We have become more aware of the pandemic’s toll that changed routines and how the lack of physical connection has affected employees’ mental health and well-being.
The holiday season has traditionally been a time for employers to show gratitude, foster connection and celebrate the past year’s victories by hosting parties for their employees. As COVID-19 breakthrough infections continue and more employees than ever are working remotely and feeling disconnected from the office, companies are looking for virtual ways to engage their people. The goals are to build a bond among team members, create a sense of normalcy and maintain their company cultures.1
Many employers are anticipating that holiday gatherings will be virtual again this year. Consider these virtual holiday party ideas for your workforce.
Inclusivity means more than just inviting everybody
As celebrated in the U.S., the holiday season means different things to different Americans and may have no relevance at international worksites. Make connection the primary objective of the gathering, not observing particular holidays or holiday traditions.
If your organization spans multiple sites across the country or is international, consider time zones when planning a virtual gathering. It may be best to have multiple virtual gatherings in various time zones.
Holiday gatherings should be optional. Employees should not feel any pressure about how to spend their personal time. Some remote employees may be experiencing “Zoom fatigue,” and many may be looking forward to screen-free vacations. Make sure your party messaging is welcoming without communicating a sense of obligation around attendance.
A traditional focus of holiday parties is food and drink. There are virtual holiday work party ideas that incorporate those traditions. When contemplating virtual holiday party ideas, remember that people have diverse dietary requirements and preferences and may not drink alcohol.
Many fun virtual holiday party ideas for work involve activities that could cause employees to incur costs to participate fully. These costs may be prohibitive for some. Consider what the company would spend to throw an in-person party and use that budget to pay for or subsidize employee participation.
Consider different structures
When it comes to virtual holiday party ideas, some businesses are going big, booking live entertainment and virtual game rooms or sending care packages to employees’ homes. Others are taking a low-key approach, trying to avoid laying another demand on burned out telecommuters and just gathering for a virtual toast.
Last year, tech giants Google and Intel left it up to individual departments to figure out how to celebrate virtually, allowing for smaller, more intimate and casual gatherings of people who work most closely together throughout the year. The financial software company Intuit opted to skip a party entirely. Instead, they donated $1 million to help students in underserved communities and matched employee donations up to $2 million.2
The scale of your virtual holiday party will depend on many factors. Don’t discount an awareness of who your employees are, how they work and what they care about when choosing virtual holiday party ideas that honor your unique company, department or team culture.
General best practices
Pick a focus. Is the gathering about connection? Team-building? Celebration? Holiday fundraising for a company-supported charity?
Plan the virtual location and date(s)/time(s) with inclusivity in mind.
Prioritize ways to make the event interactive. Many vendors offer virtual experiences for groups and will take care of the logistics for you.3
Encourage employees to dress for the party. Ugly sweaters? Festive formal? Maybe a contest for best/worst attire.
Send something physical. A box full of fun party supplies—think hats and decorations—or even just a handwritten card or note of gratitude.
Have music playing or some other “opening act” entertainment as people virtually arrive and settle in.
Virtual holiday party ideas4
Food and Drink
- Hire a mixologist to share festive cocktail/mocktail recipes; send supplies or a list of supplies, and a prepaid gift card to employees ahead of time.
- Host a virtual wine/cheese tasting party; collaborate with a local vintner and/or cheesemonger to send gift boxes to employees in advance or hire an expert to lead party-goers through a tasting experience.
- Compete to build the best gingerbread house.
- Have a cook-along or a cookie-decorating contest and send supplies in advance or a gift card so that people can purchase their own.
Host a pub/trivia quiz. Divide employees into teams and ask them questions around the holiday season or make them industry-specific.
Decorate together. Ask everyone to reserve an area in their house to decorate while on the call/at the party. Take and share before and after pictures. Send gift cards so employees can buy supplies ahead of time.
Make it all about the music. Collaborate on a holiday playlist, gathering one song from each employee or team. Have a contest to guess which person contributed each song. Pair this with a virtual karaoke night. Some companies provide this service. Or enjoy a holiday dance party.
Fun and games. Have a game night or a casino night. Prizes could include donations made by the company to the winner’s charity of choice.
By incorporating one or more of these party ideas, you can thank your employees and bring teams closer—even if you’re celebrating the holidays virtually.
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1Stephen Baer, “How To Plan An Engaging Virtual Company Holiday Party,” Forbes, last accessed October 21, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeshumanresourcescouncil/2020/11/13/how-to-plan-an-engaging-virtual-company-holiday-party/?sh=e55be377f40fOpens in new window.
2Alyssa Newcomb and Charlie Herman, “Pandemic forces holiday office parties to go virtual,” NBC News, last accessed October 21, 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/pandemic-forces-holiday-office-parties-go-virtual-n1252227Opens in new window.
3Rebecca Riserbato, “How to Host a Virtual Holiday Party & Bond With Your Team,” HubSpot, last accessed October 21, 2021, https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/virtual-holiday-partyOpens in new window.
4Thomas Paris, “24 virtual holiday party ideas for a festive event,” Hoppier, last accessed October 21, 2021, https://www.hoppier.com/blog/virtual-holiday-party-ideasOpens in new window.