The holidays may not be working out exactly as you planned due to global events, but that doesn’t mean you have to forgo the annual office party that everyone loves.
Virtual holiday parties are totally doable and can be a lot of fun if you plan them the right way. Everybody has the chance to participate, and you can make some great memories without renting out a venue or spending a ton of money.
For those who have never coordinated a virtual party, this might seem like a tricky task, but we’re here to help. Just check out this step-by-step plan we put together with guidance from people who know how to bring the party online.
Step 1: Acknowledge the Situation
Before you start brainstorming those brilliant virtual party ideas, we recommend communicating with employees about the situation at hand.
While many offices are aiming to host in-person parties, others are keeping things strictly online. Make a smart choice on how to handle the holidays and ensure everyone feels safe.
“The pandemic appears to be on the way out, but that doesn’t mean everybody is on the same page in terms of protocols and their comfort levels,” said James Shalhoub, Co-Founder of Finn. “The best approach you can take is a measured one, playing it on the safe side if possible. You would much rather limit risk if you have the option here, even if you really want to bring everyone together for an in-person event.”
Some businesses are doing a hybrid office strategy for their holiday party, welcoming people to come or go with no pressure added.
“If you feel good about the hybrid plan, you can host an in-person event with an online component for people who prefer to stay home or can’t make it there,” said Chris Hetherington, Founder and CEO of Peels. “It might sound clunky but it can actually work quite well. Just be sure to keep risk to a minimum and follow all the safety protocols you think necessary to have a live event at this time. As always, you shouldn’t pressure any employees to go outside their comfort zone here.”
No matter how you choose to plan your holiday party, be sure to show employees that they are appreciated. This is the main reason for an event like this in the first place.
“With the difficulties we have faced this year, we feel our team deserves a day to celebrate and enjoy themselves with their co-workers at our offices,” said Mary Alice Pizana, Human Resources Manager at Herrman & Herrman PLLC. “Our employees are the reason we are so successful, and we want to make sure they understand how much they are appreciated, so we will take the time to honor their dedication to our company.”
Step 2: Schedule Correctly
If you’ve been navigating virtual meetings for the past two years, you’ll know just how much of a hassle it can be to schedule small gatherings.
For a virtual holiday party to go smoothly, you’ll need some serious scheduling skills.
“The best way to schedule an event like this is far in advance with plenty of heads up and coordination across teams,” said Jean Gregoire, Founder and CEO of Lovebox. “Start sending out emails at least a month ahead of time and narrow down possible dates with the help of your team leaders. This can be tough if you have employees in different time zones, but the payoff will be worth it when you figure out that ideal time and date. It might not be perfect for everyone in your company, but hopefully, you can land on the best possible option.”
Since the overhead on a virtual party is basically zero, you can also consider hosting multiple events that employees can attend to suit their schedules. More parties = more fun.
“Who said you need to have just one holiday party for your employees?” said William Schumacher, Founder and CEO of Uprising Food. “You can host three nights of holiday activities in a row for people to come and go as they please, because everyone is going to be on different schedules. Each night can have a different theme and main event, and it’s more fun to spread out the festivities over many days. After all, people are already sitting at their desks all day and they don’t want to be in front of the screen longer than necessary.”
Step 3: Organize Activities
The variety of virtual holiday party activities is much broader than you might imagine. Creative CEOs and managers are already ahead of the game with some innovative ideas.
“Just like in-person holiday parties, what matters most is people getting together and interacting, rather than fancy or expensive accouterments,” said Derin Oyekan, Co-Founder of Reel Paper. “Even the most basic ideas like trivia, bingo, or charades can be a blast when people are in the holiday spirit. The best activities are short, sweet, and to the point. Cycle through several activities throughout the night so that people stay engaged.”
Those are just the basics, but some businesses are doing much more to elevate their virtual holiday parties, often with bigger budgets required.
“There are event services companies that host virtual holiday parties for entire companies and take care of every last detail for you,” said Melanie Bedwell, Ecommerce Manager at OLIPOP. “If you’re willing to put down the money for that, it’s a sure way to make it an epic virtual party. They also handle all the technical aspects so you don’t have to worry about IT issues. For some owners and CEOs, this is a dream come true because it takes all the pressure off them.”
Not every activity needs to be high-octane and exciting. Low-key events are also totally acceptable and often better suited for established professionals.
“Just kicking back for a holiday movie while baking cookies with the team online can be more than enough,” said Ben Teicher, President and CEO of Healthy Directions. “People can jump in and out of the video stream or the chatroom and give updates from the kitchen. They can crack jokes and just unwind with a nostalgic experience. It’s unpretentious and fits the holiday vibe perfectly. Not every holiday party has to be over the top.”
Step 4: Be a Great Host
If you’re the host of the party, you’ll need to coordinate activities and design the flow of the evening. That’s a lot of responsibility, so make things easier on yourself.
“Anyone who has hosted an event knows the challenges, and they are still present in the virtual environment,” said Boye Fajinmi, Co-Founder & President at TheFutureParty. “You need to acknowledge everyone in the conference, give thanks to specific people, offer them the floor to speak, and time everything right so it seems natural and effortless. This can be done with some strategy and a few helping hands.”
For those tasked with the honor of hosting the virtual party, a fine-tuned plan is definitely necessary.
“Block out chunks of time and envision how you want the event to play out, because the last thing you want is to ‘wing it’ when there are dozens of people tuning in,” said Benjamin Smith, Founder of Disco. “Also keep in mind that things are less engaging in the virtual realm, so keep up the pace and ensure speeches and presentations don’t drag on for too long. Move things along and cut out the unnecessary stuff where possible.”
Step 5: The Spirit of Giving
Think we forgot about gifts in our holiday party planning? Absolutely not. Gift giving is the best part of the holidays and needs to play some kind of part in your upcoming virtual event.
“Gift exchanges recapture the fun of spending holidays in an office,” said Najeeb Khan, CEO of Teamland. “No holiday party would be complete without a Secret Santa. To hold a virtual office Secret Santa, you can pick names using a gift exchange generator, then send presents, and wait to open gifts together at the online party. You can send physical packages that add a more tactile and personal element, but teammates can also send each other virtual presents such as online gift cards or internet subscriptions.”
In addition to gift swaps among employees, executives should be sure to dish out some goodies to the people for the holidays, whether it’s a gift card, some snacks, or swag in the mail.
“Since you’re saving money on the holiday party this year, make it up to your team members by sending something nice to their home,” said Travis Killian, Owner and CEO of Everlasting Comfort. “You can coordinate food delivery to everyone’s home at the same time to share a feast, for example. That’s way better than the typical mug and mouse pad gift box.”
When done right, virtual holiday parties can be magical and memorable! Follow these steps to make sure your party is a winner.