While many employees have returned to the office, even if just on a part-time basis, some workers feel like the human connection was lost during the pandemic. To address this concern, some area companies are finding ways to bring everyone together with the intent to grow relationships and reenergize their workforce.
At the end of June, Waukesha-based manufacturer Husco International gathered its leaders at Rustic Manor 1848 in Delafield to “reinvigorate the relationships across our Husco sites,” said Angela Stemo, vice president of global human capital at Husco.
The COVID-19 pandemic separated people, and by holding this special off-site retreat, the goal was to reconnect them, she said.
Wauwatosa-based fintech Zywave went even further and rented out the Summerfest grounds for its two-day ZyFest at the start of August. Jason Liu, Zywave’s chief executive officer, said it was all about human connection and personal and professional development.
Pre-pandemic, Zywave employees would get together regularly, Liu said, but now the company has more than doubled in size and many of its newest employees are outside of the Milwaukee area. ZyFest was created as a way to bring everyone together for a fun event where they could listen to speakers and participate in team-building exercises, like dragon boat races. There was even a lip-synching competition. But ultimately, Liu said he wanted to provide resources for attendees to grow as employees and as a people.
The reaction from ZyFest attendees? “It was immediate, loud and good,” Liu said. However, it wasn’t an immediate sell. Liu said about half of the employee base didn’t want to go at first, but they realized it was needed.
In today’s world of remote and hybrid working, Liu said it’s easy to find reasons not to host events or meetings to bring the workforce into one location. However, “there is no price tag on human connection,” he said.
Milwaukee-based financial services company Baird has increased its offsite events by 30% in 2022 compared to 2019, said Rodney Jones-Tyson, global chief human resources officer. About one-quarter of Baird’s employees were hired since the pandemic started.
In June, Baird held its Come Together celebration during which all 4,600 Baird associates were invited to Milwaukee. During the event, there were team meetings for business units and departments and social events.
Two groups that especially benefitted from ZyFest were the new associates who were hired recently or were gained through acquisition. These employees felt like they were missing out on the company’s camaraderie, Liu said.
“As a company that’s been around for 26 years, you can’t stay stagnant. In this new world of
remote … you have to constantly adjust and get better. I think this is a natural evolution of where this is going, which is trying to create experiences for employees that are not only social but help to grow employees professionally and personally,” Liu said.
To help plan the event at Rustic Manor, Husco worked with BusinessOutside, a company that specializes in facilitating company retreats, workshops and speakers.
“We focused on incorporating physical movement into the sessions,” Stemo said, adding people were encouraged to go for walks together and have one-on-one dialogue. “Personal conversations are so much easier when you are both walking.”
Stemo said the retreat was considered a success and something Husco will do again in the future.
“We don’t think we would change how we do it. I really think that we hit the mark,” she said. “We got really positive feedback because it was so different and there was so much more employee engagement.”
Jones-Tyson said there are three goals for Baird’s employee get-togethers.
“First, is to celebrate and recognize our associates for the exceptional contributions they have made to keep our clients and the firm successful over the past 28 months. Second, is to remind associates how much better we are together. While hybrid work is providing a great deal of flexibility for associates, our success comes from both the intentional and unintentional encounters we have, both in and outside the office,” he said. “Third, is to communicate our strategic priorities, the firm’s performance and what we need associates to do to ensure the firm and our clients are prepared for the future.”
Jeremy Fojut, co-founder and chief executive officer of Milwaukee-based The Like|Minded Company, said his company has a fully remote staff, but he makes it a point to bring employees together to encourage connections. The Like|Minded Company created software that uses algorithms to connect individuals within an organization.
“That connection is so important,” Fojut said. “As a company that is selling that, we have to live it.”
The Like|Minded Company has an optional day once a month for employees to get together, such as at a coffee shop or a client’s workplace. There are also quarterly get-togethers, three of which are held in Milwaukee and one that is conducted as a retreat, possibly at a campground.
“Companies are mistaking communication for connection,” he said, adding that serendipity doesn’t happen as much. “Nothing tops being in person. You have to make time for that, prioritize it.”