As Skookum’s Event Manager, I’ve been planning internal and client events here for over four years. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, like so many others we were forced to switch to all-virtual events as of March. Now, we aren’t new to online meetings; real-world events and virtual meetings have long been very much a part of our culture.
Even so, transitioning to online-only presents a number of unique challenges, particularly in a widespread crisis event like the Coronavirus pandemic. Many participants were dealing with challenges of their own, having suddenly transitioned to working from home. Caregiving responsibilities, new work and collaboration methods, and the stress and anxiety of the pandemic all wreaked havoc with our collective schedules.
When the world is uncertain, in times of crisis and unrest—that’s exactly when your employees need you most. Internal events keep employees engaged and connected. They help you bridge silos by getting a broad spectrum of leadership and team members together who may not have opportunities to interact otherwise.
At first, I was trying to do something new and creative for every virtual event. But as time went on, I realized that it can make sense to repeat some “favorite” events and as you gather post-event feedback, you’ll learn to respond to your employees’ evolving needs and preferences.
Our 5 most successful events to date
Let’s have a look at what’s been working for Skookum; I hope these inspire new and engaging ideas for your own in-house events.
We have a trivia partner who used to come to the office prior to COVID-19 and host real-world trivia nights for the team. In-person events don’t always translate well into virtual environments, so we found a few opportunities to change the format a bit to ensure the flow and sequence of the event made sense, while also meeting the evolving needs of employees.
We did a Family Trivia Night, for example, with themed rounds and questions tailored to kids so people could join with the whole family. We created different prize categories and gave one Trivia Night a ‘dress-up with your team’ theme.
I’ve found that pre-assigning the teams helps get people committed and improves attendance. Buy-in increases when players know their team ahead of the event, as they don’t want to let their teammates down by bailing last minute.
Standup2Corona is a fantastic initiative in which popular standup comedians perform over Zoom or Google Meet and the proceeds support the non-profit Feeding America. As of July 4th, Standup2Corona had provided over 20,000 donated meals, making it an event your team can feel great about participating in!
Comedy events work well at lunch, as it provides a nice break during the workday for a more “mindless” and entertaining activity. It’s also easy to book this one online. We’ve offered this for employees a few different times and have helped clients set it up for their teams, as well. Comedy events also work well in the evening as a happy hour show.
Virtual Cocktail Class
Our class is hosted by a excellent bartender in LA who got creative and launched this virtual class business. He’s incredibly knowledgeable about the history of cocktails, different types of drinks, and more.
We are given several cocktail options, and once chosen, we are sent a grocery list to distribute to employees, so everyone has the same ingredients to work with. We incentivized this by allowing employees to expense a portion of the supplies. We also sourced branded cocktail glasses and mixers and sent those to some clients ahead of the event. We’ve held this event three times and I’ve noticed it draws a great mix of people from all levels of seniority across the company, right on up to the executive team.
People really enjoy a morning yoga session before they start their day and we’ve noted that a meditative midweek experience is great, too.
Slower flow, stretch, and meditation have been most appealing to employees. We’ve engaged a couple yoga instructors via Zoom and each employee can participate from their home or office. Offering these classes to employees shows you care about their health and wellness, while providing an interactive and engaging opportunity to connect with others in the company.
Fun Skill-Specific Classes
We use SkillPop, an organization that connects teachers with communities that may be interested in the skills they have to share, to facilitate these events. We initially offered a private class but have found that it’s just as fun and for us personally, more cost-effective to require an RSVP 24 hours in advance from employees, and then purchase individual seats in a class that’s already being offered to the public.
We’ve sent team members to classes like How to Crush Your Money Goals, Patio Farming Basics, Craft the Perfect Cheese Board, Wine Essentials.
Additionally, we are lucky enough to have Skookum friends and family members with great skills! Not only is one of our yoga instructors my sister and the other my friend, we had the wife of an employee, an Interior Decorator, teach us a class called “Home Decor Basics.” Additionally, a wife of another employee is a personal chef, so we have had her lead us through a virtual cooking class! It’s a win-win for us to have awesome class options through people we know, and to help support our extended Skookum family during this time as well!
Measuring the success of internal events
How can you tell if your in-house events are worth the investment? Define your KPIs ahead of time. What are you looking to achieve? How will you know if you’ve succeeded?
At a very minimum, you want to evaluate post-event:
- Was it well-received by employees?
- How was attendance? How many and who attended?
- Is it working for employees in different timezones?
Quick tip: A lot of the events such as the cocktail class and yoga are totally fine to record and send out afterwards so that all of the time zones have an opportunity to engage with the event on their own time.
Ask your teams how events are working for them. We did an eight-question survey to gather feedback about three months into the pandemic. What were your favorite events? What would incentivize you to join more events?
Once the economy opened back up, we found that people were less likely to join if they expected “just another Zoom meeting.” They wanted to spend time with family, get out and enjoy the outdoors, etc., but their feedback told us they still wanted to be engaged with their colleagues.
Staying informed by their feedback helped us evolve and keep events interesting as employees’ needs changed, which in turn has helped us establish best practices for our events going forward.