A young man wearing a headset sitting at a laptop playing a game to boost employee engagement.
Image: © F8\Suport Ukraine/Stock.adobe.com

How a virtual internet café can boost employee engagement

2 Jun 2022

Version 1’s Samuel Stan pioneered an employee engagement event in the form of a virtual internet café for his remote and hybrid colleagues.

Remote working has been a blessing for many, enabling people to be more present at home or to ditch those two-hour commutes to the office.

But it’s not without its challenges, and many teams are struggling with moving away from office work entirely for fear that it will destroy employee engagement.

After all, it’s much harder to have casual chats with your colleagues when most of your work is done asynchronously and face-to-face time is strictly reserved for meetings about work.

Enter Samuel Stan, a partner project manager at software company Version 1, who pioneered an employee engagement event in the form of a virtual internet café.

“I’ve spent a good part of my life in internet cafés and I understand the power they have when looking to build communities and organise events,” he told SiliconRepublic.com.

The Version 1 virtual internet café was set up as a timed gaming event that allows hobbyists and newbies to gather and play games while interacting with each other. The company opted for the Microsoft Xbox Game Pass for the gaming café due its wide variety of games and its cloud streaming capabilities.

“It’s a safe space for newbies and it allows, no, incentivises them to become better. Meanwhile, experienced players get to find their match or build amazing teams that get to overcome the hardest challenges,” Stan explained.

“We’ve made efforts to support it after hours but also during work hours, for staff that are travelling, on leave or just want to take some time out of their lunch break to relax and play,” he added. “Some need a break but the fear of ‘wasting’ holidays puts them off. Allowing them to decouple and de-stress while exploring a new entertainment medium – I believe it was worth encouraging.”

A close up of a man looking at the camera while standing outside in front of some bushes.

Samuel Stan. Image: Version 1

Additional benefits

While some companies may worry about a drop in employee engagement without that in-office interaction, Stan said he believes engagement in a virtual setting is easier to enable if done right and can be particularly beneficial to new employees.

“You’re eliminating travel, dress code and the ‘office personality’. Thus, allowing individuals to be open and direct in their engagement,” he said. 

“A person that is supported and enabled by others will always perform better than otherwise. During the event I noticed that a large portion of the participants were new employees, sub one year, that were looking for a challenge and to get better. They’ve come out of the event more confident and informed on colleagues which they otherwise might never get to interact with.”

While employee engagement was the main goal of the virtual internet café, Stan said there were many other benefits such as improving cognitive abilities, collaboration skills and confidence.

‘It provided our new joiners with another outlet to build their Version 1 network – something that can be challenging to do in the remote-first workplace’

“I have personally witnessed a colleague improve significantly in one of the racing games we had available. The pure joy of even finishing the race was incredible and it has helped her become much better at expressing herself within the group. I noticed instantly the confidence and playfulness change in both tone and expressiveness,” he said.

“I’m happy that we could be part of her success. All participants were very supportive, and we could see that she worked hard to be one of us.”

Amanda Kelly, Version 1’s head of employee experience, said it proved to be an “innovative approach” to the challenge of building social engagement in a hybrid environment.

“Firstly, it gave our people an outlet to switch off from their day to day; secondly, an opportunity to get talking to people that they never would have spoken to otherwise; and last but not least, it provided our new joiners with another outlet to build their Version 1 network and create a sense of connection to the organisation – something that can be challenging to do in the remote-first workplace.”

Stan said he’s very happy with the results of the event and would encourage all companies to consider implementing a similar virtual initiative.

“The passion of the participants, success stories witnessed, and personal growth of individuals will help them engage with every other initiative. New joiners are attracted to positive people, gaming can become that positive interaction that boosts their confidence and allows them to express their emotions.”

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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