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Virtual Shindig and the power of laughter: the answer to your works xmas do!

Ladies and gentlemen, hands up who needs a night of fun? It has been soooooo long since we’ve all been out, right? I long for the days when we could go to a comedy club, watch stand-up and just laugh the night away. Who else remembers that?!

I miss treating myself to a lunch out with a colleague, having a chat, a chuckle and leaving work at the office for a bit. Wouldn’t post-work dinner and drinks be glorious right about now (!) as the start of the holiday season begins . . . 

Colourfully-lit Christmas trees are appearing in people’s windows and sparkly outdoor lights brighten the dark December skies. It fills me hope, but I also really miss people and miss doing fun things. [Quietly weeps!] Who’s with me in that?

I’m realising we need to do everything we possibly can to lift our spirits. We need to get creative, find work-arounds and plan some fun activities! 

That’s why I’m so excited to talk to you about Virtual Shindig: Enact Solutions’ absolutely brilliant, creative answer, to this year’s works xmas do! 

Virtual Shindig is a virtual night out, from the comfort and safety of your own home! It’s a chance for organisations to celebrate their employees’ phenomenal work and thank them for their incredible efforts this year. It’s 90 minutes of good old-fashioned fun – we’re talking a festive extravaganza filled with comedy, interactive games, awards and a few surprise celebrity appearances! 

Are you hooked yet? 

Virtual Shindig is all about the feel-good factor you get from watching a xmas show or film. The power of group laughter to create joy, facilitate wellbeing and connection. All our work at Enact Solutions is rooted in science and Virtual Shindig is no different. Laughter is increasingly being studied by the scientific community as the fascinating health and psychological benefits laughter brings emerges . . .

Laughter is wonderful for stress relief‘, because it reduces cortisol (stress hormone), anxiety, depression and releases endorphins in the brain. It also ‘makes you more open to new people and helps you build and strengthen relationships.’ – Psychology Today.

This means that work activities which facilitate laughter, not only contribute positively to mental health, but are perfect team-building and bonding exercises for colleagues. ‘Laughing together is something that improves team collaboration and stimulates innovation. It makes us feel more bonded as a team and as a consequence our creative guards come down, leading to more expansive idea generation.’ – BBC News

Stanford University Lecturer, Naomi Bagdonas who has been studying comedy for 5 years has this to say: “Some people believe this is too serious a time to laugh, but this is when we need humour more than ever. With this global pandemic, the shift to remote working, loneliness and depression rising precipitously, many of us have never felt so disconnected. When we laugh with someone – whether through a screen or 2m apart – we get this cocktail of hormones that strengthens our emotional bonds in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Studies show it makes us more resilient, creative and resourceful.” – The Guardian. 

We have endured so much this year, both professionally and personally and we need a way to release this tension. Virtual Shindig has been designed to be an evening of light-hearted banter. It’s a tonic of an event, which connects team-members through laughter and builds resilience. We’re delighted to see so many companies booking Virtual Shindig under their staff wellbeing budgets.

We’ve organised everything, so you don’t need to worry about a thing. The normal stresses of which venue to pick and what menu to choose are now obsolete! Your company will come together in the best way we know how (yes that’s Zoom in 2020!) and have some feel-good, festive fun.

We’ve got laugh-out-loud topical sketches, performed by outstanding actors. There’ll be competitions, quizzes and prizes. And we’ll personalise everything, tailoring your works xmas do specifically to your workplace. It’s about bringing your employees together in a team celebration, with interactive shoutouts and in-jokes galore. Work friends will kick back, relax, have a giggle and a good time together.

So who are the hosts? Only the brilliant, comedic, double act: Tam Ryan and Marvyn Dickinson – you might recognise them off the telly! Both have appeared in Coronation Street and between them have starred in Emmerdale, Cold Feet, Waterloo Road etc.

Tam and Marv have a strong background in comedy and will be mixing the world of work with panto, bringing you a brilliantly bonkers evening, chock-full of comedy craic! They’ve got tons of experience, having appeared in many a theatre production and stand-up. Tam most recently played Buddy in the hit comedy, ‘Elf The Musical’, starring alongside Kym Marsh and Martine McCutcheon! 

Can you feel your xmas spirit growing?!

For one week only Tam will be revising his role in ‘Elf The Musical’ in Blackpool, so we have the amazing Lee Toomes joining Marv for our comedy double act. Lee recently toured in ‘The Full Monty’, is often seen on TV, including Peaky Blinders and Shameless and is a panto regular!

Have we mentioned that we’re raising money for charity too?! For every booking, we’ll be donating £50 to the wonderful charity ‘500 Acts of Kindness‘, founded by national treasure Julie Hesmondhalgh, aka Corrie’s beloved Hayley Cropper!

500 Acts of Kindness is: ‘A fundraising group where 500 people donate a pound a week to give £500 to a person, family or organisation in need.’ It was set up in 2017 by Julie and her friend Chris Malvern and since then has raised close to £100,000 in donations. As this inews article explains, donations have helped: ‘women fleeing domestic violence, bereaved parents and families overwhelmed by rent arrears.’ We’re super proud to be supporting it, especially at a time when so many people have been financially devastated by the pandemic. 

The performing arts industry has also been hit very hard this year. Virtual Shindig is a way for us to offer our talented creative freelancers work, at a time when many of their Christmas tours have sadly been cancelled. They are the heart of our organisation and we’re so excited to be working with them on this project. 

Leading on and the visionary behind Virtual Shindig is none other than Helen Lacey, author of ‘Let’s Talk to Mummy’s Tummy’ and Enact Solutions’ Creative Producer! Helen’s spark for Virtual Shindig ignited in September after she saw how many shows and work events were being cancelled. Concerned about the impact on peoples’ resilience and wellbeing and being passionate about bringing lightness and laughter into people’s lives, Virtual Shindig blazed into being!

It’s been non-stop since then as we’ve been making creative content, promoting Virtual Shindig and receiving lots of bookings! We’ve chatted with Kaye Adams on BBC Radio Scotland, appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Somerset and been interviewed by the BBC Business Website team! 

“This is something that will bring work colleagues together in laughter, you know, just proper belly laughs, that’s what we’re really aiming for,” said Helen Lacey on BBC News.

As well as fun and frolics, Virtual Shindig is about something special – offering companies a way to say a heartfelt thank you to their teams, for all the work they’ve done under incredibly challenging circumstances in 2020. With big, gold, BAFTA style envelopes, we’ll be announcing winners of special awards and celebrating individual and collaborative successes! It’s a celebratory end-of-year works party which reflects on and honours staff for everything they have achieved this year.

As CIPD says: ‘Christmas can be a great opportunity for employers to reward staff for their hard work and show they are valued. It’s also a chance for co-workers to relax and socialise with each other, which can boost morale and engagement.’

Virtual Shindig runs from 9th December 2020 to mid/late January 2021. Companies can choose whether to finish 2020 on a high, or kick start the new year with a fun event! We have time slots throughout the day and evening, but if our times don’t suit, please get in touch and we’ll try our best to accommodate you. We’re receiving bookings every day, so don’t delay!

We can facilitate groups of all different sizes, from 30 employees up to 600! Prices start from £1500 depending on group size and don’t forget staff parties can be a tax deductible expense!

After booking your Virtual Shindig, all you need to do is pop on your xmas hat, wrap some tinsel round your shoulders and let us entertain you!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and New Year,

Jemma Houghton


Jemma Houghton is one of our Associates at Enact Solutions. She’s been blogging for us on a number of topics and is really passionate about raising awareness and having conversations on resilience and well-being.


Learning in the shadow of the pandemic

training and learning development survey 2020

In October 2020, amid all of the uncertainty this year has brought, we decided it would be good to know more about what’s going on for our customers and how they see the next 12-18 months of learning and development activities in their organisations. We were also intrigued to know a little about how things have been during the pandemic. So, we did an online survey.

You can read more about how we did the survey and who responded later. For now, we should say it wasn’t a rigorous ‘scientific’ process. We reached out to a selection of customers to see whether they would take part, then sent them the survey. We also shared the link via social media. In the end, we got 47 respondents. So, you should treat the results as more qualitative than quantitative, indicative rather than definitive.

outlook

Compared with this time last year, respondents were marginally more likely to feel ‘more optimistic’ (34%) than ‘less optimistic’ (26%) about the outlook for L&D activities in their organisation, though a simple majority of respondents felt ‘the same’ (40%).

“It’s been a good opportunity to recalibrate. I expect things will keep changing!”

“We’re planning 2021 to be the same as 2020 – totally remote – and will revert to normality as and when we can.”

[L&D activities have] certainly reduced for our organisation which is a shame. But I think it may well be changing as we all realise this is the new normal and working at home will continue.”

budgets

When it came to their organisational training budgets, fewer than one in ten respondents predicted an ‘increase’ (9%), though four out of ten expected it to ‘stay the same’ (40%). A sizeable minority of respondents said their budget looked likely to ‘decrease’ (30%), while others simply didn’t know (21%).

“The budget is significantly slashed for 2021 – we are really looking ahead to a much more robust business case for 2022 – evaluation is critical for this – what happened afterwards, what behaviours changed post the training not just the intention to change.”

methods

Most respondents expected the blend of training methods would change in their organisation (98%), with more online learning and development experiences taking the place of face-to-face ones. All of which makes perfect sense in the midst of a pandemic that has led to high levels of working from home (WFH).

It will be interesting to see the extent to which changes sustain in the post Covid-19 training landscape. Some respondents were clearly enthusiastic about what’s happened, while others were not quite so sure.

“Whilst there have been some negative impacts, I really like the fact [the pandemic] has forced or expedited different approaches and greater use of technology.”

“[The pandemic and WFH] has accelerated initiatives that support the ability to provide virtual/ online/ bite sized learning support, that would have taken a lot longer to implement if working business as usual.”

“As horrendous as the pandemic has been for so many people, for L&D in the NHS it has enabled virtual training to become a reality and will support more digitally enhanced delivery in the future.”

“I have been surprised at how well virtual workshops and conferences have worked – many more people are more accepting of it as a tool and it brings with it more equality and flexibility.”

“I still question if eLearning is as effective as face to face/ classroom/ experiential learning. To me it’s more of a ‘compliance, tick box’ exercise. Or am I just old fashioned?”

priorities

Selected from a list, the top three priorities training and learning development priorities respondents identified were diversity and inclusion (66%), resilience and employee wellbeing (64%), and inclusive leadership (57%).

It’s worth noting here that these priorities could well reflect the specific interests of our customers (the principal focus of our survey), rather than those of organisations in general at this time. With that said, it’s not difficult to see that many organisations will be facing unique and pressing challenges in these areas. Whether that’s in response to the pandemic and its impact on working life or because of other significant events, such as the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

working from home

In the first of our Covid-19 specific questions, we asked respondents roughly how many of their employees are currently working from home (WFH) for the majority of their working week. A majority of respondents, three out of five (60%), said that more than half of their workforce were currently WFH. At the top end of the scale, almost one in four respondents (23%) said that more than nine out of ten employees were WFH.

For those pondering the potential long-term impact of Covid-19 on activities like training and learning development, it’s important to note that every respondent expected more employees in their organisation will be WFH after the pandemic than did before. It is, of course, possible that face-to-face training could become one of the key ways that teams come together in the ‘new normal’, building group cohesion and team spirit, but going with online options will clearly represent the path of least resistance in a predominantly virtual workplace.

support for employees

On average, respondents gave their organisations 4.3 stars for the way they had supported employees and enabled them to do their best in the circumstances during the pandemic.

When reflecting on what else could have been done, or done better, respondents clearly recognised the unprecedented nature of the challenge represented by a global event of this kind.

“Given the sudden nature of working at home it would be challenging to say what could have been done better at the time… overall the feedback from staff has been that the organisational response has generally been positive and the interventions, communication and overall care for staff welcomed.”

“We have focused a lot actually and done largely a great job.”

“They have been quite inspirational in their handling of the situation.”

The two main areas of learning highlighted by respondents were:

  • Looking out for employee wellbeing and mental health, including how managers handled remote teams

“We underestimated the mental health impact of working from home, especially for those who live alone. Although we advised teams to have regular ‘virtual team meetings’ in the event not every team did this, and we should have monitored this.”

“Increase focus on well-being and engagement.”

“Staff surveys revealed that some staff did not receive the support from their line managers that we would have expected, which we are addressing.”

“Line manager engagement on a personal level rather than purely professional.”

  • Properly equipping employees for WFH (e.g. IT hardware, workstations, software)

“In hindsight we could have had a more efficient system of getting IT kit to people (this only took a few weeks to set up but was a cause of worry for some people).”

“Needs better IT, demanding software apps required for productive WFH are crippling many teams.”

“Risk assess workstations at home”

final thoughts

It’s clear that our survey respondents, like all of us, have been dealing with considerable upheaval and uncertainty in their working lives.

What also comes across is that they’ve not simply been battening down the hatches and waiting for the storm to pass, they’ve been adapting, trying out new approaches, and in many instances finding themselves pleasantly surprised with the results. Perhaps this is why there weren’t higher levels of pessimism about the outlook for L&D activities in the next year or so.

And, when medical science saves the day and brings this virus to heel, our survey suggests that lots of us don’t expect the world of work, and with that the ways we train, learn and develop together to ever go back to what they were.

“The pandemic has thrust us 10 years into the future.”

Training and learning development activities are going online like never before. It’s not just eLearning, it’s online training sessions and conferences. This means those creating content will need to find ways to hold an audience with access to emails and messaging, pressing tasks, and the myriad distractions of the internet. More than that, they will need to find ways to actively engage people, to help them feel and see things that will lead them to change the ways they behave and potentially even think. In that sense, the challenge for L&D professionals remains the same as ever; to help busy people learn and make a positive difference.

“We’ve already adapted hugely although it’s been a steep learning curve! It’s great to see the training sector have largely done the same, although I do have one contact refusing to take their training online (it certainly isn’t Enact). This absence of flexibility will influence me using them again.”

Which brings us to our last take-away from the survey results. The ‘new normal’ means new challenges for trainers and L&D professionals to help organisations address. Or at least, new versions of old challenges. A significant increase in WFH doesn’t just present practical ‘getting the job done’ hurdles for organisations to overcome, it brings a whole new dimension to nurturing shared values, to inclusion and helping people feel like part of a team, to coaching and helping them grow and fulfil their potential, and to looking after their emotional and mental wellbeing. As we contemplate the future, one thing’s for sure, there’s lots for us all to get stuck into.

“Biggest challenges are maintaining culture and values in an asynchronous remote working setup, without the opportunities for spur-of-the-moment, spontaneous coaching opportunities.”

“I think the interesting thing will be if / when we have more of a blend of associates who are home based, and office based. It means more effort will need to be put into inclusive meetings, etc.”

“Those who are creative problem solvers with high level of EQ have the opportunity to produce meaningful interventions.”

methodology

The online survey ran from 22 Oct to 5 Nov 2020. It was sent to 101 Enact Solutions customers who had been approached and expressed an interest in taking part. It was not a random sample. The link was also shared on social media.

In total there were 47 respondents. A majority of these were our customers, while 10 came from our social media postings.

We received responses from individuals working in organisations across a range of sectors:

  • Health, Hospital, Clinic, GP Surgery
  • Education
  • Energy, Chemical, Utilities
  • Consulting
  • Medical, Pharma, Biotech
  • Financial Services
  • Central Government
  • Manufacturing
  • Advertising/ Marketing/ PR
  • Aerospace & Defence
  • Banking & Securities
  • Local Government
  • Insurance
  • Legal
  • Retail
  • Telecommunications

Organisations ranged from SMEs to large multinationals.

David Allen


David Allen is Director of Impact at Enact Solutions.