embracing a “virtual” lifestyle – whether for fitness or other social reasons – means we have become accustomed to having more free time, we are more flexible and have become increasingly comfortable with virtual connections.

Organisations can easily tap into the preference for virtual sports and even gamify it among employees. Virgin Pulse has been doing this for several years, but there are a growing number of organisations offering more sophisticated, holistic and off-the-shelf solutions to cater to all company sizes and values.

Turning engagement from a game to a culture

Of course, there is no shortage of enthusiastic and active employees at most companies. However, there is still a danger of isolating members of the workforce who feel intimidated by that colleague who does mammoth bike rides for fun every weekend.

It is imperative for all organisation to ensure employees’ healthy living needs are being met beyond simple step counters and company runs (virtual or not). Encouragingly, research from Wellable shows that 88% of companies in the United States decided to invest more in mental health in 2020 so there is clearly work being done.

As a sports company, it is natural that Infront has a broad range of sports-obsessed employees. But being a sports fan is not a pre-requisite to joining Infront and many of our employees are just as passionate about other aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

We recently initiated a five-week #AllAboutUs virtual health challenge across all our global offices, which had a focus on being active, but also took a holistic look at being mentally and nutritionally healthy. Employees were able to motivate each other, while connecting and sharing photos of their passions, whether that be sport, cooking, wellness or simply being outdoors with family. The challenge also encouraged employees to be present and focussed, whilst also taking at least 15 minutes a day to have “me time” and reflect on the things that brings them joy.

Naturally this sort of campaign is only as good as the values you incorporate as an organisation and it is key to ensure that it is not simply a case of paying lip-service to the serious question of engaging employees. Engagement needs to be authentic and consistent with your company values, but holistic virtual health challenges are one way to make a start and learn a little about what makes colleagues tick.

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