We all need some good cheer – and a festive event or two to look forward to as the year draws to a close. The traditional office party may not be possible, but there are still ways to enjoy a celebration with your team — even if that’s just a celebration of getting through the year together. We are more social-distance and online-meeting savvier than ever, so your virtual end-of-year shindig needn’t be a dry Zoom quiz while you cradle a glass of mulled wine.
There are plusses to a virtual party: with no geographical constraints, you’ll be able to invite and hang out with colleagues from around the country and even the world, not to mention being able to avoid an expensive cab ride home after.
So how can you take your festive fun online? For some, the answer has been to find a creative way to capture the essence of your traditional event into the virtual space. ‘For the last 10 years we’ve had a fondue lunch at St Moritz, London’s oldest fondue restaurant, and by August my colleagues had already started bemoaning the lack of a fondue get-together this year,’ says Jane Austin, Founder of Persuasion Communications. ‘So, I’m posting everyone a fondue kit and wine so we can eat together [online]. The beautiful thing about doing it this way is that our colleagues in New York and Barbados can join in — although a pan of melted cheese wouldn’t be my breakfast of choice!’
For Austin, acknowledging the differences in virtual versus in-real-life interaction and planning accordingly is key to success. ‘The difficulty of a virtual party is planning the content, engagement with the activities and making sure that everyone gets a chance to speak. I’m working with a couple of my writers to develop a flow of events that allows us to relax into it, remain engaged for 90 minutes and makes sure no one feels excluded.’
For others, it’s time to try something totally new. Coleen Wong, CEO of tech company Gator Watch is looking to change up her company’s event this year to accommodate not just social distancing but travelling restrictions: ‘My team is largely made up of flexible working mums based all over the world. For the last three years I've paid for everyone to come over to the UK for an event, which is something they couldn’t normally do. Everyone always looks forward to this Christmas get-together and I'm gutted that is not happening.’
Wong is now looking at murder mystery parties and escape rooms online and personalised gifts instead, and insists that whatever she does she will make it special for her team. For her, as for so many leaders, the party — wherever it is — has taken on new resonance. With so many challenges behind us, during which time most people have been working from home, employees need to feel connected more than ever, and let off a little steam in a social setting.
‘I think it is really important to have an event this year even if it has to go online,’ notes Wong. ‘As a business owner, I see it as a way to show appreciation for what everyone has gone through and how hard my team have worked to get us through this.’
Top tips for online parties with your team
- Ensure your virtual event goes with a swing by hiring an external host if needed — no one wants to be the person who misses out on the fun because they are busy compering the whole session.
- Make use of all the tech capabilities on platforms, such as break out rooms to form smaller groups. And make it interactive to encourage people to participate. Clutching a drink while staring at the screen is no one’s idea of a good time — even if you’re wearing a Santa hat while doing it.
- Keep the event shortish — anecdotal evidence of a million video-conferencing calls this year has shown that an hour on a Zoom/Other feels roughly equivalent to about four in real life.
- If you have a small organisation it might be a good idea to poll your team on what they would like to do…rather than imposing an event upon them. And even in a larger organisation, make sure it’s suitable for everyone — tempting as it might be to dive into drinking, dares or dressing up, there are bound to be (many) people in your organisation for whom this would be nothing short of a seasonal nightmare.
Ideas to make merry…ways to get into the festive spirit online
The first rule of any festive gathering is that there is never enough chocolate. So why not get your team together to make some truffles (mychocolate.co.uk) or other sweet treats from master chocolatier Paul A Young (learningwithexperts.com). Bake offs can be a great way to either learn a new skill or add a little gentle competition into the event: from making the best gingerbread house to the most imaginative iced cake. Biscuiteers (biscuiteers.com) sells ‘ice your own biscuits’ kits to let your imaginations run wild in fondant. Finally, if you can’t be bothered to cook it then why not have a festive meal delivered to your team to all enjoy together online, with caterers and companies such as Pea Pod & Co (peapodandco.com), The Pickled Fork (thepickledfork.com) and Smart Parties (smartparties.co.uk) — to name some UK-based examples — able to deliver everything from canapes to a full three-course meal.
Wine tasting and cocktail making, where kits are delivered to participants beforehand, are increasingly popular ways to augment an hour or two online, with many companies jumping on the trend. Whatever your tipple, there is a supplier to suit: UK supermarket, Waitrose now provides cocktail making, wine and gin-tasting virtual experiences (waitrosewinetasting.com), Five Points Brewing Company can deliver an array of craft beers, the Taste Club (taste-club.co.uk) will deliver Rum and Gin tasting boxes that include Christmas hats and photo props, or discover craft batches of everything from Seville Marmalade Gin to Coffee and Dark Chocolate Liqueur with Madame Geneva & Gent (madamegenevaandgent.co.uk).
And be merry…
Forget the predictable quiz (unless you particularly like quizzes…) and open your mind to more innovative ways of enjoying the virtual world through video conferencing and online platforms. From online karaoke (luckyvoicekaraoke.com), Christmas-themed dance workshops (virtually-together.co.uk), Taskmaster-style games and scavenger hunts to crafting sessions (thecraftyhen.co.uk) and photography masterclasses (alexrumford.com) there are many ways to liven up the night without even leaving your front room. Online escape rooms are also proving surprisingly popular, even with those who have been trapped in their front room for ten months.