Business COVID-19 Women Who Lead

Wavy Co-founder, Shawn Hewat, on How to Combat Zoom Fatigue

Wavy

At a time when people are isolated, maintaining connection between team members is more important than ever. After seven months of working from home for many Canadians, this is proving to be a challenge. 

While video is a crucial component of maintaining work relations in these socially-distanced times, much of the experience on call is spent staring at screens, “forgetting” to turn cameras on and waiting for the moment to chime in to say “Ok, bye!” then end the call. Needless to say, the Zoom fatigue is real.

Shawn Hewat, Co-Founder and CEO of Wavy, hopes to bring excitement to team calls with unique and interactive virtual experiences. Each Wavy event aims to build community and connection—businesses in the Canadian tech sphere, like Willful and Jobber, have jumped at the opportunity.

“Zoom fatigue can happen when companies host ineffective virtual events/experiences,” said Hewat. “Our recipe for success focuses on short experiences, two-way interaction, being able to have a conversation throughout, mini games and professional hosting/facilitating.”

Having been in the Canadian tech and start-up sphere for that past eight years herself, Hewat is proud to support and enhance the industry during these trying times.

“The best part about our work is seeing the impact it makes for our clients and helping companies pave the way for the future of remote work,” said Hewat.

Before COVID-19, Wavy was a consumer app, dedicated to helping users make the best of experiences within their own city. Like many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Hewat and the Wavy co-founders to pivot. Now, Wavy has a set path to make waves in the virtual experience industry.

For this week’s Women Who Lead spotlight, Bay Street Bull spoke with Shawn Hewat, Co-Founder and CEO of Wavy, about being a woman in tech, pivoting a business during the pandemic and enhancing the work from home experience.

Q&A

Tell us about Wavy, how did it come to be?  

We started Wavy on the foundation that people build strong relationships through shared experiences. As avid-travellers and explorers, my co-founders and I wanted to build technology that would help people find relevant activities and events based on their interests, mood, group size and purpose. Originally, we launched a consumer app that would help members discover the joy of travel in their own city, with personalized recommendations that were sourced from local experts.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we switched gears to focus on supporting corporate teams through unique virtual experiences. We wanted to help people come together, support each other, and have positive things to look forward to in a world that felt (and still feels) pretty heavy.

Companies have arguably never been more focused on employee retention and happiness. How has Wavy proven to boost employee morale? 

Now that remote work is becoming a long-term strategy for teams across North America, the need to invest in new strategies for team-building, connection, and communication is only growing. At Wavy, we’re big believers that teams who go together, go further. Here are some of our highlights from working with clients across North America:

  • Employees have been extremely excited to take part in virtual team events. Average ‘Level of Stoke’ about Wavy events is 91% (yes, we measure that).  
  • We’ve seen participation rates of 82% across teams, based on number of employees RSVPing to events vs. actively participating. Typically, Wavy events have a higher turnout than internally hosted events. 
  • Employees have felt more connected after taking part in Wavy events. In one survey with a team of 60, 56% of people said they definitely felt more connected to their team after joining Wavy experiences, while 44% said they kind of felt more connected to their team after. 

Since the initial outbreak of coronavirus, virtual experiences for teams have boomed in the market. What makes Wavy different from other virtual platforms? 

We pride ourselves on working with local experts, hosting interactive experiences, providing hands-on customer service, and having an easy-to-use platform for accessing virtual events. 

Not only do we focus on bringing in industry-leading experts to host events, but we also work directly with them to bring their skillsets online—from how to run an engaging experience to getting the right audio/visual technology set up. Wavy focuses on three factors: creating interactive virtual events (it’s more than another live stream), customizing experiences to meet your goals and match company culture, and an easy-to-use platform, where you can expect to experience a seamless virtual event.

Partnering with multiple notable companies including Willful, Jobber, and TWG, as founder what does this success mean to you?

The best part about our work is seeing the impact it makes for our clients and helping companies pave the way for the future of remote work. Most of our clients to date have been in the tech industry, who are providing us with early-stage feedback. Knowing that industry leaders like Willful, Jobber and TWG fundamentally believe in what we’re building keeps the Wavy team inspired to continue providing virtual experiences—the Canadian tech ecosystem is a small world. The community feel and continued support from industry leaders has been huge!  

As a leader who is helping others navigate and retain their own businesses, what is a common mistake you see owners and teams making right now and how would you advise them otherwise? 

I see businesses not taking action soon enough, running ineffective virtual events, taking the minimum route and taking on too much extra work internally. It’s been seven months since corporate teams started working remotely, so if you still have remote/flexible/hybrid workforces, now is the time to invest in team engagement in a new way! I recommend investing in resources and time into company culture, run events differently than you would in-person, give your team something to look forward to and build new rituals and traditions. 

How do Wavy’s virtual experiences help teams to combat Zoom fatigue and feelings of isolation and disconnection?

Zoom fatigue can happen when companies host ineffective virtual events/experiences. Our recipe for success focuses on short experiences, two-way interaction, being able to have a conversation throughout, mini games and professional hosting/facilitating. Remote company culture/team events should be done throughout the workday, have a clear host, and a perk always helps! Having a variety of experiences (e.g. a walking meditation that is audio-only OR a pumpkin-spiced butter tarts class OR interactive game of minute to win it, can help keep things fresh/spicy. To me, Zoom fatigue is a symptom of trying to force things that sort of worked offline (e.g. a happy hour) into online. 

Like the rest of the world, the Wavy team is also staying connected through video.

Careers, like life, have many ups and downs. What was a pivotal moment in your career trajectory that you feel ultimately brought you to found Wavy?

I’ve worked in the tech/startup space for the past eight years and have loved every minute of it! A major highlight was having the opportunity to lead marketing at Nudge Rewards. I got to experience first-hand what it takes to grow a company from seed stage to post-series A and knew that I wanted to take those learnings into building something of my own. 

My co-founders and I have a combined background in technology, hospitality and employee engagement and share a love for experiences. We wanted to build a solution that helps bring people together through shared experiences in a relevant and meaningful way. We’re avid explorers and have an endless curiosity when it comes to this space—so we wanted to get to work instead of waiting for someone else to bring it to life! 

What do you hope to accomplish with this venture and how do you see Wavy functioning beyond the coronavirus pandemic? 

The pandemic has flipped the switch and forced us all to start viewing our work environment in a new  way. While we know teams will return back to the office in some ways, it has changed the perspective of leaders, from 10-person startups to 10,000+ person corporations. As companies like Shopify, Deloitte, Twitter and more announce that they’re going ‘Digital By Default’, we see this trend only continuing to grow. We’ll continue to focus on working with teams who have remote, distributed, or hybrid teams to have a remote employee experience that’s as good (or better) as in-person can be. 

Women are very underrepresented in the tech and application field. From your experience, why do you think this is and what can we do to combat it?

The fact is, we’re living through generations of social conditioning where men and women were expected to live certain roles. I’m excited to see these roles changing; and on a macro-level, all forms of gender norms starting to be questioned. When it comes to tech, this industry has historically been dominated by men, too. Driving real change to a system like this can unfortunately take a long time.

In order to combat the issue and change the narrative we have to continue to mentor, support, and empower women in the technology sector. I’ve been lucky to be supported by female leaders early on in my career, but continuing this momentum is so important—not just for women, but for underrepresented folks as a whole (e.g. BIPOC, LGBTQ+). 

What are three pieces of advice you would give your younger self?

I always like to pass on this piece of tactical advice I was given early-on in my career. Never put the word ‘just’ in front of your title (e.g. “I’m just an intern”). It’s something I’m hyper-aware about. Too often, people—especially women—can undervalue their work by the language they choose. I guess what I’m saying is: dear younger me, you’re not just anything. You’re a friggin’ intern at an ad agency and that is awesome! Have confidence in what you’re doing and bring that to work with you every day—it’ll be contagious. 

As a first-time founder, I like to remember these three pieces of advice:

  1. Confidence is important even in times of self-doubt
  2. Take time to celebrate—big and small
  3. Keep it spicy—aka don’t be afraid to pivot and shake things up

Is there anything I haven’t asked you about Wavy or your career that you would like to share with our readers? 

People often ask what my favourite Wavy experience is—so I’d love to share that! While I’m a bit biased towards craft beer tastings, one of my favourite team events has been a combo of cocktail making and a competitive game, like Minute To Win It. 

We’re also starting to work on a few Indigenous-led experiences in partnership with Amy Ede, one of our DE&I advisors. From cooking classes to painting, crafting and storytelling, I’m super excited about bringing these experiences to life. This initiative is an important step for the future of Wavy—we are looking forward to working with our community to provide curated experiences that are accessible and can be enjoyed by everyone.