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Acumen Connections » Blog » Virtual Office Holiday Party Ideas: How to Successfully Pull Them Off

Virtual Office Holiday Party Ideas: How to Successfully Pull Them Off

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5 ways to host a socially distanced office holiday party

Office holiday party canceled by COVID-19? Our guide with safe office holiday party alternatives.

‘Tis the season. Only this season is different.

 A change of plans is the status quo. The pandemic has made a mess of things. Now, it may rear its ugly head at one more tradition — the office holiday party.

Social gatherings are a risky venture. For the many who have moved their team home, inviting them to a party seems counterintuitive. So it begs to question — Should this season be the one you skip the office holiday party?

Larger, indoor gatherings pose a greater risk for COVID-19 spread. Shut it down, many have come to say. More companies are choosing to skip the holiday party entirely this year. About 75% of companies organized a holiday party a year ago. Today, just 23% are planning celebrations.

Ho-hum, you might be thinking. Liven up!

Holiday parties, in the best sense, help foster community in the workplace. Traditional gatherings are a casual way for everyone to connect and relax.

So is an all-out cancellation the best idea? No way. Your team could use a boost of camaraderie. In fact, it’s more essential than ever you stay connected.

Virtual celebrations may be the fix you need. And no, we’re not talking about another Brady Bunch-fitted Zoom call. You’ve had too many of those.

It’s time to think outside the box. Here are tips for hosting a virtual office holiday party fit for 2020 (plus my favorite party ideas).

You need an agenda

Everyone is dealing with a lot. From increased workloads, to stress in their personal and professional lives, there’s a lot to deal with.

Employees who are parents have to juggle work from home, plus virtual learning. It’s tough being an employee, school teacher, and care giver all-in-one. (Zoom + Common Core = one massive headache.)

Stress and anxiety are time-consuming, too. And there’s plenty of that to go around right now. On top of extra responsibilities, everyone is learning to navigate the “new normal” at work and at home. Point is, we’re busy. Leisure time is fleeting. It’s best everyone spends that time meaningfully.

Make sure it’s time well spent by setting an agenda. Then stick to it. Employees will feel more at ease if they know exactly what they’re committing to.

You need to Zoom less

We’re tired. Tired of Zoom.

Zoom fatigue (a real thing) is the tiredness and burnout with overuse of video conferencing apps. Look, we’re using Zoom for work. Again for our children’s virtual schooling. And once more at the end of the day to check in with friends and family.

That’s a lot of Zoom. Too much Zoom.

Zoom requires energy and attention. Plus, it carries baggage. Lagging internet. Interruptions. Bob from accounting forgetting he’s on mute. You get the picture. For work or for pleasure, Zoom calls are more draining than usual conversations.

And … they’re awkward. Let’s be clear, Zoom isn’t exactly a breeding ground for natural conversation.

Before you hit send on the invite, explore other virtual office holiday party ideas. If Zoom is necessary, consider cutting the number of Zoom calls the days leading up to your social-distanced office holiday party. It’ll help fight that fatigue.

You need to make it interactive

Virtual or not, all holiday parties should be interactive. This is a holiday party, after all, and not a meeting. It shouldn’t be department chairs talking while everyone sits and listens.

Everyone should feel involved and valued. Think of everyone as participants and not guests. People are more likely to engage when they have something to do. You want to walk the line of stress-free and worthwhile. It’s a fine line, and it’s best not to overthink it.

I cannot stress that enough. Don’t overthink it. What we all love about the office holiday party is what you can’t plan for. For me, it’s the priceless moments when a colleague does something unexpectedly funny. Like when Carl from IT shows that he can, in fact, throw down on the dance floor. The context has changed this year. But the opportunity has not.

Below, I highlight my favorite office holiday party alternative activities.

Side note: This is the part where I should say something about money. About how finances this year may be tight, as the pandemic has shown no mercy. But what I want you to consider is that in a normal year, you might be decorating the office or shelling out dollars for an event venue. And paying the bar tab, too. These alternatives I highlight come at a cost. Likewise, so too does the traditional office holiday party. I wouldn’t fret over the cost, as they may be equivalent or less than what you might have paid otherwise. Don’t be afraid to repurpose your budget and invest in something thoughtful for your team. Especially this year, they deserve it.

Alternatives to the traditional holiday party—safe for 2020

Alrighty, let’s get those creative juices flowing. We need ‘em. Because scheduling a Zoom meeting and calling it a holiday party won’t cut it.

Here is a list of my favorite virtual office holiday party ideas. Steal them. Recreate them. Whatever you do, make it fun.

1. Engage in a virtual cocktail party — Have a cocktail, Old Sport. Chances are, your colleagues could use a drink. Options here are plentiful. Online services allow you to order and ship alcohol. But if you’re local, you may see if a local bottle shop can deliver. Quick note: Alcohol delivery is not legal in all 50 states. If that’s the case, you may consider sending a dry-kit care package. Add in a gift card so that individuals may pick up the alcohol themselves.
Go above-and-beyond: Spirits are more spirited with a bartender host. One option to consider is having a mixologist show how to prepare one or two holiday-themed drinks.
Bonus: Be guided through a tasting — From whiskey to wine, you can arrange a variety of virtual tastings. Wineries and distilleries have options to send prepared packages. Plus, they’ll supply a host to lead a tasting session. Who doesn’t like to learn more about what they’re sippin’ on?

2. Take an online cooking class — Most are finding themselves in the kitchen a lot more. But many still haven’t taken on much outside boxed spaghetti. One alternative to the holiday dinner party is an online cooking class. Small groups may enjoy this activity, as it’s a useful learning experience. Plus, they get to enjoy the finished product! Lots of local chefs have set up online sessions to support their brick-and-mortar businesses. Ready to take on this gourmet option? Send a care package with the essentials, or supply a shopping list and a credit to buy them. Get cooking.

3. Get festive with holiday decorated cookies — This delicious option is naturally fitting. Heard of Gingerbread Wars? It’s a fun, virtual event that includes an engaging activity. Oh, and a tasty treat, too. Plus, it’s simple. Before your event, send each participant a gingerbread kit in the mail. It should include the essentials — gingerbread people, frosting, and candies. Take it up a notch: Build a gingerbread house. Have your participants show off their decorating skills. Then have everyone showcase their finished designs. What’s more fit for the holidays than cookies? That’s right, nothing. Santa Claus himself approves of this option.

4. Paint some happy little clouds — Relax Bob Ross-style. Let your colleagues show off their inner Van Gogh. Who has artistic skill? And who is a lot more abstract? Try something different. Everyone gets a painting kit. Then an instructor walks them through an interactive workshop. Kits are simple to build. With a canvas, some paint, and some brushes, you’re all set.

5. Gift something sweet — For me, one thing I miss from working in an office is the abundance of free food around the holidays. Homemade cookies, chocolate-dipped pretzels, and decadent fudge — give me all of it. A care package filled with tasty goodies is hard (OK, impossible) to turn down. There’s nothing like a box of treats to get someone in the holiday spirit.
One step further: Snacks are great. Meals are a bonus. Now shut-in for nine months, we’ve exhausted our go-to recipes. Domino’s pizza? We’ve exhausted that, too. Give the gift of a good meal. Deliver dinner over DoorDash or UberEats.

What this all means for you

I wrote this post to help you adapt.

Sure, the easy answer is to cancel the holiday party. But you know the easy answer isn’t always the right answer. We’re in the ninth month of this pandemic slog. And we’re desperate for a chance to socialize, experience a taste of normalcy, and have fun.

Your employees deserve something special. As an employee myself, I want to feel valued at work. Simple recognition to close out the year helps me set the tone for the next. I guarantee you your employees feel the same.

I know we’re all going through something different right now. Likewise, I know we all have differing sentiments toward the office holiday party. But the point here is that you shouldn’t cancel tradition.

Adapt. Spark new tradition. Who knows? You might end up liking this more.

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