Priority number one for HR in the new normal – supporting and delivering an environment for employee engagement that supports the entire ecosystem that is an employee.

The hard part for HR is meeting individual employees’ needs across the board, especially in work from home environments. Add a global presence to that, and suddenly Human Resource and people teams are expected to be actual miracle workers. In the hot topic of business continuity, companies immediately lean into technology. Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Teams have become not only the business go to but is household nomenclature for connecting families and friends.

However, it in no way replaces what HR does to support its culture and community.

What HR wants right now – a global view

We have clients and partners big and small, regional, and global. The rallying cry for 95% of them is the same across the board – communication, community, and support for employees that extends into their homes. With families being everything from the worker you hired to now a teacher, daycare provider, dance instructor, professional chef, multi-generational care provider – people, in most cases, don’t have a place to escape. That being said, it doesn’t suck. Most employees who can be home and working are excited about zero commute times, no fuel costs, no parking – and flexibility in their schedule. In fact, schedule flexibility is the number one sought after benefit for employees, particularly for younger generations of workers.

Your organization may be contemplating a totally different campus or HQ environment, or you may be considering going 100% remote. Regardless, welcome to the new world and new normal of not 9-5 hours or even Monday through Friday.

One Stanford study of a tech agency found that their randomly selected remote workforce pilot produced a 13 percent increase in productivity and an additional $2,000 in increased revenue per employee. In the study, it was attributed to employees having fewer interruptions in their day and greater workday efficiency. With increased profits and less office space requirements, companies have an opportunity to catapult themselves into a new future that is happier, healthier, more environmentally impactful, and friendlier on budgets.

According to the New York Times, the U.S. Patent Office saved more than $38 million in real estate costs. Nationwide Insurance has a 32 percent and growing remote workforce, with six of its offices closing. An Accenture global study revealed that 49 percent of employees who had never worked from home wanted to do so with greater frequency or forever. And when Espresa went fully remote in March, we were able to save considerable overhead costs and shifted the extra funds into additional benefits for our employees.

“This moment changed us all.  It’s been tragic. But, what we do now, and how we connect, is how in fortitude and solidarity, we rise together.

– Sylvia Flores, Head of Brand + Culture, Espresa

Programs that unify culture and level-up experience

As HR leaders, we were already hacking the workplace before the pandemic started. Now, the demands are next (super next) level. Just like our employees, HR is now wearing every conceivable hat.  So, here is where technology such as video conferencing and Slack/Teams (as awesome as they are) do not save the day. Employees need a new level of support, connection, and hope.

And this is where HR teams are made into heroes – mask and cape on – let’s go.

HR was already strapped for budget and time. That’s why we must reverse engineer everything from doing more with less. Plus, we need to be able to show success metrics through people and performance analytics.

Here is what our client HR teams want, and are doing, right now to embrace the new normal and create environments that support employees, brilliantly.

Reimbursement programs need a solid reboot (and are one of your best culture friends)

You may have had reimbursement programs for your employees that involved the gym or fitness-related activity, and ongoing education. The greatest thing you can do for your employees right now is to throw your reimbursement plan out the window and go with what meets this moment – for them and with a considerable ROI for you and your company. It works on all levels.

Employees need different things now. One employee living in a studio apartment may need a lean ergonomic setup because they may be trying to work from their couch or bed. Others may have entire families to contend with, demanding schedules with children or parent-care. Your people may not be able to free-range outside, introducing challenges in maintaining fitness and health. We’ve all heard the commentary about gaining “COVID-15.”

Flexibility is key to helping people be present, working, and while also being empathetically supported with the challenges they (and we all) face. Instead of gym memberships, consider offering free virtual fitness, meditation, cooking classes, and classes for kids. This has been hugely successful for our clients and our employees here at Espresa.

We’ve seen a 74% increase in participation (and growing) rate across the board on average with these programs. That’s a significant increase over previous reimbursement programs.

Community by the people and for our people

You may have employee resource groups, community, or affinity groups in place with your company. There has never been a better time than now to embrace that interconnected web of together. Women, Black, and Latino groups, single parenting, LGBTQIA+ and Pride – whether you have formal or informal groups, finding your people among your peers, and connecting has never been more inspiring or mental-health critical. This is the time where culture comes to life – when community comes together. This is where you find out more than ever what your company is made of. It’s ground up, not top-down – your people define your culture, not the other way around. Take advantage of this historical moment.

“Employee resource groups are a great way to connect people who might be dispersed all over the world,” spoke Susan Lovegren, former Chief People Officer for Juniper Networks, Medallia, and AppDynamics. “From a chief people officer perspective, it can be challenging to scale,” Susan continued. “But if you have technology that can connect people, you can provide guidance. Those groups can self-start and create their leadership groups. It’s a fantastic thing for people to feel genuinely connected. And, it is a proof point that I can have a sense of belonging in this company.”

Gamifying everything

It may seem like an overused term, but here is where the gamification rubber hits the employee engagement road. The majority of our clients and partners are now engaging in challenges and achievements via mobile and web. Including employee onboarding challenges, fitness that goes beyond steps, self-reported activities that give back to community, HR can set up a challenge and automatically promote it in a few hours or less.

Within our client employee challenges, sure, they have step goals or fitness goals. However, we also focus on mindfulness and meditation, volunteerism, peaceful protesting, and giving back to the community – all things that foster a sense of, yes, you guessed it, total wellbeing.

Here is an example of a challenge that we created for our clients and employees which was simply deployed and promoted both online and in-app:

  • Set your intention for the day
  • Breathe mindfully – take three minutes
  • Selfcare yourself
  • Attend a free live virtual workout with Espresa!
  • Free-range your meeting
  • Keep those steps going
  • Share a photo or video with your workmates
  • Volunteer and feel great about you
  • Take time to learn something new
  • Teach someone something new
  • Attend or throw a virtual party
  • Cook a gorgeous meal from scratch
  • Wash your hands at least 5x
  • Wear your mask everywhere

These challenges are all points-driven and launched and promoted monthly on a theme. With a leaderboard of employee participation, HR has insights into employees who are culture-active and can connect and reach out to those who may be feeling less engaged.

Wellbeing is more than counting steps

Total wellbeing – it’s an often thrown-around term in HR circles, but it is critical for us as leaders to focus on right now. “There’s a focus now on total wellbeing. And the digital disruption around wellbeing is so exciting,” discussed Susan. “If people want to have issues addressed around mental health, they can certainly do that in real-time. They don’t have to wait to see somebody through an outdated employee assistance program. They can get access and the help they need right away.”

Total wellbeing is inspiring systemic change at the culture level. And it’s about meeting people exactly where they are, onsite, offsite, and virtually. It includes rewards and recognition and meetups and events that bring your workplace family together, even virtually.

“Chief People Officers aren’t thinking about just steps. They’re thinking more and more about employees’ total wellbeing and overall employee experience,” discussed Nancy Vitale, former Genentech CHRO and now Managing Partner, Partners for Wellbeing. “This is where technology can play such a key role. There are great tools available in the market – like Espresa – to help connect communities of people and give them an employee experience that goes well beyond the compensation rewards associated with a job,” she continued. “As leaders, we have an opportunity to create experiences that actually change lives for the better.”

Rewarding performance in distributed environments

Reward and recognition in remote environments are critical to employee happiness. Because our work environment has dramatically shifted with COVID, we as HR leaders need to think about retaining the awesome talent we have, as well as hiring employees remotely. You may have people coming into your organization who have never stepped foot and maybe never will, in an office environment outside of their own home.  Engaging and recognizing efforts for all employees in a timely fashion helps them feel appreciated for their contributions.

Rewards don’t have to be monetary, they work on every budget. And, with younger generations of workers, we’re seeing more desire for recognition, learning, and development for their career. In fact, millennials and GenZ are more interested in opportunity, flexibility, and the philosophy and values of a workplace over money. Recognition is the greatest reward you can give – just be sure to make it personal. Generic recognition doesn’t get to the heart of anyone.

Now to those moments that really matter

Life is happening. Work-life integration has never been more important than now. Here’s where we get to the work portion. It feels hard to unplug from the office because the lines between work and life have become significantly blurred.  Co-workers are working various schedules that aren’t adhering to a rulebook. Something we all need to work on as leaders is helping employees cut the cord and really leave that virtual office to spend time being – whatever it is they want and need to be.

We also have an amazing opportunity here to engage employees in sharing those moments together. Anniversaries, life events such as marriage, new pets, new houses, a move, gender transitioning – we need to replace those water-cooler moments with a platform to communicate the amazing things we are doing.

Plus, these moments can create community. Think of an employee resource group or community springing up from the home gardener or dog/cat enthusiast – connections are made, and culture becomes further solidified.

Getting back to the workplace safely in the new normal

While many of our clients are getting rid of offices altogether, are popping up smaller regional offices, or are thoughtfully mapping out returning to campus, there are obvious concerns with timing, office layouts, and the spread of COVID with individuals who, for example, are asymptomatic.

We’ve been advising clients and partners on back to workplace strategies:

  • Establish group and team office attendance
  • Designate specific workspaces eligible for group, teams, and individuals
  • Allow employees to RSVP for in-office days, workspace, and designated desks
  • Implement contactless check-in to the office and assigned workspaces or desks
  • Maintain contact tracing reports to mitigate exposure to risk

Here’s an example of a client we have:

  • Pre-COVID, this company had 1000 Employees in three buildings
  • Returning to workplace post-COVID, the company has reduced office capacity to 300 employees, designating their main campus, building one with 200 employees, and buildings two and three with just 50 employees each.
  • Employees will soon be allowed to book a space in their appropriate buildings via the Espresa platform
  • This platform supports waitlist and booking abuse prevention with three bookings per employee, which can be controlled by HR in a few clicks

The most important thing you can do for your employees is to give them an environment that keeps them healthy and reduces stress. Working from home for those businesses that can support it, is a carbon footprint winner. In Espresa’s case, we voted as an entire team to cut ties with our offices, with the right to change our minds in the future. Including your employees in the decision making helps to bottom-up your culture.

And your culture is the greatest asset you have because your people define it. This is the time when companies can genuinely create a great virtual place to work while developing strategies to get back to the workplace.

Espresa is offering free live virtual yoga, Zumba, HIIT, and other classes twice per week, app-based employee engagement challenges, and our communities’ platform to keep your culture intact and thriving.

Sign up for free today!


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