21 Unique Virtual Employee Engagement Ideas

πŸ•’ May 19, 2020

You’ve found our list of virtual employee engagement ideas.

Virtual employee engagement ideas are ways to improve the relationship between an organization and its remote workers. Related topics include ideas that boost morale and participation.

This list includes includes:

  • Remote employee engagement activities
  • Work from home engagement activities
  • Virtual team engagement activities
  • Fun ideas for increasing engagement for remote teams

And more πŸ™‚

So, here are some ideas to increase engagement with your remote team.

List of virtual employee engagement ideas

From Quarterly Christmas to Slack channels to bonuses, there are many ways to increase engagement with remote employees. Consider the following as a “starter list” that you can build from in your own organization.

1. Quarterly Christmas πŸŽ„

A couple years ago we started a project code-named Quarterly Christmas to send holiday cheer to our virtual team members throughout the year. We have a modest cap on the budget of $25 per person, which is flexible in any given quarter if we find something great.

For the package, you can send simple tech gear like upgraded chargers, books or movie passes. The magic is less in the items chosen and more in the act of sending; it is fun to get surprise packages in the mail.

2. Spreadsheet Pixel Art

When you day dream about spreadsheet software, you probably think about formulas and calculations like I do. However, spreadsheets are a powerful tool that you can even use for art that emulates Picasso, da Vinci, and Monet.

Enter, Spreadsheet Pixel Art, a fun activity you can do with remote teams to increase engagement. Spreadsheet Pixel Art can be a collaborative game, a competition, an art show or anything else you want it to be. Whatever you choose, Spreadsheet Pixel Art will deliver in fun “together-time” for you and your online team.

Here is a free template you can use to get started: Spreadsheet Pixel Art Template.

3. #you-are-awesome Channel

One of our most successful virtual employee engagement ideas was creating a #you-are-awesome channel on Slack. You could also run #you-are-awesome in an email thread or on other shared platforms.

#you-are-awesome is a channel where any team member can give shout-outs to other team members. Peers can give shout-outs to peers, managers to direct reports, direct reports to managers, and any other combination. Cross department shout-outs are awesome too.

The #you-are-awesome mechanics are fairly simple:

  1. Anyone can give a short and clear shout-out to another team member, and tag that person.
  2. Everyone else watching the channel can heap on praise via emojis. The more emojis the merrier.
  3. Rinse and repeat.

If you are a manager then you can spearhead the channel by sharing shout-outs on a consistent schedule. Your team members will quickly jump on the shout-out bandwagon, and the channel will become self sustaining.

Important: As a manager or leader you will probably get fewer shout-outs then your team. This is normal and okay! #you-are-awesome regardless, and the channel isn’t really about you; it’s about recognizing your people for all the awesome work they do.

4. Mister Rogers Calls

One of our most popular internal team building activities is 1 on 1 video connections we call Mister Rogers Calls. The name is a fun spin on the purpose of the calls, which is to get to know your remote work neighbors.

Functionally, each week an app randomly matches two people on our remote team. The team members then schedule a call for sometime during the week. The only guideline for the call is that it is about 30 minutes, and you aren’t allowed to talk about work.

5. Seedling Community Garden 🌱

I am notorious for several things, including Chipotle consumption, living out of a small backpack, and an ardent belief in the power of house plants.

If you like house plants too, then you and your remote team can collectively build a Seedling Community Garden. The gardening activity is like a work from home version of public school science experiments where you grow a seedling in a paper cup.

To start, everyone gets a cup of dirt, and then starts planting leftover seeds from apples, watermelon and similar. Avocados are fun, and if you wait 5 – 10 years then you may have an avocado tree that can save you dozens of dollars a month on avocados. Mangoes are really hard to grow into trees, so good luck with that.

Finally, take pictures of your seedlings and post to a team message board with cheerful messages of encouragement for the other desk-farmers. You can grow something beautiful together.

6. Mini Virtual Hackathon

Hackathons are a common event type in the tech industry. One example is an industry or community hackathon, where you choose a theme like “hardware API integration” and each team builds a solution around that. Some organizations also hold internal hackathons where teams work on solutions to problems that the organization is trying to overcome.

You can re-purpose the best aspects of hackathons for virtual employee engagement by running a Mini Virtual Hackathon.

If you have tech savvy employees, then your mini hackathon can run with similar mechanics to the real world equivalents. If you want to include employees with more general skill sets or from other departments then you can use Google Sheets or similar for your development platform.

Solving business problems together can be a powerful engagement factor, and you can also do something more more focused on fun. For example, “build a choose your own adventure app” or “make a scrappy recipe generator” or “build a tool someone may pay $5 to use.” The themes help provide guidance to your team’s creativity.

Pro tip: We recommend limiting your mini hackathon to 90 minutes max, which is a good time limit for balancing engagement and attention. You could do a little longer, but then your hackathon really wouldn’t be that mini.

Picture and prizes recommended, but not required; you can fun your mini hackathon without spending money on anything other than labor.

7. Ted-Style Talks

About five years ago, Ted Talks took the world by storm. Led by Ted, the people of the world became enamored with data, body language, great leadership and other topics. For this remote engagement activity, recruit your team members to give their own Ted-Style Talks.

Here’s how it works:

  • Have each of your team members list the weird expertise they have, which could range from fourth year calculus to the world’s best chocolate chip cookie recipes.
  • Support each team member in preparing a simple slideshow and talk. Five minutes is enough.
  • At the beginning or end of your virtual meetings, have one team member lead a Ted-Style Talk.
  • Allow an extra two to three minutes for Q&A.

You can continue on until all team members have given a talk. This format is excellent for virtual team engagement because people are interested in their colleague’s personal stories and expertise.

8. tiny campfire

Nothing quite brings people together like a campfire, and nothing quite brings remote teams together like a virtual campfire.

We provide virtual campfires as a service, where we send each of your virtual team members a s’more kit and tiny tealight campfire. During the event we play nostalgic camp games and tell historic ghost stories like a strong theory that Abraham Lincoln haunted a lady’s dress. It’s fun, unique, wildly smart, and your team will love it.

You can run your own virtual campfires too. You just need s’more ingredients for participants, tea lights and matches for the fire, and games and activities you can play together.

9. Healthy Habits Challenge

Working from home can either be a strong contributor or a might detractor from creating healthy habits. For example, with the ability to start working from bed in the morning, your team may be drawn to do so. Another example is eating at regular times, drinking enough water and getting exercise.

You can support your remote workers in building healthy habits with a monthly Healthy Habits Challenge. To get started, choose a theme like “10 minute walk every day” and setup a spreadsheet to track progress. Each day a team member completes the theme activity, that team member can add an x to the day of the month on the spreadsheet. At the end of the month, the team member with the most x marked spots wins.

For prizes, you can use Amazon gift cards. If you have the budget to give a prize to everyone that participates, then do so. You can give prizes that support good health like skipping ropes and reusable water bottles.

10. Emoji Nomenclature

Part of effective online communication is embracing emojis. And when you get your team on board with a unified Emoji Nomenclature then it can be effective for employee engagement as well.

Emoji Nomenclature is agreed upon symbols that represent full words, actions or concepts. For example, a ❀️ commonly means “I love it” or similar.

Here are other examples you can use to build out your Emoji Nomenclature:

  • πŸ‘€ – I saw it
  • πŸ‘Œ – Okay / I acknowledge it
  • πŸ™ – Thank you
  • πŸ”₯ – Rad
  • πŸ’― – I agree
  • πŸ‘ – I will act on it

Pro tip: I recommend maxing out at 10 emojis that you use to communicate specific meaning. Any more than 10 and you risk diluting the powerful of Emoji Nomenclature and descending into an abyss of obscure communication.

11. Employee Journal

The Employee Journal is a framework we use for on-boarding and developing new remote members. The practice includes creating private Slack channels where each employee can share thoughts and questions that develop throughout the day. The only other member of the private channel is the team member’s direct manager, who is available to offer encouragement and answer questions.

The Employee Journal has two main purposes:

  1. Provide new team members with a space to share ideas and questions they have about the organization.
  2. Bring “fresh eyes” and an objective perspective to our systems and processes.

The first point goes toward employee engagement, and the second helps create system improvements that benefit the entire team and organization. We’ve made changes to our HR, marketing, sales and other systems based on what new team members wrote in the Employee Journal. That direct action and impact is also an excellent way to quick engage an employee with your larger scope and mission.

12. #small-wins Channel

The #small-wins channel is a place on Slack, email or other messaging platforms to celebrate modest size wins for the company. For example, you could include a press mention, a nice blog comment, a business milestone, or a celebrity following you on Twitter.

Our most recent post to #small-wins is a LinkedIn comment praising our team for navigating a crisis, and before that our marketing manager posted that a friend was searching for virtual team building online and found us πŸ™‚

The only guideline for #small-wins is to keep the scope small. This channel isn’t a place for announcing a $20 million seed round or a major feature in the New York Times; it’s for the little things that might otherwise go unnoticed. When you keep the scope small, you connect your team with the nuances of customer, audience and market interactions. Those connections are a powerful boost to employee engagement.

13. Company Yearbook

One of our most successful virtual employee engagement activities is publishing a company yearbook. We have published a yearbook three years in a row, and either distribute it at company retreats or send it by mail.

We have a culture committee that assembles the yearbook on Shutterfly and includes pictures of all team members organized by department, plus photos of team activities we did throughout the year.

You can get an “engagement power-up” by signing the yearbooks before distribution. If we send the yearbooks by mail then we have our leadership write a thoughtful note in each book first. Company yearbooks are a big win for work from home engagement activities.

14. Unstructured Time

Part of working from home is feeling like you are always on the clock. Especially when it comes to connecting with colleagues, the time you spend in virtual meetings and on video conferences calls is highly structured. This constant agenda can ware remote workers down, and lead to burnout and disengagement.

Ironically, you can combat structured time burnout by scheduling unstructured time into your calendar too. Give your people time to just hang out on virtual conference calls and talk about whatever they damn please. The feeling of relief of not having to be productive all the time will contribute to employee engagement and job satisfaction.

15. Inspirational Speeches

The first time you watched Brave Heart you were inspired by the words “they can take our lives, but they will never take our FREEDOM.” Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech is inspirational too. You can learn from these speeches and others, and plan your own to help motivate and engage your team.

A simple framework for delivering in inspiration speech is to go from big to small. Talk about the wide market your company serves, or even the state of humanity, then narrow down to the specifics of what your people do and how it impacts things. Speak with integrity, passion and transparency.

When you get an inspirational speech right, you will rally your team around the message and massively increase engagement. When you get an inspirational speech wrong, there are pretty much no consequences. Try it. Your first one is a practice round.

16. Call Your People

A very quick way to increase virtual employee engagement is to call your people and talk about life. You can ask:

  • How they are doing.
  • What they are excited about outside of work.
  • About any projects you can help with.
  • What they are watching on Netflix.

And other work-friendly topics. When you work remotely, getting call request from your boss can be nerve-wracking because it feels very serious. Calling to have a casual conversation is a good way to balance that feeling with something more positive.

17. Celebrate Work Anniversaries

If you have a large team, then most days may be a work anniversary for someone. You can celebrate these work anniversaries by making a quick post recognizing the team member. I recommend using a free tool like Canva to make a quick graphic that says “Carly: Happy 5 Year Work Anniversary!” where you would replace the name and number with the corresponding data for your actual team members.

18. Virtual Birthday Parties

When you work in an office, birthday parties mean cupcakes and good cheer in the lunch room. When you work in a virtual office, you can make a few small substitutes to have a similar quality celebration.

Here are two ideas for virtual birthday parties:

  1. Invite the birthday person to join a virtual call a few minutes after other teammates. When the person joins, everyone cheers and makes birthday wishes; like a tiny, virtual surprise party. You can schedule virtual a meeting specific for birthday team building, or tag these activities on to a regularly scheduled team call.
  2. Create a “Happy Birthday Sam! πŸŽ‰” message in Canva and share the image on your internal company channels. Include a prompt for colleagues to share “one memory of working with Sam” as a way to encourage fun participation and engagement.

Pro tip: You can adjust your birthday cheer to match the recipient of the message. For example, I am happy to ignore my birthday and okay with a brief mention. Other team members may like to highlight the day a little more πŸ™‚

19. Bonus Money + Thank You

Soon after I joined the startup world, the company I worked for hit a major milestone. We celebrated with a small party to get everyone together. At the party, our boss chatted with every person at the company to say “thank you” and give them a $100 gift card. Receiving a small bonus gift card, combined with the expression of gratitude was a powerful motivator. I felt appreciated, engaged and ready to continue the battle.

You can create that same motivation with awarding bonuses and sharing gratitude online. You can easily send digital gift cards or one in the mail. Try this engagement technique once, and you will see how powerful it can be.

20. Virtual team building icebreaker questions

You can quickly increase engagement in any virtual meeting by including icebreaker questions like “tea or coffee?” and “where is your dream location to work from?”

Check out our list of virtual team building icebreaker questions for more inspiration, plus recommendations on how to effectively use these prompts in a virtual meeting.

21. Online team building games

Online games are a great way to increase engagement for virtual teams because people like having fun together, and because all work and no play makes for a very dull remote work environment.

You can play virtual games like Online Team Building Bingo, Virtual Werewolf and Spreadsheets Wars. Check our our full list of online team building games for more inspiration.

More virtual employee engagement ideas

Investing in engagement activities for remote employees is an important part of virtual team building, and ensuring job satisfaction while working from home.

Here are additional resources for virtual employee engagement ideas:

You don’t need perfect employee engagement ideas, or the exact right virtual team activities, you just need to get started. Even allocating five minutes at the beginning of a conference call to employee engagement can make a big difference.

FAQ: Virtual Employee Engagement

The following are common questions and answers about virtual employee engagement.

What is virtual engagement?

Virtual engagement is both a qualitative and quantitative measurement of the relationship between an organization with virtual or remote work and its employees.

How do you keep virtual employees engaged?

There are various methods to keep virtual employees engaged. For example, you can invest time and/or money in virtual team building activities to help improve relationships with coworkers. Those relationships have a strong correlation with virtual employee engagement. You can also provide recognition through verbal and written praise, and financial compensation.

What are employee engagement activities?

Employee engagement activities are any activities, games and initiatives designed to intentionally influence employee engagement at an organization. For example, Quarterly Christmas and Spreadsheet Pixel Art are two unique activities for employee engagement.

How do you make virtual team meetings fun?

A simple rule of thumb to make virtual team meetings fun is to allocate 20% of the time to fun engagement activities and connection opportunities. For example, in virtual meeting scheduled for 60 minutes, you would allocate about 12 minutes to fun. During this time you an do virtual team building icebreaker questions, play quick online team games and more.

How do I make my employees feel connected?

The key to help make employees feel connected is to give them time and space to be people. Your people want to work for you, and want to do work projects; they also want to hang out, make friends and get to know people. Create space for personal relationships at work and you will see a measurable increase in employee engagement.

How would you motivate your team to work from home?

When employees work from home, one of the lacking elements is basic social interaction with colleagues. You don’t have a quick “hello” in the morning or lunchtime together. Instead, you need to schedule time for socializing and engagement activities.

written with πŸ’–οΈ by Michael Alexis

P.S: Any feedback on this article? Write a quick comment to share your thoughts so I know we reached you.

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Comments & Reactions ✨
  1. Allison Willis
    Allison Willis
    May 21, 2020 at 11:06 pm

    Odyssey Teams also offers virtual team building programs with a CSR component!

    Reply
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