How to Plan a Wellness Initiative for Remote Employees

by | Jan 6, 2021 | HR and Culture

Winter, with its shortened days and colder temperatures, is always a trying time for employee wellness. This year it’s looking particularly bleak. According to the World Health Organization, the pandemic has disrupted access to critical mental health resources worldwide. It also challenges our physical health. Just consider the extra snacking, the limited movement, and the difficulty sleeping many of us have experienced over the last year. In a recent survey of primary care physicians conducted by the Primary Care Collaborative and the Larry A. Green Center, 37% said their patients with chronic conditions were in “noticeably worse health resulting from the pandemic.” A further 56% said they’d seen an increase in negative health burdens due to delayed or inaccessible care.

No matter their working conditions, it’s clear that this winter will be unusually challenging for your people. That makes prioritizing employee wellness more crucial than ever. For inspiration, I turned to the HealthJoy HR team, which is currently in the middle of executing another successful iteration of our “QFun” program. This 3-month employee wellness campaign coincides with our busiest season in December, January, and February. This year, on top of inspiring employees and raising morale, our HR team is tasked with doing it in a newly-remote environment.

I invited our Operations Manager, Mallory Fritz, to share how she masterminds a wellness initiative for remote employees amid this year’s challenges.

The planning stage

First, an explainer on QFun: it’s both an employee wellness initiative and a tongue-in-cheek way of referring to our busiest time of year as we prepare for client launches throughout January and February. In short, we know it puts pressure on our employees. So in 2019, Mallory set out to create a series of events designed to bring a little balance to the office.

“When I started, I was getting feedback from staff that they wanted to offset the stressful season,” Mallory told me. “There was a need for additional events, but events catered to feeling less stressed, having fun even though it’s a crazy day, or taking a pause to do something else.”

For our first ever QFun series last year, Mallory focused on giving employees a chance to pause. That meant interactive games, team building events in and out of the office, and wellness activities like yoga and meditation. Afterward, Mallory looked for ways to improve. She surveyed employees to get a sense of what they liked and what they would skip.

“That input piece was huge,” she said.

In addition to a survey, she interviewed managers from our busiest teams to get direct feedback on the things their employees needed most. She was surprised to learn that the events employees were eager for were simply focused on wellness. In-office yoga and “zen sessions” hosted by local instructor Lauren Belagamba were hits. She also heard that employees didn’t always want to pause during the day to participate in events and might prefer perks that let them choose self-care on their schedule.

So as she planned for 2020’s QFun, she focused on creating a wellness-forward experience. It was evident that she’d need to plan for remotely accessible events, she said, but the extra input from staff helped give it even more focus.

Creating a remote-friendly employee wellness series

After soliciting input and researching her options, Mallory landed on a slate of events that addresses all aspects of employee wellbeing, from mindfulness and movement to meals, self-care, and community engagement. She retooled social events and doubled down on accessible perks. Instead of hosting a massive Zoom meeting, she empowered managers with a budget and offered planning assistance for small groups. Any live events were recorded for employees to enjoy later.

Mallory built these activities with a remote setting in mind, and more importantly, aligned them with what we know HealthJoy employees need most during a busy season.

Here are a few examples we hope you’ll borrow when planning your initiative:

Winter wellness

  • Yoga + Zen Sessions with Lauren Bellagamba: 60-minute yoga flows and 30 minute “zen sessions” of seated stretching, breathwork, and meditation with a local instructor.
  • Complimentary lunch: through Uber Eats, each employee can access $15 per month to go toward lunch.
  • Wellness stipend: employees get a monthly wellness stipend to be used toward anything that helps them practice self-care. We provided a comprehensive list of suggestions highlighting health and wellness subscriptions, books, and even streaming service subscriptions. This stipend includes a “use it or lose it” provision to encourage use.

Social activities

  • Volunteering initiatives: Partnering with 360 Youth Services, we sponsored a group home that houses 16-18 young men. Working in teams, we provided 140 items and stockings for all residents of an area youth home.
  • Social hours: Headed by managers with support from our HR team, these small events give employees a chance to connect.
  • Employee-hosted happy hours – Employees can sign up to ‘host’ a happy hour. We cap attendance to keep groups small and intimate. Prompts and ideas from HR take the pressure off employees and ensure everyone is engaged.
  • Virtual Escape Rooms – a remote take on a popular group event, these smaller gatherings will let employees interact in groups of 5, but are adaptable for larger groups, too.

Tips for planning your QFun

Whether you call it QFun or choose to host a more straightforward winter wellness series, you can tap into Mallory’s best tips to host an event that meets employees’ needs.

  • Consider what employees need. It might be a break from work or a stipend to take care of themselves on their own time. Rather than planning what you think they need, just ask.
  • Think creatively. When summer weather permitted them, our company enjoyed outdoor, distanced park meetups in different Chicago neighborhoods. One employee volunteer hosted each. These events were a hit, so Mallory worked to adapt them to a remote setup to create social connections during QFun.
  • Learn and build. Once you’ve wrapped up your wellness series, don’t hesitate to check in with employees. Ask what they loved and want to see more of, as well as what they’d skip next time. After last year’s QFun, Mallory learned that yoga and “zen sessions” were a hit, so she added twice as many to the 2020 /2021 schedule.

Remote employee wellness initiatives

It’s a strange year for employee wellness, but the more immense pressures shouldn’t keep us from encouraging employees to prioritize the small things. If anything, these little acts of self-care and social connection are the best way to keep spirits high when so much is out of our control. With a bit of planning and input from your people, you can use this unusual time to provide what they need.

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