A roadmap to how we planned our virtual boom!Fest 2020 in the middle of a pandemic
Flashback to 7th February 2020. It was the end of an action-packed week where every single Reward Gateway employee had come together at boom!Fest, our biggest internal all-hands employee event.
This bi-annual event was a firm favourite among employees. As soon as the ‘save the date’ would be sent, a buzz of excitement became very apparent in the business. Everyone enjoyed listening to and learning about what was happening in the company – a true engagement energiser which allowed our people to focus on our strategy and vision for the year ahead.
Fast-forward to nearly eight months later, and my colleagues and I were stuck in a never ending cycle of pandemic life, which very clearly threw a wrench in my typical planning around an inclusive, in-person event.
The question became: how would we now keep that energy alive having to now deliver that same experience with everyone working from home?
While we could have postponed, the general consensus was that this event was still critically important for our people, especially at a time when we needed visible leadership, clear direction and a well-informed strategy so every individual could understand what success would look like in their role.
Ironically, the team and I had been looking at how to minimise travel for our CEO and cut down on costs, so we were able to finally put some of our plans in action! Whilst transitioning this event, I learned loads about how to put on a successful virtual employee engagement event. Here are my tips if you’re in the same situation:
Start with company values
One of our core values at Reward Gateway is ‘Think Global.’ It means understanding that we are part of something bigger, that our strength comes from being united and our success demands more than individual excellence but collaboration and teamwork.
With our teams separated due to temporary remote work we needed an event to remind ourselves that no matter what barriers we face, working together across departmental, geographical and COVID-19 boundaries, we can achieve something greater than what we can achieve alone.
In true ‘Push the Boundaries’ spirit (another one of our RG values), we decided to take our boom!Fest all-hands event and make the entire day virtual. This meant that employees would be able to watch the event from the comfort of their own homes, with the company strategy streamed live to their living room.
Adapting event content to fit a remote work environment
We also decided to create a much bigger online presence in the build up to the event. We didn’t have the luxury of office chatter and digital office signage to advertise and hype the event. Instead, we created a website with a countdown to the big day, full agenda and information about what to look forward to.
We created online profiles for our presenters so employees could learn more about the leaders they’d be hearing from on the day, and expanded the conversation and chatter everywhere from our internal employee engagement platform to our Instagram stories that nodded to our core theme ‘celebration,’ including RG employees’ favourite songs for celebration and celebratory moments from our Leadership Team.
Planning began by taking the agenda for our last in-person event and survey data to assess what our audience really valued. I knew that for an online event it would be hard to expect people to tune in for a whole day of online viewing.
Where our in-person event had lasted from 9 to 5 pm, the strategy and leadership presentations would need to be a lot tighter to engage an online audience.
We decided to strip it back and allow for only two hours of keynote presentations. Essentially we’d cut the fat and kept only the core content that our employees love most.
For Reward Gateway employees, this meant hearing from our CEO, Chief Finance Officer, Group Sales Director, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Technology Officer.
Each presenter was challenged with creating a more concise presentation to keep energy and pace punchy. On average, presentations were 10 minutes long – just the right amount of time to keep an online audience engaged.
Keeping things light and human
We made small changes to the presentations in other ways to acknowledge the different environment the event was happening in.
In place of our traditional, corporate photos on the intro slide, I asked every presenter for a recent photo of them in their home.
This small tweak to imagery showed that we were all in the same situation and we were all in it together.
For an extra bit of fun, they also chose a song of which we played a 20-second clip and invited the audience to guess the song name and artist… a little bit of music quiz added an element of fun to the day.
In addition to music, our people love connecting over food. At every all-hands meeting employees loved having a catered event where they could eat, chat about the day and catch up on what they’d all been up to.
We didn’t want to lose this treat so we used our employee rewards system to ensure the event remained catered for employees.
We were able to upload a monetary eCard to send on the day which employees could then redeem on their favourite food delivery company and have lunch delivered to their door, like Uber Eats for example.
Another part of the in-person event that people loved was being able to connect with their colleagues. Connection is so important to our people and so we looked at activities which would focus on social cohesion but work in a virtual setting. We also wanted to ensure that wellbeing was incorporated into the agenda and encourage all employees to get outside for some fresh air, get motivated and get moving and feeling good for the day.
To make this happen we top and tailed the business talks with a variety of remote activities which included…
|Rise and Shine Yoga Sessions||We partnered with Hannah Vincent yoga and scheduled a session to suit every time zone, designed for all levels and themed on our values.|
|Get Moving Walk/Run/Ride Charity Event:||We partnered with Run Coach expert Ben Davie who hosted our live podcast and had Louis Kwayke from our London office as our special RG guest. With a mix of music, wellbeing tips and a mindful minute, Louis shared his story of being a professional athlete prior to joining RG.
We heard how running was a huge part of Louis's life and how his personal history shaped him into becoming the leader of our Sales team
|Bulgaria's Virtual Escape Room:||We partnered with O3E to bring our employees a virtual, team-building adventure. It's a special event that provides a meaningful, fun and challenging experience.|
|Crock'd Team-Building Activity:||We had pottery kits posted to our employees for them to get creative with their hands and have a giggle attempting to make something from their slabs of clay.|
|Our RG Online Scavenger Hunt:||We challenged employees to be the fastest to find items in their home or online in order to win the scavenger hunt.|
The day ended with an optional online social hosted by our fantastic, Experience Managers. There were awards, Bingo and music quizzes happening which was a great way to relax, connect and unwind in a different way at the end of the day. We kept this activity optional for everyone as we understand parents at home and other commitments mean everyone's work at home days are different.
Using employee feedback to fuel next steps
A big positive of having the event fully virtual meant we were also able to put a recording of the event up the very same day hosted on our employee engagement platform and shared with employees via our blogs. We have several shift workers who weren’t able to attend in the daytime as they work night shifts. The in-person format always meant a delay in getting them a video of the event but being completely online meant that the recording was shared with the shift workers within an hour of the event ending.
So, how did our employees respond to the event? Well, after every all-hands meeting we use employee surveys to learn how we can improve the employee experience.
I was thrilled to find that rather than our virtual challenge being a negative, it actually scored higher than our event that took place in person in February.
We increased our score from 7 to 8.3 out of 10! And here’s what our employees had to say about it…
“It was truly awesome! Engaging, informative, and fun as always! Thank you for the amazing experience.”
“WOW, great job to all who coordinated this event and presented! I stayed engaged virtually and it was great to hear from our Leadership team LIVE! I loved that the morning was the recaps of the previous year and goals, and that we got to add in physical activities throughout the day and end with a virtual social gathering.”
“Well done team! You created a fantastic, inclusive all-day event in very challenging circumstances.”
“Really enjoyed the whole day. I managed to get involved with an activity with every geo which made the event feel truly global and unique. The activities were great! I loved the virtual run session. The lunch provision was a really nice touch. Thank you!”
Although this year has presented a lot of challenges, there are also opportunities. We’re all craving a sense of belonging more than ever before and it’s up to us as People and HR leaders to listen to our employees, adapt to our current environments and connect people to one another and to our company mission and values.
If you have any questions about how we used our employee engagement platform to connect, recognize or support our people, please feel free to send me a message on LinkedIn.