In a world where communication is as easy as opening an app, there is something a little bit special about mystery mail landing on the doormat with a thud.
A third of UK employed adults are now working from home exclusively according to the latest ONS data. In the US, it was as many as half according to a survey taken in late March by Zapier. And with remote working likely to be extended into 2021 in many companies, could snail mail become the hottest new trend in employee engagement?
For Desk Plants, a business based in Austin, Texas that delivers “hard to kill” indoor plants to people’s doorsteps, enterprise customers have increased sixfold since lockdown began–with large volume orders from businesses up 411%–prompting founder Lawrence Hanley to expand into corporate gifting, including work-from-home care packages that companies can customize with their logos.
Of their corporate appeal–the company counts Apple, Deloitte, WeWork and United Health as customers–he explains: “Plants improve home offices, offer stress relief, and help purify the air that people are now living and working in 24/7.”
Snack delivery company SnackNation has added 2,000 business customers since quarantine began. In response, it has branched out from coffee and snacks and into work-from-home wellness boxes that also include hand sanitizer, face masks and thermometers, which the company says has been its most successful product launch to date.
CEO Sean Kelly says the work-from-anywhere era presents a major challenge for employers who need to find new ways to foster trust and preserve the bond with their teams.
Beyond spreading a little joy in troubled times, there’s a strong business case for investing in gifts for employees. According to a 2018 survey by Knack, workers that receive memorable gifts are 70% more likely to feel connected to their employers, and 81% feel appreciated by the gesture. A 2019 survey by Happy Gifts found that nearly 45% of employees believe their value at a company is reflected by the gifts they receive.
But the same survey also found that, of those who have received an employer gift, almost 40% have re-gifted or thrown it out. If gifting is so easy to get wrong, how can employees make sure their packages are hitting the mark?
Experts recommend consulting employees to find out dietary requirements, any cultural or religious sensitivities to be aware of, likes and dislikes, but also to work out what would be most useful and appreciated.
David Morris, partner at Chicago law firm Fox Swibel, sought out a local company, Packed With Purpose, that curates boxes filled with products made by social enterprises–such as granola made by female survivors of abuse–so the firm is able to give back to society while engaging its own staff.
Morris says the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. He adds: “We believe what we give our employees speaks volumes about our firm. When people see we’re not only giving a gift, but one that is helping others, we think it’s a meaningful expression of who we are, both as attorneys and as people. We try to hire people who have those same ideals.”
Tatiana Starikova, senior vice president of HR at SEMrush, a software company based in Boston, Massachusetts, which employs more than 800 people, has been mailing “cheer up boxes” filled with fruit and branded face-masks to employees during quarantine as part of a special focus on mental health.
In short, businesses are using gifts to show they care and act on their social responsibilities. They are using analog tactics to complement their engagement efforts in their digital workplaces, which might include celebrating staff achievements in company social networks.
But there’s also a practical side to gift giving. Google and Facebook have extended their work from home policies until the end of the year, with businesses of all shapes and sizes that hire knowledge workers following suit.
With home offices no longer makeshift, and now permanent fixtures in many homes, useful gifts might include desk planners, photo frames, storage containers, flowers and plants. Some companies are treating employees to larger items like ergonomic chairs, desks, room partitions and noise-cancelling headsets.
But engaging employees via the postal service doesn’t need to be expensive. A handwritten letter, telling an employee how much they’re valued, and thanking them for an excellent piece of work, would be far more treasured than a branded mouse mat.
One company has found a low-cost, creative way to engage with its workers’ families and show empathy during the height of the pandemic, when 70% of the 280-strong workforce of PostcardMania, a marketing company based in Tampa Bay, Florida, was working from home.
CEO Joy Gendusa wanted to do something for the 80 staff with school-aged children who were juggling full-time working and parenting so she sent 100 care packages to their kids. Each package included art supplies bought from the dollar store, and instructions for taking part in an art competition. The company awarded gift cards as prizes and plans to print the best pieces in a 2021 calendar.
She explains: “I wanted to give them a breather. I started my business when my sons were really young, so I know that working full time while being a parent can be hard, even without your kid right there in front of you 24/7.”