It’s that time of year again! No matter where you are, you can still enjoy holiday lights, baked goods, a bit of that end-of-year excitement... and, of course, the same boring holiday events.
The holidays are a time when people enjoy feeling festive, and employers often want to help their employees in sharing that feeling. Holiday parties are great opportunities for quality team bonding, but they can often result in an expensive gift swap or a bad cookie plate. Or worse yet, some employees can feel excluded if they don’t celebrate the holidays or religions that many holiday parties are built around.
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So, how do you create a virtual holiday celebration that’s meaningful, inclusive, and fun? We’ve got some great ideas for your team, no matter where they are or how they’re celebrating this season.
Challenge the Team to a Decorating Contest
Help your employees battle the monotony of their work-from-home workspaces with an activity to spice up their surroundings. Challenge your team to decorate their home office, desk or desk chair, or even the wall that serves as their daily backdrop with things that represent the holiday(s) they celebrate. You can make it a competition, create teams that follow decor themes, and see who comes up with the funniest or most creative holiday scene to share on the Zoom call.
Organize a Virtual Holiday Gift Exchange
We've all heard of the classic Secret Santa and White Elephant gift exchanges. They're classics for a reason, but it can be tricky to facilitate a virtual version. The key is to plan ahead:
Choose and communicate the date of the exchange in advance. This allows your team enough time to plan for the event and purchase their gifts.
Set a budget and guidelines for purchasing gifts. Some teams might enjoy more meaningful gifts, so wish lists from each guest could be shared. Even gag gifts can spark joy and connection, though, so feel free to let your team have more fun with which gifts they pick out.
Provide addresses for all the confirmed participants, and then draw names. There are plenty of online generators to use, including DrawNames and Elfster. Make sure to clarify deadlines for shipping gifts so your team can get everything out to the recipients on time.
Once you’ve gotten all of the planning squared away, the last thing left is to enjoy the gift exchange! Whether it’s over Zoom, Slack, Google Hangouts, or another conferencing platform, welcome all participants to dress festively and come prepared for a good time with their teammates.
If you lead a team and have the resources to give each member a token of your appreciation for the past year, your employees are sure to get into the holiday spirit. Consider giving out some team swag (festive facemasks, anyone?), gift cards to a local coffee shop, or seasonal plants to liven up their work-from-home space. As long as it’s thoughtful, even the smallest of gifts can go a long way in making your team feel appreciated.
Host a Virtual Lunch or Potluck
While an in-person meal isn’t the ideal option amid COVID-19, that doesn’t mean you can’t treat your team to some delicious food. Consider trying something new together, like an unfamiliar cuisine or the restaurant that just opened downtown. While it can be awkward to eat over Zoom, sharing a new experience can be a great team bonding moment. If you want to be more sensitive to dietary restrictions, try providing team members with a budget so they can order something they like. This still allows for connection, as employees can enjoy some of their favorite meals with their teammates virtually.
Alternatively, hosting a potluck gives people the chance to show off their culinary or baking chops or — let’s be honest — how great they are at picking out tasty treats from Whole Foods. While the virtual version doesn’t provide everyone the ability to taste-test everyone’s dishes, it can provide an opportunity for teammates to connect and share stories behind inevitable kitchen disasters, old family recipes, and the holidays they celebrate.
Volunteer Together — Virtually
While this isn’t exactly a party idea, it’s certainly an activity that can boost morale and bring your team together. This time of year can be especially rough for some people, and even more so this year with the impacts of the pandemic. Knowing that, your team’s time and energy in giving to those in need can make a difference.
Writing out cards or letters to those in isolation is the activity that comes to mind during this time of year, but there are many other virtual volunteering opportunities to consider. Search through sites like VolunteerMatch, UN Volunteers, or AARP’s Create the Good to find an activity that your team can do in groups or all together. Regardless of what you choose to do, both your employees and those they’re helping will benefit.
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Host a Virtual Happy Hour
Virtual happy hours have become pretty popular this year, and for good reason — people enjoy sharing a fancy cocktail with one another, even if it’s over Zoom. Whether you send your employees the ingredients ahead of time, or simply send a list of which ingredients your team should pick up, there’s a number of ways you can organize this type of activity:
Invite a mixologist to the event. With the help of a professional, your employees can not only enjoy a special beverage, but they can also learn how to recreate it on their own.
Let your employees lead. Feature a team member who’s got drink-mixing skills they’re willing to share. This can give people a chance to show off their lesser-known talents, and helps your team get to know one another better.
Keep it casual. Sometimes making a virtual happy hour low-key helps take the pressure off for your employees. Let everyone show up as they please with whatever beverages they like so the team can kick back and relax together.
Regardless of how you run this kind of event, remember to keep it inclusive for all. Try planning for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and make sure to communicate that the event is optional for those who don’t wish to particpate. It doesn’t hurt to ask your team for their thoughts, as well — hearing from your team directly can help ensure the event makes them feel appreciated.
Throw an Ugly Sweater Zoom Party
Ugly sweaters aren’t tied to any one holiday, so this activity can be fun for the whole team. Challenge your employees to show up in their best (or worst) seasonal sweaters and watch as hilarity ensues while everyone gets an eyeful in Zoom’s gallery mode. Take it a step further by awarding employees for the funniest sweater, the most original sweater, and, of course, the ugliest sweater on the team.
Have a Holiday-themed Trivia Contest
Trivia is a great way to get into the holiday spirit! The options are endless when it comes to topics (popular seasonal music, well-known holiday figures, common foods and baked goods), but make sure to be inclusive of all the holidays your employees celebrate. Work with them directly for ideas on what to include in the questions and keep it balanced to ensure everyone’s traditions are equally represented. You can let each employee compete against their coworkers, or create teams for a more lively competition — just make sure you have someone keeping score.
Schedule a Virtual Cooking Class
Food often brings everyone together, so you’ll find success with an event that’s built around tasty treats. Whether the focus is on cooking or baking, this activity creates a shared experience for your team and gives them something to be proud of at the end. There are plenty of services to explore, like Cozymeal, The Chef & The Dish, and The Kid’s Table for a family-friendly option.
You can choose to provide the ingredients to your team, or provide a shopping list ahead of time so they can purchase the items on their own. While many teams might opt to hire a professional, you could also ask your employees if anyone has the skills to lead their coworkers through recreating their favorite recipe. Learning something new from a teammate is an excellent opportunity for connection and bonding.
Get Crafty as a Team
Crafting is a common holiday season activity, if only to create something worthy of gifting. Help your team check off their shopping list with an opportunity to make something special. The options are endless, but consider these ideas for some inspiration:
Candy Crush Collage: have employees crush up some seasonal candy into various sizes and, using glue or some other type of adhesive, create a macaroni-style collage to share with the group. They can even attempt self-portraits if they’re up for a challenge.
Gingerbread House Building: go for one of the holiday classics and build houses out of gingerbread with your team. Bonus points to whoever can recreate the office from memory!
Garlands Gone Crazy: no matter what holiday your employees celebrate, they’ll likely appreciate attractive decorations. Challenge your team to create garlands using whatever they can find around the house and watch as they model their unique creations for each other via Zoom.
This type of holiday activity is especially nice for those with little ones at home — kids tend to love crafts, so your employees who are also parents will likely welcome the chance to engage their children while getting some facetime in with their coworkers via Zoom. At the end of the day, arranging for some low-stakes fun can make for some high-quality bonding time.
Provide a Full Day of Holiday Entertainment
While the above options all have their merit, you may feel like going above and beyond for your employees this year. Consider bypassing the more standard 1-hour Zoom get-together, and develop a full-day experience for your team. You could schedule different seasonal activities at certain points of the day, create unique settings using breakout rooms, and host special guests to treat your team to some high-quality entertainment. Whatever the specifics may be, your employees will feel your appreciation after an experience like this.
Book Some Virtual Holiday Entertainment
While the pandemic has put a damper on many holiday activities, there are plenty of entertainers who have gone virtual with their services. From magicians to comedians, drag queen storytellers to live caricature artists, you can take your pick from many different kinds of entertainment to treat your team to.
You could try making the activity even more engaging with something that requires team particpation, like a virtual escape-the-room experience or — everyone’s favorite — karaoke. If you live in a major city, you can also consider a fun tour company like Museum Hack to provide the entertainment.
Take Time to Learn About Other Traditions
During the holiday season, it’s important to be inclusive of all holidays that are celebrated. With Christmas often being a heavy focus during this time of year, it’s necessary to purposefully give attention to other holidays and traditions as well. You can do this by opening it up to your team — ask if anyone would be interested in sharing their personal holiday traditions with the rest of the team.
You could also set up breakout rooms and challenge team members to find two or three commonalities in how they celebrate the holidays. This gives your employees a chance to bring more of themselves to work, can increase the sense of belonging that they feel, and allows everyone to learn more about each other.
Attend a Virtual Holiday Performance Together
Why not try something different and invite your team to see a show together as a group? This party alternative is still possible in a remote environment, thanks to Zoom and the like. It also helps that many in-person performances are going virtual in light of the pandemic. With options like holiday concerts, theater productions, and sing-alongs, you can find something that the whole team can experience together.
Even if they don’t look the same this year as they have in years prior, the holidays should be relaxing and fun for everyone. The options for throwing your team a virtual holiday party are endless — don’t hesitate to pick a few of these options and run with them, or add your own fun ideas into the mix. After a pretty tough year, your employees deserve to feel appreciated and rewarded for their hard work.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.