Prior to March, Gurugram-based Shekhar Ramrakhiani, who is an independent human resource consultant, used to help organise about 5-7 employee engagement activities every month. Since May, this number has gone up to 50 as physical activities have moved online.
“Companies started remote working from mid-March onwards. In the initial few weeks, nobody realised that employee fatigue will become a reality since it wasn’t known that COVID-19 will be a long haul. Now that it is clear that ‘work from home’ (WFH) is the new normal for the next 2-3 quarters, engagement is being taken seriously,” said Ramrakhiani.
Employee engagement activities
They refer to non-work activities initiated by the workplace and the senior management to ensure employee motivation.
Examples include family days, special lunch meetings, award ceremonies, team-building activities like office parties, lunch/dinner, industrial visits and picnics.
WFH brings in stress/fatigue as employees work way beyond regular office hours. To ensure that there is some ‘unwinding’, companies are organising activities where employees and/or their families can come together and spend time (even though it is virtual).
Before lockdown, these activities were planned location-wise or team-wise. But since engagement activities have moved online, there is no restriction on the number of people who can join one event.
More employees able to take part
Ashutosh Mishra, HR Head, Dish TV India, told Moneycontrol that now there are four times the number of employees participating in their award ceremony.
“In our Dish Excellence Awards held in the head office, earlier, only employees present in that office location would attend. Now, we are virtual and staff from across the country would attend. So, compared to 300-400 employees attending the event earlier, we now have 1,200 employees attending it,” he added.
Dish TV is also organising online Tambola (Indian Housie game) department-wise, where employees and their families can participate. Mishra added that the company has also started a virtual family day where employees’ family members can showcase their talent, be it music or dance.
When it comes to employee engagement, it is either the company and/or senior leadership team who pays for these activities. This continues even online.
Take Bengaluru-based consultant Ashwini Pai, who leads a nine-member team. Pai told Moneycontrol that while her company has only one structured annual awards ceremony, the idea from the top is that each team leader should work on motivating their subordinates.
“We used to have one to two team outings every quarter where we had lunch and watched a play or movie. Now, since we cannot meet up outside, we do this online through virtual movie screening application. The team members order food from outside and I pay the bill,” she added.
Ensuring social interaction
Conversations between colleagues near the coffee-machine or water cooler during a break is normal in an office set-up. Since remote working has replaced physical offices, companies want to ensure that interaction between staff stays intact.
Reena Wahi, SVP, Head- Human Resources, Business Excellence and CSR, Tata Realty & Infrastructure, said that the company has introduced the Sociabble application, which is like an internal Facebook for the employees.
She added that employees not only connect with colleagues on this app, but there are activities like photography competition, hobby activities involving the staff and their families, especially children.
Personal touch to be intact
Even as physical engagement has moved virtual, companies want to ensure that personal touch stays intact.
Mayank Kumar, co-founder and MD of online education portal upGrad, said that messaging from the leadership team which was earlier planned as a bunch of videos, has now been converted to a radio show format called upGrad upbeat, produced in-house monthly.
“The physical office games now come under fun-Friday digital games, the award ceremonies are conducted online inviting the awardees' families as well and the Rewards and Recognitions have taken a totally digital route now,” he added.
upGrad has also partnered with an external firm for employee wellness. Under this, T-shirts, personalised letters, chocolates, and IT assets get shipped to the current addresses of the employees.
Virtual parties and employee nights
Office parties are often recognised as a good way to engage with team members from across the company. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, these activities have also moved online.
At technology firm Cisco, the employees are using the Cisco Webex platform to showcase virtual pet parties, virtual costume parties, and virtual birthday parties. Employees are also encouraged to post pictures of their work-from-home experience.
Similarly, at workplace communication platform Flock, an initiative called ‘LIT Saturdays’ has been launched to motivate their employees while they work from home during pandemic times. Here, stand-up comedian Kenny Sebastian performed live over video for the first leg.
Under ‘LIT Saturdays’, which will be a monthly social entertainment virtual event, the focus is on themes like music, dance, comedy and other performing arts to the employees of Flock. The idea is to bring memorable experiences right to their homes.
“Flock has always focused on creating a ‘Work is Play’ culture while shaping an inclusive, safe, friendly, and persevering ecosystem for all its employees. These initiatives are steps towards creating a happy ambience to boost motivation that will help the employees to feel rejuvenated and motivate them to work even more efficiently”, said Margaret Dsouza, Head, HR, Flock.
At ed-tech platform Scaler Academy, the firm organised weekly virtual game night to help the employees bond while they work from home. Festival celebrations are also being held virtually.
Over and above these ‘fun’ activities, HR officials said that companies are also placing special emphasis on mental health and offering access to confidential therapy/counselling by partnering with third-party experts.
Moneycontrol had reported how well-being leave is also being offered by companies to ensure that employees have time off.
Is this necessary?
Various surveys, post lockdown, have shown that employees now find no personal time since work-life balance is non-existent during remote working.
A survey by HR firm Genius Consultants, conducted during April-June, said that 50 percent respondents felt that their work-life balance was affected by the lockdown. About 28.6 percent respondents felt that a reduction in manpower led to increase in work pressure.
R P Yadav, CMD of Genius Consultants, said that work-life balance is an imperative factor to maintain high productivity and employee satisfaction. He added that corporates need to consider the reason for the imbalance and work with their employees to chart out a pragmatic plan of action.