The pandemic has forced the traditional holiday office party to go virtual. But things are different this year — now, a variety of workplaces include remote and in-person employees (or a hybrid of both).
So here's the challenge — how can you host a fun holiday party that satisfies everyone? What activities can you plan? What logistics are involved?
There's certainly a lot to think about, but don't stress. Here are some tips from HubSpot's remote workforce on how to host a virtual or hybrid-friendly holiday party.
8 Tips for Planning a Virtual Holiday Party
- Use a spreadsheet to organize your activities.
- Make it interactive.
- Incorporate food.
- Encourage people to dress up.
- Always lead with an inclusive mindset.
- Plan in advance.
- Send something physical.
- Pick a goal.
1. Use a spreadsheet to organize your activities.
Planning a virtual holiday party requires plenty of logistics. That's why you should use a spreadsheet to stay organized.
Kara Korosec, a remote senior customer success manager at HubSpot, says, "I used to coordinate Secret Santa at my last company, a 100% remote company. I set up a spreadsheet where everyone listed some of their interests, then we used a random generator to assign secret Santas. Everyone had a budget of $50 and used the spreadsheet as inspiration for what to get. After the gifts were mailed, we had a Zoom where we shared our gifts and guessed who our secret Santa was."
2. Make it interactive.
Virtual events might automatically feel "hands-off" — but this doesn't have to be the case. In Korosec's secret Santa example, they opened the gifts on a live Zoom call.
The goal here is to be creative.
Eimear Marrinan, a director of culture at HubSpot, says, "There are a ton of amazing remote vendors and minority-owned businesses that we partner with in the Culture Team. They are doing amazing work. If your budget allows for it, consider outsourcing to the experts. A few brilliant events I have seen: Ski Chalet Experience, Walkthrough Christmas Markets, Cocktails in a Winter Wonderland!"
There are several online games and activities you can use for your virtual holiday party. Below are some of our favorite interactive remote activities:
- Virtual MasterChef: Ask one person to host and send out a list of ingredients (or modified ingredients for dietary restrictions) and supplies. On the cooking night, have everyone dial into the Zoom to cook the same meal together as the host walks them through the recipe. Once the recipe is ready, sit down and have a virtual dinner together!
- Ugly Sweater Contest
- Virtual Escape Rooms, like Puzzle Break, Mystery Escape Room, or The Escape Game
- Airbnb Experiences
- Patchwork Adventures
- Virtual Tea & Coffee Tasting
- Virtual Floral Arrangement Class with Alice's Table: They deliver farm-fresh flowers to your door.
- Travel to Paris and tour the Musée d'Orsay or pop over to London and tour The British Museum
- Goat 2 Meeting: Virtual Farm Tours & Animal Cameos in Zoom Meetings
- Two Bit Circus
3. Incorporate food.
When hosting an in-person event, providing food is typically part of the gig. Why can't this be true of remote holiday parties too?
Emily Tong-Sanchez, a remote revenue operations specialist at HubSpot, says, "Let people comp their meal!"
This gives people a reason to celebrate and enjoy the party.
Marrinan adds, "Ask questions if you're incorporating food. Are there allergies or preferences? If you're arranging a cocktail hour, does everyone drink alcohol? This is all about being inclusive in how you're arranging your event."
If you're sending food, it's important to be aware of any restrictions so your event is inclusive of all participants.
4. Encourage people to dress up.
Holiday parties are usually fun events where everyone can dress up and celebrate. Being remote shouldn't change this — so don't ditch the ugly holiday sweater just yet.
Tong-Sanchez says, "Encourage people to dress up. We like having a reason to put on fancy clothes!"
5. Always lead with an inclusive mindset.
A major obstacle with remote meetings is that it's hard to feel included.
Marrinan remarks, "We are working in a distributed and remote world right now, so when thinking through a holiday event for you and your team think big & think global. Will the timezone work for all on your team? Do ‘The Holidays' resonate across the globe? Make sure you plan something fun, and inclusive that everyone can get involved in!"
6. Plan in advance.
If you're planning a virtual holiday party, it's important to give yourself enough time to plan. Send invites in advance, finalize an agenda, and test-run activities.
Marrinan says, "The end of the year is busy. Really busy! Give people advanced notice and book time in advance. A lot of people are juggling right now, so being protective of time is important! Similarly, be mindful of caregivers on your team, or anyone that may have blocked time in their day."
7. Send something physical.
Just because your event is remote, doesn't mean you can't include a physical element in your virtual holiday party.
"Can you send something out to the team in advance to spur some excitement? This doesn't have to be a physical gift — maybe it is a handwritten card or a note of gratitude," Marrinan remarks. "A holiday event doesn't have to be a big, big thing. Sometimes it's the simple acts of kindness that go a long way for people."
8. Pick a goal.
When you're planning your holiday party, it's important to decide what your goal is. For example, it's hard to play a game while also getting to know each other.
Caroline Merewether, a strategy and operations manager at HubSpot, says, "The biggest takeaway is to figure out if it's more about deepening relationships or playing a game."
One of Merewether's favorite events her team put on was an Airbnb experience which was a virtual escape room.
"That was fun to do something different and it was a fun mental shift. But it wasn't great for getting to know people because we were trying to solve for clues. For our next party, we wanted to drive conversation between us," she adds.
For her team's next virtual holiday party, they're going to send international candies that will be a great conversation starter for breakout rooms. Then, they're going to do a costume contest and online trivia.
Jeff Boulter, an engineering lead at HubSpot, decided to combine the interactive activity with a way of getting to know each other via an interactive trivia game.
To start, Boulter sent out a Google Form with a mixture of icebreaker questions. A few examples included:
- What was your first online handle or email address?
- What course did you do the worst at college?
- What's the weirdest job you've ever had?
- What's your least favorite song?
- What's your favorite conspiracy theory?
- What's an unusual skill you have?
- Star Wars or Star Trek?
- Yanni or Laurel?
- If you could commit any crime and get away with it, what would it be?
- What's the worst gift you've ever received?
- Who would get eaten first if we all got stuck in the 1C elevator?
Then, they used a free online trivia site called MyQuiz. Here, the answers were either picking one person from their squad (who's least favorite song is "It's a Small World," for example) or picking the correct answer amongst three other made-up answers. They ended up with 54 questions. See the picture below for what this looked like.
5 Tips for Hosting a Hybrid Holiday Party
The best hybrid holiday parties engage both virtual and in-person guests in a meaningful way. But if you're unsure about the logistics, check out these tips to build connections among coworkers near and far:
1. Think digital-first.
When planning the activities and agenda of your hybrid holiday party, your virtual attendees should stay front of mind. Consider how your virtual employee can interact and remain engaged at each step.
2. Find the right venue.
The venue for your party can either make or break the hybrid experience. Pay close attention to your venue's internet stability and sound — and make sure you have access to the right equipment for video conferencing.
3. Prioritize hybrid-friendly activities
A common mistake when hosting hybrid parties is organizing activities for in-person guests and simply broadcasting the festivities for virtual attendees. Instead, look for hybrid-friendly activities that everyone can enjoy together, while apart. Here are a few examples:
- A Funny Team Awards Show
- Holiday Trivia or Game Night
- Secret Santa
- Paint Party
- Festive Talent Show
Remember, hybrid holiday parties should actively engage both in-person and virtual attendants — so prioritize activities that can achieve this goal.
4. Share the ambiance.
Sometimes virtual guests can feel like they're missing out on the fun because they're remote. To help counteract this, hosts should create a shared experience and ambiance for all attendees. For example, if your in-person decor includes paper snowflakes and vanilla candles, consider sending virtual guests a smaller-scale version of these items for their home or office.
5. Put in-person and remote guests in groups or pairs.
One way to encourage engagement between in-person and virtual guests is by placing them in groups or pairs. For example, if you play holiday trivia, consider breaking up your guests into groups, with each group containing in-person and remote guests. Take this one step further by encouraging groups to brainstorm creative team names.
When it comes to planning remote and hybrid events, it may take more time and effort to nail the logistics. But when done right, you can host a party that inspires camaraderie and belonging within your team.