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UMass Donahue Institute

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Re-engaging a Remote Workforce with "Huddles"

Provided by our Organizational Development & Learning Solutions group

Like every organization, UMass Donahue has been challenged during Covid to keep our remote staff engaged and feeling like they are part of a larger organization. Adding to the challenge, our staff are spread across the country. Under the leadership of our new Executive Director Johan Uvin, we launched quarterly “All-Employee Virtual Huddles” to help build relationships, increase engagement and spark learning and strategic thinking across the entire organization.

  • What is a “Huddle”? Typically, a huddle refers to a group of co-workers who get together on a regular basis to discuss performance metrics. UMass Donahue has expanded this concept to also include opportunities to get to know each other better, enjoy artistic performances, and tackle big questions that face a public service organization like ours to help shape our strategies like: Thinking of society today, what are the key issues for which no good solution exists? Time for having fun together is also built-in, like with our recent Holiday Huddle where we had a trivia competition and raising money for charity through a silent auction featuring “hidden” talents of staff who volunteered things like yoga sessions, original artwork, cooking classes, etc.
  • What is the goal(s)? You should define your own Huddle goals depending on the audience and the outcomes you want for the event. During our most recent Holiday Huddle, our goals were:
    • Get to know each other better
    • Celebrate and reflect together on this time of year in whatever way we each do
    • Raise money for charity
    • Have a good time
  • How do you design a virtual huddle? Holding a successful huddle takes a lot of work and planning, and should start at least 2 months prior to your Huddle date. Our recommendation is to define a cross-functional planning team that will bring ideas from across your organization and form subcommittees (as needed) to tackle specific sections of the agenda. We also recommend having two co-chairs. It’s also critical to have at least two people who are skilled at virtual meeting platforms like Zoom be part of your planning group so they can help design all activities and support the event on the day of.
  • How often should you have a virtual huddle? There are no simple answers. If the Huddle will focus on a smaller group that already works together on a regular basis, the huddle can be shorter and more frequent. At UMass Donahue, our huddles bring together over 150 staff from different business units and geographies so we are running them quarterly for three hours each.
  • What are the benefits? Like team building, huddles have many benefits. Huddles, when designed correctly, promote a sense of belonging, collaboration, increased energy, and re-engagement! Huddles not only deepen employee engagement but also open up planning and decision-making processes and structures to engage the broadest group of employees possible.
  • What are challenges or issues to watch out for? Any type of Huddle can become boring and mundane if not designed carefully. But be cautious to not over-design your Huddles and have the complexities sap the energy out of the interactions.  We recommend sending out a short survey immediately following the event to get feedback and suggestions on what worked well and what didn’t and to gauge how well you met the event’s goals.
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University of Massachusetts Amherst

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