The Covid-19 pandemic has forever changed the way we view remote work. What used to be a luxury for some is now a reality for many: a Gartner study reports that 80% of survey respondents plan to allow their employees to work from home at least part-time after 2021.
This shift presents a challenge for team managers who want to ensure engagement levels remain high. It’s easy enough to plan a few months’ or even a year’s worth of virtual employee engagement activities; it’s another task entirely to design one that’s fresh, exciting, and ongoing for the long-term future.
Despite how daunting it seems, long-term remote employee engagement can be fun, easy, and affordable (sometimes even free!). In this article, we’re excited to outline 24 virtual employee engagement ideas that will get your team buzzing again.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Introduction: What Is Employee Engagement?
- Friday Night In
- Sharpen Your Skills
- Burn It Off
- Clear the Mental Clutter
- Give to Get Back
- Channel Your Inner HGTV
- The Way to the Heart is through the Stomach
- The SWAG We Never Knew We Needed
- Play Santa for a Day
Introduction: What Is Employee Engagement?
Employee engagement is a measure of how happy, fulfilled, and loyal towards the company an employee feels at their workplace.
The importance of employee engagement cannot be overstated. The level of employee engagement at your company has a direct impact on performance:
- Poor employee engagement has been shown to decrease productivity
- Highly engaged teams report 21% greater profitability
- Positive employee engagement directly correlates to effective employee retention (Gallup)
Employee engagement also affects customer loyalty and success rates, as well as brand recognition and reputation.
Engagement levels have been through the ringer in the past 18 months. At the beginning of the pandemic, Gallup saw engagement levels rise to new heights (see graph below). This boost was likely a result of people appreciating the newfound ability to work from home. Many were feeling fortunate to maintain employment while keeping themselves and others healthy, and likely went out of their way to remain engaged with work.
However, the same study showed a sharp decline in engagement beginning just a few months after the onset of remote work.
It’s likely that this drop-off represented a reality check for many employees: How long will we be separated from our co-workers? How long until we can safely attend an office Happy Hour? How long until we can catch up in the break room again?
Unfortunately, few of those answers are clear-cut, at least for the time being. Many workers will remain remote for the foreseeable future. This ambiguous timeline – the feeling of being disconnected, with no end in sight – can wreak havoc on employee engagement if team leaders aren’t proactive.
Don’t worry – there’s good news. There’s a nearly limitless number of remote employee engagement activities that will improve team engagement across the board. Let’s have a look at some of the best we’ve seen.
Friday Night In
The shift to remote work has blurred the work/life balance for many employees. It’s important that your team members feel encouraged to step away from their work duties from time to time. Following are several virtual employee engagement activities that would be a fun “Friday Night In” event for your team.
Nothing like some friendly competition to get those endorphins flowing! A trivia night is a great work-from-home engagement activity. It requires little to no preparation or materials, and can accommodate many participants.
Expect a virtual trivia night to cost about $20 per person.
This is an easy way to start a virtual team engagement program – click here to have Thriver book you a night of fun for your team (discounts for teams over 100 people!).
Pre-pandemic, the Escape Room trend was gaining traction as a fantastic team-building activity. Fortunately, the industry wasted no time in pivoting to online offerings. Escape rooms are one of the best team engagement activities online.
You can expect to spend about $25 per person for this kind of virtual employee engagement event.
Thriver has a number of escape rooms available for booking. Book an escape room that gets great reviews for being challenging, technologically capable, and fun for the whole team.
Paint & Sip
The paint-and-sip industry is another one that shifted seamlessly from a fun-night-out to a perfect employee engagement idea during work from home.
Most basic paint nights cost about $30 per person, but there are some specialized paint events that may cost more. This one on Thriver, for example, costs $80 per person, and allows your employees to paint any image of their choosing with the help of a specialized app.
Sharpen Your Skills
As necessary as it is to take time off from the intellectual demands of your job, it’s also important to broaden your horizons in other areas. Check out some of our employee engagement ideas for remote workers who want to learn something new.
Free Online Classes
Free online college classes have been widely available for years, but the pandemic has afforded them a surge in popularity. Taking a class as a cohort would be a great virtual engagement activity for employees.
EdX and Coursera are two of the most popular platforms, and both offer classes on just about any topic you could dream up. Many of them are on par with Ivy League courses – without the tuition fees, of course.
Cooking classes are a phenomenal option for employee engagement activities during work from home, because they cover just about every culinary topic under the sun. Your team can learn anything from cookie decorating to making homemade hot sauce, and everything in between.
Cooking classes can cost anywhere from $15 (cheese platter workshop) to over $100 (cooking with superfoods) per person, depending on the particular topic.
Check out the numerous cooking class options on Thriver that might interest your team – you can easily book one cooking class a month for an entire year, and still have some left over.
Another great idea for virtual staff engagement? Conflict resolution training.
Hear us out on this one – without face-to-face interactions, many grievances are going left unsaid and, therefore, unaddressed. This is part of the reason we keep seeing people on social media having nuclear-level meltdowns on airplanes and in supermarkets – we’re all holding too much in!
Try conflict management as a virtual team engagement idea – chances are, everyone will learn new and healthy skills for approaching conflicts remotely.
There may be some sticker shock here at first glance – some workshops cost upwards of $1500. But that price tag includes a seminar that can accommodate as many employees as you like. Depending on the size of your team, that may be worth it.
You can book a conflict-resolution workshop that’s run by a Harvard-trained author and educator on Thriver. The workshop also includes a primer on emotional intelligence.
Burn It Off
Taking care of your physical health is a critical part of maintaining happiness and engagement in the workplace. If your body doesn’t feel good, it won’t take long for your brain to start to slump, too. Here are a few of our favorite physically-driven employee engagement activities during work from home.
Fitness & Yoga
The fitness sector is very popular for engagement activities for remote employees. There are remote exercise and yoga offerings for just about any fitness or activity level, meaning that everyone can participate according to their own comfort levels.
Check out some of Thriver’s fitness offerings here, which range from posture workshops, to basic yoga, to self-defense. Prices depend on the workshop you choose, and range anywhere from $6 to $1500 per participant.
One of our favorite virtual team engagement ideas is a nutrition class. It’s quite topical, too – one of the downsides of working from home is that the refrigerator is just steps away and tantalizingly full of your favorite comfort foods!
A nutrition class can double as both a health-forward training and an engagement activity for remote teams.
Click here to learn more about the options available on Thriver if you’re looking for something nutritionally-based – classes cover everything from meal prep to gut health, and range from $5 to $500 per person.
Here’s another free virtual team engagement idea: a remote 5k.
Challenge your team members to hop on the nearest trail or treadmill and get running! Prizes can be awarded to top performers in a variety of categories or age groups. There are apps to help runners track their time, or you can go old-school and use the honor system.
Clear the Mental Clutter
According to Forbes, 80% of employees would quit their current jobs in favor of one that focused more on employees’ mental health.
Team managers need to be proactive about this, now more than ever. Taking care of your team’s mental health is more than just an engagement activity for remote teams – it’s a necessary component of surviving this pandemic.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – make sure your employees are equipped with the skills to avoid burnout.
Burnout prevention courses range from $350 to $1500 (all team sizes welcome). You can aslo book this mid-range course for $500 (minimum of 15 attendees) that teaches employees how to use food and nutrition to prevent burnout.
Vision Board Creation
If you’re looking for a more light-hearted virtual team engagement idea, try a Vision Board workshop.
At just $35 per person, you can help team members set goals and dreams for themselves, and provide them a bit of escape from the day-to-day monotony of working from home.
Book a vision board creation event for your team and be sure to show up with your scissors and glue!
Meditation is all about being in the present. It can help remote employees alleviate a lot of concerns regarding the uncertainty of the future. And it’s not just woo-woo – multiple peer-reviewed scientific studies show significant correlation between mediation practice and work engagement.
There are a number of inexpensive options for meditation classes (click here for a class that starts at just $6 per person). Some can run on the pricier end, though, ranging in the hundreds per person.
Give to Get Back
Volunteering can give weary pandemic work-from-homers a sense of purpose back in their life. It can be a great remote employee engagement idea because it encourages team members to intentionally dial back into their communities.
Host Your Own Food Drive
The Stop Community Food Centre offers a program for virtual staff engagement that allows participants to run their own food drive. The program is free, and includes a Zoom meet-and-great so your team can meet fellow do-gooders.
Learn more about how to sign up through Thriver to make a difference.
Make-Your-Own Kit for Youth Services
Larkin Street Youth Services has another wonderful remote team engagement idea: build-your-own care kit for homeless youth in San Francisco. The organization works with your team to come up with a “theme” for your baskets, which you’ll then put together at home.
Channel Your Inner HGTV
Now that employees are home for most of their day, it’s important that their office space is well-defined and encourages productivity. A company-sponsored redesign of their workspace can be great for employee engagement for remote employees.
There are some who will say that pets are the new kids, and plants are the new pets.
Some go so far as to call their houseplants their “babies.”
And some can’t manage to keep anything green alive for more than a week.
Whether your thumb is green or black, sign up for the Plant Doctor through Thriver to learn tips and tricks on keeping your plant babies healthy and thriving for just $24 per person.
Interior design workshops are some of our favorite employee engagement activities for work from home employees. It’s both purposeful – your office needs to be well-designed for maximum performance – and creative!
There are a number of services that offer virtual workshops for sprucing up your workspace. Thriver’s marketplace has one available for $500 per person, which includes a new workspace layout, resource for furniture, and tips for comfort.
There’s also an option for employees really wanting to take WFH to the next level: Zoom Backdrop Design. For remote employees constantly on video conferences, this service ($150 per person) will help you arrange your lighting, plants, and background knick knacks in an aesthetically-pleasing manner.
The Way to the Heart Is through the Stomach
This next category isn’t a new idea – managers have been earning the respect of their team members via sweets and treats for decades. While there are limitless opportunities for team engagement activities online, you can never go wrong with some delicious grub.
Thriver’s marketplace offers a number of snack box options that you can send to your team to brighten their day. Customizable boxes start at $30 per person.
Personal Care Packages
For those who want to elevate the Snack Box concept, you might also consider a personalized care package. Click here for one of our favorites, which curates boxes for your employee based on a theme of your choice. For $100 per person, you can choose from themes like Self-Care, Relaxation & Zen, or General Wellness.
Here’s a fantastic and free idea that doesn’t need to be reserved for the holidays – a cookie exchange! Have each employee pick a name from a (virtual) hat, and then task them with sending one another their best homemade cookies. Bonus points for including the recipe! Each participant gets the chance to bake and receive cookies made with care.
The SWAG We Never Knew We Needed
Company gear can create an important sense of pride and camaraderie, especially when large gatherings are hard to come by.
SWAG Design Contest
Before you distribute your gear, you have to design it! Get your employees’ creativity flowing by hosting a contest for best SWAG design. The cost of running the event is free, but you’ll need to consider prizes. An easy way to do this is to award the winner with a free package of SWAG featuring their design.
Companies like Custom Ink will screenprint your company’s logo onto just about any article of clothing you can imagine. Their most basic tee-shirts start at just $12 a piece, making this an affordable and fun way to engage your team.
Play Santa for a Day
Who doesn’t love receiving gifts? Sending a gift to your teammates is a thoughtful gesture that shows how much you appreciate your employees.
One neat idea – especially for teams who are spread out across multiple remote locations – is to send a gift that’s local to your HQ. If, for example, your main branch is located in Maine, you might send your employees each a bottle of local Maple syrup. A New Orleans branch might receive beignets (yes, please!).
Local gifts like these can be found in any price range, and can be a great surprise delivered to employees’ homes. They might also serve as a sweet reminder that one day we’ll be able to travel and explore new places once again.
Granted, gift cards aren’t the most original gift idea. They are, however, popular. Know why? Because they’re extremely useful! There’s no one in the world who doesn’t appreciate a gift card to a favorite store – even better if it’s one of those prepaid “buy whatever you want” cash cards.
No need to overcomplicate this one. A “Starbucks on Me!” gift card could be just the thing your employees need to tune back into the team.
One of the perks of working from home is the ability to take meetings from the couch. Show your employees that you encourage them to get comfy at work by sending them a soft, plush sherpa blanket (bonus point if it’s branded!). These make luxurious gifts for an affordable price – some options start at around $30.
Keeping your remote employees engaged from home can be a challenge. But with a little bit of creativity – and the virtual employee engagement activities available on the Thriver marketplace – the task can become fun and rewarding. It might even boost your engagement, while you’re at it!