Growing up with a kindergarten teacher for a mother, my world was full of creativity. Science experiments were forever scattered around the house. The cabinets were filled with unused crafts and coloring paper. There were stacks of books and flash cards lying everywhere, and of course there was always some papier-mâché project drying on a shelf. In order to keep the attention of a classroom full of five-year-olds, my mom was in a constant state of “test and learn” — generating new ideas, thinking on her feet, changing gears in an instant, and always looking for new and creative ways to engage her students.
The world we’re living in today is similar and yet so different. I can’t think of a profession or business that hasn’t been affected by the pandemic in some profound and lasting way. Small businesses have had to recreate who they are several times over, many companies have had to fundamentally change the way they do business, and employees everywhere have had to adapt to a new way of working. But when I think about all the changes that have occurred, it’s the experience of our teachers that inspires me the most.
Unsure of where the school year would take them, teachers in every community have had to prepare for several scenarios: would the kids be back in the classroom? Would they be remote? Would it be a hybrid experience? No one knew for sure. In many places, they still don’t.
Where I live, we are 100% remote. And with that comes many challenges. But with those challenges also comes opportunity. I recently took a day off work and listened to my son Jake’s online classes. For P.E., his teacher sent him outside to walk in our neighborhood and track his distance using Strava. His physics teacher gave him an activity where he had to spend 45 minutes measuring the volume and velocity of various items around the house. For Spanish, Jake’s teacher broke the class up into groups of five to practice speaking verb tenses to one another on Zoom. In math, his teacher used two cameras and a whiteboard to demonstrate functions and equations, and for art, the teacher played videos by Bob Ross while the kids created their own personal logos.
Watching all of this, what I found most inspiring was how each teacher created a unique way to connect to the students. Normally they would have been able to connect in person, but because everything is now online, the teachers have had to adapt and come up with creative ways to keep their students engaged.
Our workplaces face a similar challenge. Right now companies all over the globe are asking themselves: how do we keep our employees engaged and focused on their work when everything about how they work is so different? It’s a question not every business will successfully answer, but the ones who do will emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever. Fortunately, there are lots of examples already out there of companies doing smart, creative things to keep their employees engaged. I’ve seen a number of them myself.
At ROI, we have always been a virtual company, but we still have in-person gatherings whenever possible. Now that we are completely online, however, we have started holding monthly happy hours where employees get together on Zoom. Sometimes they are informal; other times they’ve had special guests and a theme. Just this June, for instance, we had a performance by Cacophony Daniels in celebration of Pride, and most recently we attended a “Goat-2-Meeting” hosted by Sweet Farm, complete with a virtual tour of the farm including goats, pigs, llamas, Gizmo the Groupie cow, a famously old horse named Sturgeon, chickens, and more. The meeting was not only fun for us, but it raised funds and awareness for this unique animal sanctuary.
Missing the Connection
For some employees, organized socials are great but what they’re really missing is the day-to-day connection of being around their colleagues. While there’s no way to fully recreate the feeling of being in an actual office, there are still lots of ways to help bring the office into the home. One of our clients, for instance, recently started a series of small group Zoom sessions in the morning for 30 minutes. The idea is to pop in when you can, bring your coffee and breakfast, and connect with your colleagues, just like you would sitting in the office break room. Another company sent branded cookies to every employee ahead of its all-hands meeting so everyone could enjoy a light moment together.
There are also a number of fun ways to help make working from home more enjoyable for employees. One such site I’ve recently become obsessed with is WindowSwap, which lets me sit in my home office in California, look up at my computer screen, and see what the view is like for someone living in Cairo or Buenos Aires or Brooklyn — or to share my view with them.
Many companies are also finding that small, break-out sessions on Zoom or Teams is making a big difference with employee engagement. Just like with my son’s Spanish class, the smaller the groups are, the higher the engagement. I’ve even seen a number of companies combine breakouts with guest speakers, videos, and polling using technologies like Slido or Poll Everywhere.
Customer engagement is also changing as a result of this moment we’re in. One of our clients recently had the idea to send customized care packages to customers with age-appropriate puzzles and books for kids, challenging puzzles for adults, and even special toys for pets. The response was beyond what the client could have imagined. Others are delighting customers with a surprise delivery an hour before their virtual meeting. By finding out what their customers like — maybe it’s a bottle of rosé or assorted cheeses from a nearby gourmet market — they are able to create a unique and shared experience.
Looking for Inspiration?
These are just a few of the many ways companies are innovating in response to this new work environment. Whether it’s engaging with employees or customers, or coming up with new business or product ideas, there is inspiration everywhere. I encourage you to look for ideas outside of your own industry. Check out https://www.covidinnovations.com/ to see what other companies are doing. You might find some ideas work better than others. You might come up with something all on your own. Regardless of what works for your business, what matters is that you’re willing to “test and learn” and get creative. Just like our teachers have done.