Zoom happy hours and lunches were fresh and exciting.
To be sure, homebound employees still want to connect because they miss running into their colleagues, and corporate leaders want team members to feel socially supported and engaged. However, videoconferencing isn’t the only tool that can promote togetherness; it just happened to be the vehicle most companies turned to at the start of COVID-19. In fact, it’s only one of multiple tools that can get the job done.
Revamping a video-only culture
Make no mistake: Virtual meetings are necessary. Through regular, face-to-face worker check-ins, managers can judge whether staffers are burned out or losing steam. Yet Zoom and other video platforms have lost their early luster and shimmer, turning into a stressful “must do” for workers already dealing with the pressures of remaining productive during a pandemic.
What’s so bad about videoconferencing that articles about Zoom fatigue pepper the internet? One reason is that online meetings have become the go-to choice. As a collaborative academic study recently highlighted by CNN reveals, the average length of post-pandemic meetings has decreased, but meeting frequency has gone up by 13%.
In other words, to encourage cross-pollination and interactions, supervisors have reverted to adding more video calls to the calendar rather than balancing those meetings with other means of communication.
Zoom video gatherings can certainly be effective. But being on camera feels distracting and burdensome for many employees who have come to resent the emotional effort it takes to appear engaged from beginning to end. Video requires people to be “on,” emphasizing everything from physicality to working environment. For that reason, it needs to be used more selectively rather than becoming the default.
This isn’t to suggest that we need to return to the days of popping letters in the mail. But sometimes, all it takes is a phone call, email or intranet chat to share information. At our company, we’ve found that regular intranet-issued announcements, augmented by monthly all-hands meetings, build camaraderie without forcing everyone into a never-ending whirlwind of video calls.
We’ve also implemented a few other strategies to ratchet up employee social engagement and collaboration in ways that feel genuinely enjoyable and not obligatory.
1. Host daily prompts on your corporate intranet. Every day, we highlight an intranet TBFH (team building from home) prompt. The prompt encourages workers to take actions such as sharing a music playlist or their daily breakfast. These prompts drive chatter, allowing team members to make discoveries about each other. They also help people from different departments find commonalities and forge friendships.
2. Foster sharing of diverse me-first content. People like to talk about themselves, which is why social media has gained such a foothold. Managers can drive sharing this me-first content by challenging workers to post pictures of anything from a dream vacation spot to a favorite nonwork activity. At my company, we’ve found that this me-first content highlights the fact that everyone adds something different to the team dynamic.
3. Consider fresher contact points. Instead of hosting a casual meeting, dream up other ways to get your specific message across or promote team bonding. You could take over, say, the weekly email to host an “awards ceremony” and hand out certificates to employees who’ve gone above and beyond. If you don’t want to go all out (or just have a simple message), you could also use the all-staff email to remind employees about underutilized corporate perks such as telehealth checkups.
4. Drive up the competition. Have a competitive bunch on your hands? Launch an internal competition after crowdsourcing ideas from your teams. The competition doesn’t have to directly relate to work, of course. Any type of tournament will do, from “cutest baby picture” to “worst school haircut.” You’d be surprised by how willing employees are to participate.
5. Bond over gaming. Heading to the arcade is obviously out. Instead, think like Quicken Loans and arrange monthly lunch breaks where anyone on the team can challenge top executives online. These events could involve anything from multiplayer games to a special blend of trivia. Make sure prizes are handed out to sweeten the experience for the winners.
Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other video software platforms have a place at your organization. They just need to be thought of as a singular part of your tool chest — not the only tool you’ll use to hammer away at disengagement.
Dhiraj Sharma is a serial entrepreneur and technology enthusiast who’s passionate about promoting purpose and meaning in the workplace. Sharma is the founder and CEO of Simpplr, a modern employee intranet software provider that helps companies engage their workforce by transforming employee communication.