Keeping employees engaged and happy while they are working remotely has become a challenge for companies. “There is remote work, and then there is pandemic work,” said Doug Merritt, president and CEO of San Francisco-based Splunk, a data platform company. “I am so much more tired at the end of the day, even though my hours are relativity consistent. The end of an office day is so different then the end of a Zoom day.” Corporate leaders realize that a big part of the company’s culture is tied to the experience of being in the office: the amenities, the food, the social gatherings. And replicating these things is hard when employees are working from home. Picnic boxes, track suits and other gifts However, some companies are coming up with ways to keep their workers engaged and feeling appreciated even if they can’t all be together. To show its appreciation, software delivery platform Harness has been sending out gifts to its remote employees. “Gifts are important during this time to keep people engaged and aligned with our mission,” said Luan Lam, Harness’ vice president of global talent. “We like to surprise employees every so often with a gift of some kind.” Since the company-wide picnic was canceled this year, each of Harness’ 250 employees received a box to create their own fun. Costing about $125 apiece, each box included a blanket, mat, water bottle, tie dye kit, a few snacks, sunscreen and some other treats. The company then held a photo contest to see who could create the best setup with their gift. The winner received $50. Harness has also sent $30 gift cards to workers to get food and drinks for a virtual company-wide happy hour. Different departments have also sent gifts in the mail. The engineering team recently received a warming coffee mug along with a tracksuit and a beanie hat with a headlight. Lam’s team did a virtual wine and cheese tasting with supplies sent to employees’ homes. Food in a box Other companies are trying to keep the office tradition of free food alive. “The biggest thing I miss from pre-Covid days is team meals,” said Domm Holland, CEO of e-commerce checkout company Fast. “There is nothing like being able to have a big team lunch or team dinner, it is a really great rapport-building activity.” The company holds a weekly virtual lunch and each employee gets $25 to spend on their meal. Fast also sends weekly snack boxes to workers. The type of food varies: one week, it was different types of oatmeal – and cookie boxes are always popular. Summer camps and kids clubs To help ease some of the childcare pressures working parents face, business software firm UKG provided a virtual summer camp and is offering a kids club for after school hours this fall. “It was the right thing to do,” said Dave Almeda, the company’s chief people officer. “Practically speaking, if the kids are occupied you are more productive and feeling better about work. It was a good win-win situation.” More than half of the company’s US employees are parents and more than 1,300 kids participated over the summer. Almeda estimated the total cost for the summer camp was around $250,000. Three different camps were offered based on the children’s ages. Activities for the youngest group, ages 2 to 5, included story time and arts and crafts. Kids were sent the supplies ahead of time. Camp Bubbles, for kids 6 to 8, had a different theme each week and included a mix of virtual classes, art activities and outdoor exploration. For children 9 to 14, UKG partnered with the local YMCA. Door-to-door laundry service Laundry service provider Rinse launched Rinse for Business this year and evidently for some companies, it couldn’t have come at a better time. It works with companies in several major cities to arrange pick up and delivery of employees’ laundry and dry cleaning at home (or in the office when things get back to normal). Since March, Rinse for Business has seen a 23% increase in demand. When the hospitality team at Bluedog Design learned that staff members were having a hard time getting laundry done – especially as laundromats and dry cleaners were either shutting down or restricting hours – they partnered with Rinse for Business to offer some help. “While laundry is an ever-present need, you don’t always think about it until you need something,” said Bluedog Design CEO Michelle Hayward. Extra time off Some companies are offering added days of paid leave to make sure workers are taking breaks. Employees at Splunk get an additional 30 “pandemic days,” that can be used for anything related to the pandemic, including doctor visits, caring for a sick family member, or tending to children. “We are pretty lenient on that,” said Merritt. “We expect self-reporting. We ask them to let their manager know they are taking the day off … but there is no aggressive top-down huge auditing or checking in.” The company has also banned internal calls on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons to allow more time for deeper work. “We wanted to stop the crush of emails and meeting requests to provide mental space so you aren’t just reacting, and can be strategic and think and recharge,” said Merritt.