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How one company engaged a non-desk-based workforce to celebrate diversity

When our HR and management teams were thinking about ideas to celebrate diversity, we started by asking the team for their ideas. Staff told us that the best part of the previous company activities we’d run, was that they’d been involved from the start.

Manufacturing can prove a challenging environment for employee engagement. Staff aren’t operating in an ever-connected setting, where they are surrounded by digital communications. Unlike desk-based workers, manufacturing staff don’t always have readily available access to emails, alerts and messaging forums where company news and updates can be shared, and employee feedback and ideas easily gathered.

At Duo, we’re well versed in addressing these circumstances to connect, motivate and celebrate our team. We have 79 people working throughout our packaging production facility, as well as a team of 31 more employees who are part of our research and development, finance, sales and marketing, and management functions.

We’ve unified the team through our community room, The Hive – a space where teams can meet, and non-digital communications easily shared and accessed – and immersive team experiences that don’t rely on computers, mobiles and tablets. We’ve run group speed-painting activities, as well as team lunches where we invite guest restaurants.

However, we’re privileged to have 16 different nationalities working within our team and we wanted to do something more to bring our employees together to celebrate diversity. This inspired the creation of a cook book and led to insights from our team about effectively engaging non-desk-based employees, which could be applied in office environments.

Involve employees from the outset

When our HR and management teams were thinking about ideas to celebrate diversity, we started by asking the team for their ideas. Staff told us that the best part of the previous company activities we’d run, was that they’d been involved from the start, and had known when the activity was happening so they could plan and look forward to it. They felt valued that their suggestions were welcomed by senior leaders from the very beginning and appreciated the opportunity to influence events and initiatives that were being designed for them.

We used The Hive to talk with staff face-to-face and to let them know how they could share their ideas with the HR and management team responsible for celebrating diversity. Open lines of communication were made clear and comfortable for employees.

Be open minded

When speaking with staff and inviting their suggestions, be prepared to start with a blank piece of paper. It could have been straightforward for our HR and management teams to take the idea of a party to employees and then ask them to come up with ideas for a theme, entertainment, food and refreshments etc. This has its place when you want to surprise and delight staff but for this activity, we avoided this approach for two key reasons. The first, we wanted the team to feel totally empowered.

The second reason is that having predetermined ideas can limit creativity and innovation. We organised sessions with staff to chat through what they were interested in, and this revealed a shared love of food and an enthusiasm to learn more about each other, especially as shift-based work can limit opportunities for people to meet and interact.

With 16 different nationalities in our team, there’s a rich diversity in terms of food cultures. It quickly became apparent how passionate and proud people were about their different and unique flavours and recipes. The important point to note here is that digital comms channels wouldn’t have unearthed this excitement, and it wouldn’t have encouraged the excitable conversations the team were having about creating and tasting a world of foods. The cook book idea was born.

Give staff a voice, create a sense of belonging

The cook book invited staff to submit a recipe and a photo of their dish. We also wanted to involve employees’ families in this, as our previous research of new starters had revealed how important it was for families to know more about employers. Job security has become really important for staff and the loved ones they support, and there’s a real eagerness to find out more about a business providing income.

We printed cards for employees explaining the initiative and how everyone could get involved and posted these to employees’ homes. Family-favourite recipes were submitted, which would then be produced in a printed cook book. The vision was for staff to be able to take this home and enjoy cooking new dishes. The printed cards also invited staff to share short stories about their recipes and about why they are so special to them, with these reproduced in the final book.

We had recipes for Thiéboudiène – a national dish of Senegal, right through to Polish Pierogi, Goulash, Jerk Chicken, Fish and Chips, Beef Wellington and even a takeaway order from KFC! Inviting the stories about each recipe gave staff a voice and inspired stories about who they are as people, and not just colleagues or workers. The stories continued and grew, as members of the team cooked the different dishes at home, sharing these with family and friends. Some of the team even brought in their creations to work to share at lunch times.

The whole creation and production of the cook book has been rather analogue and inspired by face-to-face communications with employees. This can seem counterintuitive in an increasingly digitalised world, but has been a refreshing reminder about the importance of people-led employee engagement. It has helped staff to get to know each other and make introductions a little easier. We also give a copy of the cook book to all new starters, so they can familiarise themselves with the team, learn about our brand and company culture to help them to settle in. Starting a new job can be quite daunting and this helps to settle some of the new starters’ nerves.

Putting employees at the heart of the cook book initiative and fuelling this with actual conversations has created a celebration of our team’s diversity that is owned and championed by staff.

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