Working in the time of COVID-19 has been a challenge, to say the least. While countless people have lost their jobs, those fortunate enough to keep theirs have faced new hurdles. One primary change that many have to contend with is the need to regularly work from home. We’ve had a liberal work-from-home policy since our company’s inception, but such policy did not make Gavant immune from the effects of the virus. We pride ourselves on the culture, personal connections, and camaraderie we’ve developed here over the years and this new normal threatens those foundations we worked so hard to establish. To reestablish those connections and mitigate some of the negative impact on company culture stemming from the pandemic, we needed to find new ways to promote employee engagement.

Cause for concern

According to MIT’s Sloan Management Review, “social isolation among remote workers is not a new challenge,” but has received greater attention due to COVID-19. Less person-to-person interaction in the workplace during the pandemic is eroding employee engagement worldwide, and Gavant was no exception.

From March 2020 to the time of this writing, we have largely been a work-from-home company, meaning in-person contact has been minimal to non-existent. As a result, company sponsored events – in-office birthday lunches, summer BBQ, Track Day at Saratoga, holiday lunch at a local restaurant, to name a few – were all put on hold. Gathering in the conference room for Friday games, or in the kitchen to chat and drink some tea, is (hopefully temporarily) a thing of the past. It seemed as though the pandemic was quite quickly moving Gavant into the clock in/clock out company we tried so hard not to be. Keeping our culture intact as much as possible became a priority for me.

Weekly Challenges to drive employee engagement

After considering the crux of what I wanted to achieve – a quick way for people to keep in touch, take a break from work, have some fun and maybe learn a bit about each other in the process – I landed on the idea of Weekly Challenges. Short little prompts posted to a company-wide Slack channel, Weekly Challenges give everyone the opportunity to regularly keep in touch.

I found inspiration from topics we discussed during teatime or game sessions. Some are simple, like “Name an Overrated Halloween Candy.” Others are designed to be more valuable and long lasting, like “Obscure Movies You Need to See” or “Delicious Recipes You Need to Try.” And my colleagues have chipped in with ideas I hadn’t even considered. We played the Game of Telephone via video recording, and it proved to be one of the most well-received challenges so far. Another one people had a lot of fun with was “New Rooms With Unfortunate Demises at a Willy-Wonka-Knock-Off Factory”.

Having others contribute ideas certainly eases some stress off of me to consistently come up with challenges. More importantly, it gives others the opportunity to have their ideas and voices heard. And as an added benefit, that boosts the likelihood of them contributing to a prompt. In fact, employees who may have previously sat out during games or teatime have been regular contributors to Weekly Challenges.

Increasing employee engagement

After a few months, it’s clear that Weekly Challenges have been a resounding success. Employee engagement is high from week to week, whether by employees responding directly to the prompt or others going off on minor tangents. The ultimate goal is simply to keep us all connected by sparking discussion and that goal has undoubtedly been met.

Because the Weekly Challenges have proven successful, I plan to continue posting them as a regular feature. They give employees a means to stay in touch while simultaneously helping to ensure the culture Gavant has built over the years remains strong. The pandemic has no doubt proven to be a struggle for countless people and companies this past year. With all the difficulties and changes brought about by COVID-19, Weekly Challenges provide a means for some pre-pandemic normalcy – staying connected with coworkers while getting a bit of a respite from the stress of the new normal.

Here are 10 ideas to use for Weekly Challenges at your company:

  1. A personal project you’re proud of 
  2. Your favorite hobby 
  3. Your favorite recipe 
  4. What inspired your career 
  5. Greatest fear you’ve conquered 
  6. The best tool to help you perform your job 
  7. An unpopular opinion 
  8. A secret talent you have 
  9. A personal goal you have yet to achieve
  10. Your favorite  movie soundtrack