Hosting a virtual work Christmas party

A very different year means a very different work Christmas party

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Management Today

As Britain exits lockdown and enters tiers with a vaccine now tantalisingly within reach, Christmas parties as you remember them – sitting next to someone you rarely talk to while your sweaty marketing director pulls moves on the dance floor, and unwittingly says too much to HR – are unlikely to go ahead. 

Some employers might see this as an opportunity to save some dosh after a financially difficult year – not to mention the annual arguments about location, choice of food and activity.

However, following a year of tumult and disconnect, never has coming together been more important to company culture and happiness – plus, with various forms of restrictions in place under the tiered system, for some team members the work ‘Christmas do’ will be their only celebration this year.

Showing a bit of generosity can go a long way towards making employees feel appreciated. So, before shouting ‘Bah humbug!’, and cancelling all festivities, there are plenty of safe ways businesses can mark the occasion online.

Don’t rely on Zoom only

Celebrating Christmas virtually with your team requires few organisational skills, is cost-effective and is probably the only way to gather while keeping within the law. But virtual parties aren’t landing with staff. A survey by Moneypenny revealed that, although half are expecting a virtual Christmas party, only 11% are excited about the prospect.  

As there isn’t anything particularly festive about being on another video call, employers taking the big bash online must make it as far removed from virtual business meetings as possible.  

Fun from a distance

From magicians to casino nights, the Christmas party usually involves some kind of entertainment, so don’t skimp on the virtual equivalents.

Kick-starting the planning with a theme (like ‘Christmas around the world’ or ‘The 12 days of cheese-mass’) will help structure subsequent choices like activity, food and dress code – albeit from the waist up.

As definitions of merriment vary greatly, it’s important to take stock of your team’s demographic. For example, it would be inappropriate to invite non-alcohol drinkers to alcohol-based activities. Party planners must, therefore, find an activity that is inclusive and fun for all – or split the team into smaller groups based on shared preferences. Sending employees a multiple-choice quiz can determine whether there is a clear, conclusive preference – or should at least reveal a few strong options to go with.

For example, Sue Reeve, founder of the private assistance company Consider it Done, says parents “will love the opportunity to have a virtual visit from a dressed-up Santa – or even a kids’ disco breakout room with their own entertainment.”

Consider how your party could involve shared experiences that get people on their feet, says Shane Mansfield, marketing director at City Pantry. “It’s fundamental that we don’t lose sight of what creates fun, and that’s people.”

A surge in DIY activity packages can give your employees something non-work-related to do together while being physically apart; they will even get to keep the end product as a small Christmas gift. 

Traditional activities could also be given a virtual makeover. Take some planning off your shoulders with a virtual quiz by asking employees to host their own round –  the more creative the better – or get everyone involved in a virtual Secret Santa. Names can be pulled out of a hat in advance (or via an online name generator), and gifts can be posted ahead of time and opened together at the virtual party.

Keeping bellies full is key

Whether it was a pub lunch or a grandiose banquet, a team meal was central to pre-pandemic Christmas parties. Following Moneypenny’s lacklustre survey results on virtual parties its CEO, Joanna Swash, has offered all staff a Christmas dinner on the company – ready for collection from their office in time for the big day.

However, if not everyone lives near the office – let alone in the same city – this could result in some workers being excluded. Instead, employers could order a takeaway from a restaurant local to employees. Alternatively, employee perk and subscription packages are altering their usual offerings for catering for lockdown Christmas parties. 

Avoiding Zoom burnout

Having gone to all this effort, you may want the party to go on all day (or night); however, this runs the risk of collective Zoom burnout

“Set a clear start and endpoint, which will also help to avoid any awkwardness when saying goodbye” Shane suggests. Sue echoes that if you want to keep the party interesting (without one person hogging screen time), aim to wrap up the event in 90 minutes, or a maximum of two hours, with short breaks to keep momentum.

Give it a go – and, most importantly, have fun!

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