The seed packets, pots and growing trays arrive to employees’ home addresses, full of promise and backed up with a virtual gardening guru who’s got growing tips, recipes—and boundless enthusiasm—to share. Sounds better than a basket of waxy fruit and chocolate turtles, doesn’t it?
With so many workplace norms in flux, it seems that the corporate gift basket from days of yore could use a rest. Instead, many organizations are giving their loyal employees virtual cooking and gardening classes with supplies included: Basically, employees receive the gift of getting their hands dirty in the garden and making their own pesto through the upcoming year. Plus, an experience focused on fresh veggies fits the current corporate focus on promoting employee wellness to a tee.
And when traditionally in-person corporate events/holiday parties are out of reach, a virtual experience can be exactly what corporations need to make their employees feel appreciated and engaged.
Organic conversations and organic gardening for Audible employees
Angelina Mendez is manager of corporate events for Audible, an Amazon company. She has seen the shift into virtual events, along with the challenges.
Photo: So long, boring corporate gift basket, hello, virtual gardening and cooking experiences!
“What used to be catering for one location has turned into collecting shipping addresses and dietary restrictions/preferences from hundreds of different recipients,” Mendez says, pointing to the current move into hybrid events (some people in person, others online). “Everyone can follow along with the same instructional demo, except one group is together in person while the others are joining remotely.”
Replicating the natural interaction that happens at live events are another aspect of virtual events that can present a challenge, Mendez says. “In terms of programming, we can’t depend on organic conversations between attendees, so we have to figure out ways to facilitate the conversation. If it’s an instructional demo, it’s commonly polls, trivia or Q&A. Casual virtual chats are facilitated by ice breakers.”
The best ice breaker? A cool new experience. “The chance to learn something new is the greatest benefit,” Mendez says. “Whatever the virtual activity, there needs to be an effective takeaway for it to be memorable.”
Back to the (virtual) garden
Over the summer, Audible retained Adam Weiss, founder of Pike Lane Gardens and an alum of Restaurant Associates, for their Summerfest, a series of virtual, live programs for employees. Weiss hosted a virtual presentation on growing your own salad greens in containers and showed attendees how to harvest and roast garlic for a few crostini recipes.
In advance of the presentation, each participant received a kit with a growing container, organic soil and a specialty mix of organic leaf lettuce seeds. Participants didn’t have to wait for their own garlic to grow to enjoy the crostini recipes, as the kits included a head of organic Hardneck garlic and a good bottle of olive oil.
Using Amazon’s Chime platform, Weiss led the workshop, which included gardening info, a demo on cherry tomato, parsley and roasted garlic crostini and a lively Q&A while attendees assembled their kits and snacks. A recording was available for those employees who couldn’t make it to the live event.
Since the Summerfest project, Weiss has been working with more big businesses from coast to coast ahead of this year’s holiday season, ready with virtual gardening gifts designed to contain more impact and more human touch.
He’s created hundreds of winter gardening kits already, including upcoming programs for Hearst Publishing and Compass-USA. The winter kits are designed for both urban and rural settings, and participants will learn the joys of starting tiny seedlings in the winter—the best way to look forward to spring during the dark days of winter.
“Collaborating with companies like these and their commitment to encouraging wellbeing for their employees is my company’s mission,” Weiss says. “I guarantee much more than a beautiful garden with delicious produce…I want to help vegetable gardeners develop a special connection to the earth.”
Cheers to getting hands dirty in a virtual world!