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How We Planned an Employee Appreciation Event During COVID-19

Here’s how we showed our appreciation for our team, and how you can too

by Nikhil Bendre

It goes without saying that the pandemic has been incredibly difficult for everyone. For HR managers, new questions and challenges have arisen that we’ve never had to worry about before. How do we keep productivity at an adequate level? How do we reach our objectives when we can’t even see each other? Most importantly – how do we ensure that the people who work so hard for us feel valued?

Here at GoCo, our team members are our top priority, so we wanted to make sure they knew just how grateful we are for them. Not only did we manage to pull it off, but we also managed to make it a massive success while staying safe! Here’s what we did.

Plan Ahead

The key to executing an event like this properly is to have ample planning. We started a couple weeks in advance to make sure we had time to fine-tune all of the details. The earlier you start, the better, as it takes time to plan things like deliveries and to account for any delays that you may encounter. Our first step was brainstorming ideas on how to best appreciate our team virtually. Just get all of your ideas out there – no idea is a bad idea. We started with blocking off a Friday afternoon for the whole team, but we didn’t inform anyone about what was going on. We just made sure that everyone knew not to schedule meetings then if possible so we knew we’d have a block of time when everyone was free, no matter what we planned. It worked out nicely since we were ended up giving everyone the afternoon off!

Set a Budget

Defining your budget is a pivotal first step. Here are a few factors to consider when setting a budget:

  • What are the goals of your appreciation event?
  • How frequently are you able to show appreciation?
  • What is the climate of your organization?
  • Have employees been challenged more than usual recently? (Hint: most of us have in 2021!)
  • Have there been recent factors that warrant additional recognition? (ex. a record-breaking sales quarter)

Once we weighed our options and set our budget, here’s how we decided to spend it.

Sweet Start to the Morning

We started by sending everyone cookies from Tiff’s Treats to start the morning off on a sweet note. We recommend utilizing an HRIS, such as GoCo, to easily access employee data, including address information in a digital directory format. At GoCo, we even collect information about dietary restrictions when new hires are onboarded, so we were able to tailor the treats for each employee (we have quite a few gluten- and dairy-free team members).

Note that you need to consider all of your employees, even the ones who are a bit farther away. In addition to the United States, we are fortunate enough to have amazing employees in Brazil and Nigeria. We made sure to research and find local food delivery services so that we could treat our international members as well. It took a bit more digging, but it was absolutely crucial to us that we remained inclusive, even in our appreciation events

Reimbursement Offer

For the remaining budget for each employee, we decided to create an automated reimbursement workflow in our HR System, and offered a $50 reimbursement on GoCo to appreciate our employees. This meant our employees could treat themselves to dinner, to a manicure, or even hire a housekeeper, and GoCo would reimburse them up to $50.

Utilizing our own HRIS was a huge help throughout the entire process. Our automated reimbursement workflow allows any employee to start it online, input the amount spent, attach a digital screenshot of the receipt, and request reimbursement just like that! HR managers can track progress of the workflow, see its status, assign tasks to different employees, etc. Once HR approved it, the employees would be reimbursed in their next paycheck. Handling these tasks digitally immensely reduced the stress that went into putting this event on. A foolproof motto – work smarter, not harder!

Make it Special

Here are the steps we took to really bring this event home.

Digital Yearbook

We had the creative idea to make a digital yearbook using Canva, a great, free design tool. We even assigned each individual employee their own superlative using what we knew about their hobbies and interests or things that they’d mentioned to us! Each person got their own page in the book. We also had willing participants submit baby/childhood photos to make the yearbook even more sentimental. The final product was presented at our end-of-the-week company-wide meeting and it was a great time!

Personalized Video Messages

Another step we took to make the event as special as it could be is that we reached out to each department manager and asked them to make videos about each of their team members. We then used a Slackbot workflow to automatically send the videos out to everyone first thing in the morning on the day of the event. Hearing our department head talk about us personally and endearingly was a truly touching moment and a great start to the day.

Handwritten Cards

Here’s an effective idea that gets overlooked too often – handwritten cards. We mailed our employees cards that were written and sealed by hand. This little bit of extra effort goes a long way in the eyes of your team. It’s easy to forget how small gestures like this can really make someone’s whole day.

Some Additional Ideas

We reached out into the community to get insights from other business owners and HR Managers on this topic and we got some awesome ideas. William Cannon from Signaturely proposed holding a virtual catered lunch. Send your team some gift cards to local restaurants or a food delivery service and then “set aside some time during the day for the whole team to settle down, talk through Zoom, and bond over good food.”

Staying in the spirit of food delivery, The Bottom Line Group’s Michael Hamelburger had his team nominate black women-owned food vendors to deliver food to everyone! This is a great way to support small businesses and the restaurant industry as a whole, which has taken quite the blow from the pandemic.

In addition to appreciating your employees in a general sense, think about highlighting some of the specific accomplishments that make them so great. As a part of his employee appreciation efforts, Mark Blackwood from The Word Point featured a countdown of specific achievements from his team and showcased them during a meeting. His team also received gift boxes full of assorted goods, delivered straight to their doors!

Caroline Lee from Cocosign went with more of a “tokens of appreciation” approach. Her organization provided everyone with “a little wellness stipend to purchase new fitness apps and accessories.” They also allowed their employees to choose from company-approved subscription boxes, a gift that keeps on giving!

Another little idea we love is putting on an awards show for your team! Keep things light-hearted and fun while individually spotlighting your employees for their contributions and for just being who they are! Hop on Zoom, maybe even dress up for the occasion, and start preparing your “I would like to thank the academy” speeches! And by academy we mean the HR department.

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At GoCo, we believe that employee appreciation should be an everyday thing, not just limited to special occasions. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t like to go all out every now and then. Giving back to our team is something that we thoroughly enjoy doing, as investing in relationships is incredibly important to us. We hope that you find these ideas helpful and that your employees can know just how much you care for them!

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