Virtual interaction for staff as more work from home

HubSpot staff can opt to have a tipple or two at 6pm on weekdays with colleagues virtually.
HubSpot staff can opt to have a tipple or two at 6pm on weekdays with colleagues virtually. PHOTO: HUBSPOT

Many employees may be working from home now, but the office happy hour will go on - virtually.

As more companies activate business continuity plans and have their staff work from home amid the coronavirus outbreak, they are also arranging everything from happy hours to meditation sessions remotely - in an effort to keep employees feel connected and lift up their spirits.

At customer relationship management firm HubSpot, whose more than 100 staff have been working from home since March 16, employees can opt to have a tipple or two at 6pm on weekdays with colleagues via teleconferencing tool Zoom.

On some days, only a handful join in, while on other days, as many as 20 employees drink together online.

There are also virtual lunches and team games, such as a version of Pictionary, among other initiatives. Some are company-led, while others are employee-initiated.

Mr Shahid Nizami, HubSpot's managing director for the Asia-Pacific, told The Straits Times: "As a company that takes culture incredibly seriously, it's critical to us that we create an inclusive and remarkable experience for all of our employees, no matter if they work in one of our offices or not.

"During this period when all of our global offices are closed and our employees are working remotely from home, we're leaning into our core values of flexibility, transparency and autonomy as we work through these unusual times together."

HubSpot also has programmes such as tuition lessons for its staff's children and question-and-answer sessions with doctors on topics such as mental health and isolation.

Over at cyber-security firm Horangi, where all 80 employees have been working from home since March 19, staff can join group workout sessions online each morning.

Horangi chief executive Paul Hadjy has led sessions involving push-ups, squats and jumping jacks. The firm also holds remote karaoke sessions, among other activities.

He said: "One of our top priorities is to help our co-workers stay connected to one another. We are confident that with the initiatives we have put in place, the bonds we have with one another will be strengthened during these trying times."

Google, which has recommended its 1,000-plus staff here work from home, has also moved its usual Googler 2 Googler classes - where staff teach one another a skill - online. For example, employees can host livestream sessions on cooking and yoga for co-workers to tune in to.

The tech giant also set up a Google Photos album for staff to share fun pictures of their home lives.

Human resource experts said building a strong company culture is particularly important in times of uncertainty.

Ms Linda Teo, country manager of ManpowerGroup Singapore, said: "The lack of face-to-face interaction and increased feelings of isolation can result in decreased motivation and trust."

She added that virtual interaction to engage employees for matters beyond work, such as virtual birthday celebrations, will keep spirits up and pay off in the long term as it builds staff cohesion.

Some companies are sending employees care packages.

Reinsurance company Swiss Re sent hampers with card game Uno, manuka honey and immunity boosters such as vitamin C tablets to its staff of about 300.

Financial advisory start-up Finica sent chocolates and sweets to "bring joy and happiness" to its employees, said its business development director Vin Tan.

Mr Philippe Martinez, regional managing director for Asia at The Adecco Group recruitment agency, said efforts to maintain workers' team spirit may "generate fresh perspectives and drive innovation as working in new environments and new modes of work may unlock creativity".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2020, with the headline Virtual interaction for staff as more work from home. Subscribe