Manulife Financial Corp.’s new virtual health and wellness program is aiming to help employees keep healthy, engaged and connected amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Elevate program is part of Manulife’s overall employee engagement strategy and includes four sessions with the themes of healthy activities, mindfulness, eating well and demonstrating gratitude. The program is a way for the company “to help our employees lead their very best life,” says Kathryn Kitchen, the company’s head of human resources in Canada.

Read: Employer support for well-being lacking amid pandemic: survey

For the first session, held in May, the company brought in celebrity trainer and nutritionist Harley Pasternak as a guest influencer. Pasternak led a live virtual workout with about 3,000 employees in attendance from across North America and Asia. The employees were then invited to share pictures of themselves doing healthy activities for chances to win prizes — a Peloton bike and smart mirrors. And a few staff members led a virtual discussion on how to stay active during the pandemic and beyond, as well as on how to implement healthy activities into daily routines. The mindfulness, eating and gratitude sessions will be rolled out in the months to come.

“We’re an organization that takes our culture, mission and values really seriously,” says Kitchen. “The program is a way for us to demonstrate those [ideals] and share them with our colleagues. The pandemic has allowed us to come together as an organization and really support each other as whole people — as professionals and all the different roles we play in our families and communities.”

Read: Employees prioritizing fitness benefits during pandemic: survey

Manulife has been testing the virtual health solutions waters since 2020, ramping up its services and offerings to employees since the global pandemic was declared last March. Pre-pandemic, in January 2020, the company teamed up with Telus’ virtual health program to deliver its online platform to its employees and customers, says Maria Fraga, assistant vice-president of global benefits and wellness at Manulife.

Since then, the organization has been increasing employees’ access to on-demand virtual care services, she says. Through the platform, Manulife’s employees gain access to a suite of online services that include on-demand appointment and treatment options from health-care professionals who support primary care, mental health and other wellness areas.

Kitchen says the organization believes strongly in virtual care; however, she’s hopeful once the pandemic is over people can continue getting out and doing activities together in-person. “When we think about the pandemic and the way in which we interact together, virtual will always be there, but it won’t be the only modality with which we’d look to support health and well-being.”

Still, as a global organization, Kitchen says the way Manulife employees come together to learn, have fun and advance their well-being will continue to be virtual even post-pandemic. Having online offerings and events enables the company to bring in influencers and other key thought leaders for its more than 37,000 employees, wherever they may be located around the globe.

Read: Citigroup stretching into virtual fitness programming amid pandemic