Artificial intelligence company Interactions is going dogs…in a good way. The Franklin, Mass.-based company recently hosted an hour-long virtual dog show, complete with judges and experience from the American Kennel Club, as 16 dogs of all shapes, sizes and breeds entertained employees via Zoom.
The company, which builds intelligent virtual assistants used to manage enterprise customer experiences, has eight offices in the United States and one in London and India. About a third of the 475 employees worked remotely before the pandemic, according to Mary Clermont, director of human resources. Since the advent of COVID-19 in mid-March, Interactions has transformed into an entirely work-from-home culture, with plans to continue to do so once the pandemic is over.
“It really leveled the playing field [among employees]have everyone home,” Clermont said.
Along with this shift, the company realized it needed to find ways to keep employees connected, said HR/Employee Experience Business Partner Caron Casey.
“We had to start using Slack more, leaving [employees] know we were still there, and provide them with some kind of downtime and relief.”
Like many companies, it launched a virtual happy hour, but only about 10 of the 130 people who registered for the event interacted. An even quieter crowd listened to the second happy hour. Something new and different was needed, Casey said, and the virtual dog show was born.
“We had employees who really got involved,” Casey said. Some dogs performed tricks in their yards and living rooms as Casey acted as emcee, speaking into her hairbrush ‘microphone’ as she shared canine biographies with the Zoom audience and the judges quizzed owners about their furry friends.
Participants included Happy, a 2-year-old English bulldog more interested in his owner’s jar of treats than retrieving a ball; Sarah, a 12-year-old Butterfly angry at being woken up from her nap on the couch; Junior, a 6-year-old Miniature Australian Shepherd who rings a bell to get out of the house; Roxie, a 12-week-old Newfoundland/Pomeranian mix; Weesie, a smelly, toothless chihuahua/Italian greyhound mix and Senator Reginald Barkington, a 2-year-old Labradoodle whose bio stated he was “unable to relax and will steal your socks and your heart.”
Harper, a Shetland Sheepdog pictured here, won the most votes with tricks he performed under the supervision of his 4-year-old owner.
Casey promoted the show on Slack and hosted it on Zoom. The popularity of the event, she said, inspired her to make the show an annual event.
“I think [employees] like having an activity. I think introverts like a way to interact,” and this is a way for them to do it. tour of his garden and another showing the medieval maze he created in his yard.
“You learn so much more about the people you work with ‘through these virtual events’ than you would if you were still in the building together,” Casey said. She offered the following recommendations for planning a virtual dog show:
- Set a registration deadline a few days before the event and ask employees to submit their dog’s name, age, and fun facts.
- Find ways to include employees who don’t own dogs, such as serving as judges.
- Compile a list of contestants to share with the judges and review the show lineup with the judges and contestants before the show.
- Give participants two or three minutes to show their dogs.
- Pay attention to the chat function to keep up to date with questions from the public. It is a duty of master of ceremonies.
- Test the polling function before the event and make it easy to use.
- Encourage employees’ children to participate, including voting.
- Consider archiving the video so employees in different time zones can access the show later.
- Consider awarding a prize to the winning dog. Harper has won a box of her favorite treats.
The family event resonated with employees, Casey said, because it was so different and “the kids were able to participate — I think that’s our sweet spot.”