© WWF-Canada

Five tips for an engaging virtual employee event

Champion Story

February 11, 2021

COVID-19 has transformed how organizations do business, but it’s also utterly upended how employees work and stay connected with each other.

As the manager of WWF-Canada’s Living Planet @ Work program, I’m navigating how to best engage employees on the still-looming crises of biodiversity loss and climate change. These two issues, daunting and difficult before COVID-19, have only become more challenging to address during this distressing pandemic.

Thankfully, I’m not alone in this and feel lucky to be learning alongside companies like QuadReal Property Group which are similarly working at the intersection of sustainability and employee engagement.

Last fall, we collaborated on a four-part webinar series for their corporate tenants on sustainability and conservation in Canada. We wanted to show employees and tenants how they can personally contribute to a more sustainable world. Despite various other employee priorities  — like balancing work schedules with kids at home, staying connected with others despite physical distance, and working through their own emotional responses to the pandemic — it was a welcome topic that I could tell employees remained passionate about.

Each of the four sessions had a different learning objective. Here’s what we covered:

Restoring nature at home through native plantingLearn how to plant a container garden at home using native plants.
Keeping Canadian shorelines healthy — community-led approachesLearn how to take action with the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, while also hearing stories of QuadReal tenants’ own cleanup efforts.
A conversation about Canadian wildlifeLearn about the state of wildlife in Canada, with highlights on Canadian species such as caribou and the Atlantic puffin.
Wildlife conservation goes high techLearn how environmental organizations like WWF-Canada are using technology to protect and restore nature.

Over the course of these sessions, we gathered important insights that any organization should consider when developing virtual content for their employees.

  1. Step into the shoes of your audience

This one may seem obvious, but it’s easily overlooked. Employee engagement content is often developed based what we want to tell people rather than what they want to hear about. If you don’t understand your audience’s needs, your ideas may not resonate with them. This is especially important now as people are balancing competing priorities at home. Being conscious of our participants’ mindsets helped us tailor our webinars to be more relatable and less overwhelming.

2. Shake things up

We’re all spending so much time with virtual meetings that we wanted to get away from the classic single-presenter PowerPoint model and try new formats. Many of our webinars purposefully had short “formal” presentation components followed by a more casual, fireside-chat style conversation between the QuadReal host and WWF-Canada speaker. We also tried out a “choose your own adventure” webinar, polling the audience to find out what topics they wanted to hear about next. Diversifying the format helped keep the audience’s attention.

A screenshot of the “Choose your own adventure” webinar about technology and conservation.

3. Include different perspectives

For our October Shoreline Cleanup webinar, we had four different speakers share their perspectives on waste, plastics, litter and how cleaning our local shorelines helps wildlife. Not only did the variety of speakers allow us to avoid monotony, but two of the speakers were actually QuadReal tenants themselves. This was an excellent way to help the attendees build a connection with and learn directly from their peers.  

4. Don’t be scared to ask the audience

It can be intimidating to put a question into the Zoom or WebEx ether because you can’t gauge what the reactions or responses will be. But we found that by asking questions that could be answered with very specific and short responses (e.g., with a number or a couple words), we got great engagement. If you’re still hesitant to use the chat, polls are another excellent way to both engage and get valuable feedback from audience members in a way that’s easier for them and reduces pressure to participate.

5. Have someone dedicated to tech support on the call

We all know — and, to be honest, probably have been — the person who forgets to mute or unmute their mic. And that’s hardly the only tech-related thing that can go wrong in any virtual presentation! That’s why it’s important to have someone on the call dedicated to addressing any of the technical issues that come up. In our case, our tech person was able to field audience questions, which made for a smooth experience for participants.

The overall experience of planning and delivering these webinars was such a treat because of how well our teams worked together. Our organizations were able to find shared goals, clearly outline each other’s responsibilities and learn together.

Virtual engagement events likely won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, so I’m grateful to have these opportunities to continue learning and innovating with companies like QuadReal. I’d also like to extend a big thank you to QuadReal’s Nick Philip and CD Sonter’s Gillian Hrycko, who made this webinar series possible!

If you want to host a virtual engagement session with your workplace and WWF-Canada, contact Living Planet @ Work to learn more.

© Staffan Widstrand / WWF

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