Keeping HR Teams Connected

Virtual summit brings together a team of teams

virtual conference

By K. Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN, NE-BC, FAAN, Chief Caregiver Officer, Cleveland Clinic Health System

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In today’s virtual work environment, HR leaders need to consider new ways to connect and engage employees and teams. Virtual summits or retreats offer a great opportunity to build team relationships and enhance employee connections beyond daily video conferencing and communicating.

The most successful virtual summits are informative, educational, inspirational and fun. Importantly, they bring something exciting and invigorating to team members, such as opportunities for expanded collaboration, interactive games or entertainment and thought-provoking speakers or special guests.

At Cleveland Clinic, we have 520 Caregiver Office employees who work in various remote or hybrid settings and locations across the globe, so keeping our team of teams connected is a top priority. We recently held a virtual summit to bring employees together to have fun, celebrate each other, and learn more about how we all are working to support our office’s objectives and our organization’s mission. More than 500 people attended and 88% rated the team-enhancing experience outstanding or very good.

Our two-hour summit agenda consisted of an annual update, executive panel, question and answer forum, inspirational and educational break-out sessions, and engagement activities and prize giveaways. Interactive components such as a virtual lobby, family features photo contest and online chat function created a specialized attendee experience, while skilled emcee and online event vendor partners ensured the summit was highly professional and well produced.

For those considering the idea of a virtual summit, here are a few recommendations based on our experience.

Show workers you care about them

Employees need to know that their leaders care about them and appreciate them. A virtual summit is an ideal platform for recognizing employees’ hard work and celebrating their achievements.

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At our year-end summit in December 2021, we paid tribute to employees, recognized milestones, awards and accomplishments (amid another year of pandemic-induced challenges), and thanked caregivers for a continued job well done and amazing progress. When planning a summit, keep in mind that workers will appreciate an event that showcases your organization’s dynamic work community and reminds employees of their important role in it.

Incorporate small group interaction

Providing small group interaction, especially when you have a large HR team, is an important consideration. Including a more intimate setting for a portion of the event gives employees who don’t typically work together a chance to get to know one another and allows for more personalized experiences.

Our summit consisted of two 20-minute breakout sessions, each featuring six small group settings. Employees attended one session from each breakout group that piqued their interest. The first sessions were educationally focused, including topics on the importance of recognition, creating a best-in-class caregiver experience, global trends in healthcare HR and more. The second sessions were inspirational-driven and covered topics including holistic wellbeing, empathy and the caregiver, and being OK when everything’s not OK.

Employees were asked to turn their video function on before joining their chosen sessions and discussion was encouraged in all sessions. Sessions were either led by invited guests from other organizations or highly regarded Cleveland Clinic experts.

Allow ample time for planning and include the right resources

Planning a virtual event of this nature will require plenty of preparation. If possible, dedicate six months for planning. At Cleveland Clinic, we held weekly team planning meetings for four months.

Assign a cross-functional team to lead planning efforts. This will ensure adequate support and diversity of thought. Divide your team into smaller groups with focused responsibilities on areas such as event production, graphic design and program marketing collateral, breakout sessions and giveaways. Have dedicated team leaders for overall summit management and assigned facilitators for breakout sessions.

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Further, to ensure your summit is well executed, do your research and partner with reputable online event vendors, information technology experts and others who are experienced in virtual event planning, coordination and execution. These people are vital to executing a seamless program and can offer helpful guidance. For example, they can help ensure presenters and attendees receive proper training and instruction on the technology platform before the event, they will ensure a cohesive look and feel for the event, they will manage event day flow and transitions, and they will monitor attendee interaction and comments.

Make it fun

No one wants to attend a virtual activity where they are expected to do nothing more than sit and listen. Making your event fun is key. Start by getting a good emcee. Whether it’s a professional who specializes in event production or a strong internal leader, the emcee sets the tone for the entire summit. We hired a well-known, award-winning emcee who specializes in the power of human connection – and is also a professional magician. He combined experience, humor, magic and emotion to bring passion, energy and excitement to our event. Employees volunteered to participate in the magic tricks and our team loved it.

Personalize the event by incorporating photos of employees with their families, colleagues, friends and pets. We asked employees to send in photos that could be shared throughout the summit. Adding short video clips to your event is also a great attention-grabber. Before the event, take quick, informal and impromptu videos of employees answering the same question. Share their responses as a pre-conference activity while attendees are waiting for the event to start, or as part of the event. Brief video clips from comical movies or comical photo memes also liven the event atmosphere, as does incorporating upbeat music throughout, especially when introducing speakers or presenters.

Placing hidden logos or symbols on screen for employees to find throughout the event can also be fun. When a symbol is found, the first person to type “I Spy” in the chat function wins a prize. Prizes keep participants engaged and paying attention. We offered prizes throughout our summit and a series of grand prizes at the close of the event, all of which were donated from local organizations and partners.

When it comes time to host your virtual summit, make it a priority to arrange schedules accordingly so that all team members can attend. Don’t forget to survey attendees post-event to gather feedback on what employees liked, disliked and more.