Employee engagement is a challenge, especially if your employees are hourly, remote or facility workers. During a dynamic conversation session at this year’s Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship Conference in Austin, an impressive group of panelists shared their experience and advice on connecting employees with community activities in creative and innovative ways.

To discuss this trending topic, I was joined by Jerald Barnes, Director of Global Employee Engagement at The UPS Foundation; Jenessa Jensen, Director of Employee Engagement at UnitedHealth Group; and Hannah Nokes, Director of Community Affairs at EZCORP. From our conversation, the importance of engaging employees, especially those hardest to reach, is clear. Engagement activities provide a way for employees to better understand the purpose and values of their company, to collaborate with new networks and co-workers, and to impact their local communities. Here is a summary of some of the team’s key insights from the session:

• Harness the power of micro-volunteering. Enabling employees to volunteer inshort bursts right at their desks is a trend to closely watch. At UPS, employees use TutorMate to teach children to read without ever leaving the office. All they need is a computer, a phone and 30 minutes a week to commit to tutoring young children. Sparked lets remote United HealthCare team members apply their skills to help nonprofits solve challenges using their palm-top or desktop.

• Create virtual communities and virtual events. Engaging employees in your organizations’ community initiatives provides professionals who are working on the road or from home with opportunities to connect with the company’s broader purpose and fellow team members. At UnitedHealth Group thousands of employees join together for virtual, comedy focused, on-line fundraising conferences on the company’s “virtual green.” Through this technology they are able to laugh, learn and donate to important causes together. Similarly, EZCORP deploys YourCause to create a virtual sharing and learning employee community.

• Empower Ambassadors to expand reach. It is not always realistic for a small corporate engagement or HR team to reach everyone. Tapping into senior executives and existing networks of employees who are already engaged enables these small teams to connect to those who are hard to reach. Helpful networks to utilize include Employee Resource Groups, Green Teams, Community Relations Captains, Division Managers and other leaders. At UPS, EZCORP and UnitedHealth Group, they have found that their CEOs and other executives are among the most powerful role models and ambassadors to encourage the participation of all employees.

• Maximize your existing engagement tools and internal communication. If employees are unaware of dollars-for-doers and matching gift programs, they’ll never take advantage of them. By increasing communications and extending the eligibility of these types of initiatives, you’ll increase participation without having to create anything new.

• Bring engagement opportunities to the workplace. Rather than expecting retail or manufacturing employees to take hours away from their facility to volunteer, bring the activities to them. Set up simple, short-term volunteer activities right in the break-room that can be done in short shifts throughout the day or week. Look for community and volunteerism related signage and opportunties in the common rooms at EZCORP, UPS and UnitedHealth Group.

• Build it and they will come. Finally, raising awareness about robust, team based, company-sponsored volunteer opportunities after work and on the weekends makes it simple to participate. You provide the event and the incentives, and they provide their time.

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