News & Politics

Companies Are Holding Cooking Contests and Tutoring Colleagues’ Kids to Keep Work-at-Home Staff Engaged

Virtual bingo, robot-building, home-delivered cupcakes, and other techniques of top employers

Colleagues at the Motley Fool are doing MTV "Cribs"-style Zoom tours of their homes. Photo courtesy of Motley Fool.
Coronavirus 2020

About Coronavirus 2020

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As Washingtonians work from home during the coronavirus lockdown, employers are coming up with ways not only to keep their staffs productive and engaged, but to keep up their spirits—and keep them connected to one another. We reached out to a dozen local companies—many of them among our 50 Great Places to Work—and heard about Slack channels devoted to pet pictures and “quarantine diaries,” personal notes from the boss, and virtual lunches and happy hours. Here are a few of the more creative ways that some companies are keeping up employee morale.

Home Tours

At the Motley Fool in Alexandria, which hosts wacky employee activities even in non-pandemic times, teams have been streaming MTV Cribs-style tours of their homes. The finance team got to see that an accounting manager still had her Christmas tree up in March; they also enjoyed the tax manager’s lovely view from her Arlington balcony.

Dawn Isabel of NowSecure with daughters Violet and Juniper. Photo courtesy of Dawn Isabel.

Cooking—and Working Out—Together

At the 90-person software company NowSecure, which has an office in Tysons, their Slack food channel has hosted contests such as “best use of leftovers” and “best video cooking demonstration.” (That one was won by Dawn Isabel, who made a video of her baking cookies with her kids.) With all that eating, it seems only fair that they also started a “quarantine step challenge.” The three employees who post the most steps over the course of the quarantine will win gift cards.


The “Fit Bingo” card created by Jordan Helmey, an employee experience specialist at Go Canvas. Photo courtesy of Jordan Helmey.

Fitness Bingo

Another company sponsoring a workout challenge is Go Canvas, a mobile-platform firm in Reston. In the squares of a “bingo” card are various exercises—including “favorite yoga pose,” “drop and give me 20,” and “make a healthy snack.” Employees who paste photos of themselves completing all 25 challenges will earn bragging rights.

R Street Institute’s outreach included a lesson on Abraham Lincoln. Photo courtesy of Pexels.

Class Acts

At the R Street Institute in DC, a libertarian and right-of-center-leaning think tank, staffers without kids have been tutoring colleagues’ children. One employee presented a history lesson about Abraham Lincoln; another conducted a 30-minute PE class on Zoom with jumping jacks and push-ups; yet another created a science project around bird-watching.

One of the mini-robots assembled by ASTI staff. Photo courtesy of ASTI.

Geeking Out

After the 45-person staff at Herndon’s Advanced Simulation Technology—most of whom are engineers—started to work from home, ASTi sent each of them mini-robots to build. Parents also received STEM kits for their children.

The snack box that Interos sent all 65 of its employees. Photo courtesy of Interos.

Snack Happy

Interos, a tech start-up in Arlington, clearly believes one way to employees’ hearts is through their stomachs. A staffer celebrating an anniversary or birthday gets a delivery of cupcakes, along with a gift card. And the company’s Culture Club sent each of the 65 staffers a SnackNation box filled with nutrition bars, nuts, and healthy chips and cookies. For every box delivered, SnackNation donates two meals to a family in need—which appealed to Interos, which also launched an internal effort to raise money for the Arlington Food Assistance Center.

Midtown Group employees received a catered meal from Ridgewells. Photo courtesy of the Midtown Group.

Catering to a Need

Another local employer keeping its workers fed is the Midtown Group, a staffing and recruitment firm in DC. Each Friday, Midtown’s president and CEO, Helen Stefan-Moreau, has full meals delivered to each of her 30 employees. The dinners come from other local businesses, including Ridgewells Catering and Fat Pete’s Barbecue.

A Carfax meeting on “Favorite Hat Day.” Photo courtesy of Carfax.

Theme Days

At Carfax, the Centreville company known for its vehicle-history reports on used cars, team meetings on Zoom have featured daily themes such as “Favorite Hat Day,” “Wear Crazy Colors,” and “Camo Day.” Every Friday is “Carfax Swag day,” when employees are encouraged to show off their branded gear.

Photo courtesy of iStock.

Staying Calm

A few of the companies we contacted said they were promoting meditation among employees. At the financial advisory firm Glassman Wealth Services, owner Barry Glassman bought, for each employee and his or her significant other, the meditation app Headspace. Meanwhile, Splunk, a tech firm with an office in Tysons, offers 15-minute guided meditation sessions three times a week on Zoom.

Editor in chief

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986 as an editorial intern, and worked her way to the top of the masthead when she was named editor-in-chief in 2022. She oversees the magazine’s editorial staff, and guides the magazine’s stories and direction. She lives in DC.