Cooking lessons, care packages, virtual happy hours. How companies are helping employees cope

Jackie Castro has learned how to make a Dutch baby pancake, Ahi sandwich, frittata, ricotta fritters and pan-seared salmon. She didn’t learn this at a traditional cooking course. Instead, she picked up these skills through her company while working from home. Castro, 26, cooked these recipes during an online course […]

Jackie Castro has learned how to make a Dutch baby pancake, Ahi sandwich, frittata, ricotta fritters and pan-seared salmon.

She didn’t learn this at a traditional cooking course. Instead, she picked up these skills through her company while working from home. Castro, 26, cooked these recipes during an online course set up by Buffini & Company, a Carlsbad-based coaching and training business.

“They have been a blast to participate in and are something I look forward to,” said Castro, who is the people and culture generalist and recruiter for Buffini. “The cooking classes also provide a chance to engage with colleagues in a new way.”

Buffini has been offering these cuisine classes since May as a way to maintain a sense of community and corporate culture among employees who are isolated in their homes during Covid-19. To that end, other local companies are sending employees care packages, replacing an annual gala with a virtual interactive event, hosting happy hours and improving communication between workers by implementing Slack.

At Scout Distribution, a San Diego-based craft alcohol wholesaler, the “text threads were very inefficient,” said CEO Jeff Hansson. So he incorporated Slack in August.

“Having specific channels for communication has given our employees a direct and functional way to manage tasks and communicate with each other,” Hansson said. “We have also tried to make it fun for them, creating channels that celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, music recommendations, etc.”

Scout has also held virtual happy hours once a week, even if it was for 10 to 15 minutes because they “were a way for us to keep that part of our culture alive,” Hansson said.

To show it cares about its workers, Optima Office, a San Diego-based accounting company, sent employees care packages in April and September and will likely send one for Thanksgiving.

The first box included a smorgasbord of items such as entrees, snacks, beer, wine or coffee, hats, candles, journal, hand sanitizer, potholders, teeth whitener and letter openers. The second gift bag included an Optima tote bag, notepad, pen, stickers, sunscreen and a touchless key tool for opening doors or using at an ATM.

The care packages were sent to let workers know “we are thinking about them,” said Jennifer Barnes, Optima CEO.

To help employees feel less alone, Community Interface Services, a Carlsbad-based nonprofit that aids people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, is replacing its annual gala in December with a free virtual two-hour event. The party for staff, families and friends will have recorded and live entertainment and door prizes.

“The pandemic has made people more isolated and we want to provide an opportunity for people to be able to engage with others,” said Rose Hanson, chief financial officer and associate director for Community Interface Services.

Buffini’s similar goal via online cooking classes is offered once a month on a Friday at noon. The classes are taught by the company’s business coach who enjoys cooking and used to have his own restaurant.

“We wanted to offer various ways for our employees to connect online during this time,” said Veronica Tsujimoto, director of people and culture for Buffini. “Also, food brings everyone together and we also wanted to have an activity that family members could participate in.”

Participants got ingredients and supplies in advance of the classes. They got step-by-step instructions and helpful cooking insights, Castro said.

She added that she’s learning to make recipes she would never otherwise try to make. There are a lot of laughs since everyone is on camera and can see each others’ attempts at cooking each dish, she said.

“It makes for a fun break in the workday to participate in these classes,“ Castro said, which “makes me feel connected to the company, my coworkers and also reminds me that the company cares about my well-being while working from home.”

Hang Nguyen is a freelance writer for the U-T.

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