CEO Insider

The New Era of Employee Engagement Begins with Events

Ben Erwin

Here’s a hard truth: Employee collaboration and networking should be done in-person. That’s not to say remote collaboration tools aren’t valuable or don’t have a place – they do.  But when it comes to building trusting relationships and elevating employee engagement, there is no substitute for events that bring your community together in-person. 

For months Americans have been watching as companies grapple with how and when to return workers to the office, facing off against a post-pandemic workforce that is reluctant to give up the full flexibility of remote work. 

To date, this has been primarily a conversation about the power struggle between employers and employees. But that’s a red herring. What we should be talking about is outcomes. 

Even as the job market shows signs of easing and the potential for a recession looms, this shouldn’t be a conversation about forces of job supply and demand. The market evolved long ago beyond evaluating companies solely by their hard assets, or even intellectual property, and is increasingly focused on intangibles like talent. What the best leaders are recognizing is that both the pandemic and the Great Resignation have escalated the need to embrace that we are in a new era where people are a brand’s key differentiator. 

As companies grapple with what remains a very tight labor market and the modern challenge to recruit and retain great talent, we have seen many customers increasing spending on internal events. In some cases, they are diverting resources from physical office spaces still struggling to consistently attract their employees to create unique in-person events that motivate widespread attendance. This people-first strategy invests in internal communities with the same focus long directed to external audiences by demonstrating the power of in-person experiences to create connections in today’s business climate. 

Events are the ultimate corporate investment in people and as experts in meeting production and event technology, producing 1.7 million events annually for massive, global companies and associations, Encore is an expert in generating real, measurable return on that investment in the form of new leads, higher engagement levels, and brand trust and credibility. 

And while we have always understood the power in-person engagement has to generate business results, what we learned quickly in the first two years of the pandemic is that much of that power is lost when limited to virtual interactions. While meetings with the intention to educate or motivate can be successful online or in-person, collaboration and networking really must occur in-person to be successful and drive business results. And increasingly employees are the most important stakeholder for an organization to ensure is fully engaged.

So what is a leader to do? 

  1. Make collaboration and networking a priority. A June survey from  Willis Towers Watson found that while workers appreciate the flexibility that remote work provides, more than half feel disconnected from their team, and 30% find it harder to build relationships at work. 
  2. Optimize virtual engagements. Communicating virtually – even when you have the best technology available – is exhausting. Online meeting fatigue is real. It affects productivity and concentration and leads to general irritability. Leaders can make their online engagement count by sticking to content they know resonates virtually – like learning and motivation. 
  3. Make in-person engagement worth it. Great events aren’t about world-class venues and celebrity sightings. Encore’s decades of research on in-person event engagement shows the single most important factor for event success is purpose. Whatever your in-person event budget, spend it on programming that invests your employees in a shared mission. They will leave the event motivated and empowered to achieve ambitious goals.    

If you’re still not sure how an event-based workplace dynamic could help your organization, consider this example.

In 2020, Kerrie Shakespeare, the Chief Purpose Officer of O2E Brands, one of the largest providers of home services in the US, Canada and Australia, engaged our event design strategy team to develop the company’s annual franchisee meeting. At the time, O2E was struggling with many of the same questions executives are worried about now, like productivity and how to know if their employees were “quiet quitting.” 

Following the successful event, and after considering employee feedback, they reinvented their workplace dynamic in the spirit of event design. The outcome was a redesign of their working rhythms by using live, off-site events designed for exciting, engaging, empowering collaboration and connection, and leveraging daily and monthly virtual meetings for the educational and motivational communications for the company. 

The event design feels exciting and special, takes place in an intentional, offsite location (not the office) and features programming like cross-functional happy hours to facilitate organizational networking, which is based on the keen insight that remote workers spend most of their time with their immediate teammates and little time with other departments. 

They’ve also transitioned two of their core in-person meetings to virtual meetings: A daily, seven-minute meeting to motivate the team and a monthly meeting to present company performance and news. 

The results have been outstanding. Between March and July of this year, their employee survey metric around the sentiment “I have spent enough quality time connecting with my peers in personal, meaningful ways” has skyrocketed from 59 percent to 82 percent.

What O2E understood in making this shift, and what the best CEOs are learning, is that forcing them to return to the office isn’t going to boost productivity or engagement. But creating a unique and authentic event to inspire them, will.


Written by Ben Erwin.
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Ben Erwin
Ben Erwin is the President & CEO of Encore, a global meeting production and technology provider and a current board member of American Hotel & Lodging Association.


Ben Erwin is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn.