By Gerri Detweiler
The company party is making a comeback, according to new research from outplacement agency Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The Holiday party research report 2022 found that 56.9% of companies report they will be holding in-person holiday parties this year, while 2% of those surveyed will hold virtual events.
“Christmas has always been a way for companies to show their teams that they appreciate them,” said Andrew Challenger, Challenger senior vice president, Gray & Christmas. “Creating a space for employees to have fun together builds morale and bonds with their employers and their work, so it really is an important retention and leadership tool for employers,” he added.
For employers with remote or hybrid teams, throwing a great holiday party for employees who are spread across multiple time zones or even different countries can be a challenge.
Here, small business owners share how they organize memorable events for their teams outside the office.
How to throw a great remote holiday party
1. Choose a structure
Michael Alexis, CEO, Teambuilding.com
Teambuilding.com organizes team building experiences for clients such as Apple, Amazon and Google. The company is 80% remote with employees in 21 states and five countries.
“For our own holiday party, we are hosting a virtual holiday party via Zoom and inviting all employees. The event includes two hours of structured games and activities customized for our company and team members. For example, last year’s holiday party included a ‘rapid talent’ show, where contestants had one minute to showcase a talent, and a “guess the baby” game to identify pictures from their childhood. We also ran a prize wheel, sent a gift box to all attendees and asked a budget available for food and drink By including gifts and additional items, you can show your appreciation in a wider range that will appeal to more people.
“Whether you choose to work with an event service or throw a DIY holiday party, my number one recommendation is to focus on structure. The most popular format is a 90-minute experience with games and activities with a holiday theme. We also have extra ounces for sent gifts, cocktails and other customizations.”
Bonus tip: “It’s never too late to host your own virtual holiday party. If your team is busy in November and December, it might be better to take some time off at the end of the year to relax and unwind. You you can always go on a holiday remote party in January – or even February. As long as the right planning and spirit is put into it, the event will still be successful.”
2. Create memories
Jaleh Bisharat, co-founder and CEO, Naked Poppy
NakedPoppy is a clean beauty e-tailer and hosts self-care parties via Zoom. NakedPoppy is 100% remote with team members in five major US cities. Each holiday season, NakedPoppy brings the remote team together via Zoom to celebrate what they’ve all accomplished and toast each other.
“Follow-up materials are a fun reminder of a special memory. Don’t forget to take a photo and share! At NakedPoppy, we follow up with a short video or written email (depending on preference) to remind everyone of what they learned on the event.”
1. People love to get a treat for the holidays. Thoughtful, beautiful packages that arrive in advance and tie in with the event have a big impact.
2. Respect people’s time. Start on time; make sure supervised activities are well rehearsed and hold their attention. Engage participants as much as possible with hands-on activities.
3. Depending on the size of the event, leave plenty of time for unstructured chatter. We schedule time for people to stay on Zoom for another 30 minutes to laugh and enjoy.
3. Start planning early
Jonathan Fishbeck, Founder and CEO, EstateSpace
EstateSpace is a secure online platform that helps individuals, businesses and family offices simplify the management of physical assets and estates. It is completely remote with employees in eight states.
“Last year at EstateSpace we facilitated a virtual Secret Santa happy hour as a way to engage our team during the holiday season. We made it optional – anyone who wanted to participate created a ‘wish list’ to help their Santa shop, and names were drawn through an online platform.
“We started the event with a year-end update that led to a holiday-themed icebreaker question so each team member could share their favorite holiday tradition or memory. We then closed the event by opening gifts. We set a $25 prize limit, based on on participant feedback, and happy hour was scheduled for an hour at the end of a work day (4-5 pm) It was especially fun learning about each of the different traditions that our team members love to celebrate with their loved ones each years – no two answers were the same!
“My advice to other employers is to start planning your virtual holiday party early! We started this process in early November to give employees time to budget, plan their wish lists and shop. Wish lists were then distributed in mid-November , well before the holiday sales so that team members could take advantage of these shopping days.”
4. Add games
Antonella Pisani, CEO and Founder, Eyeful media
Eyeful Media is a digital marketing and consultancy agency. The company is completely remote with employees in 16 states and 23 cities.
“We’re celebrating the holiday season with remote workers through a virtual happy hour wearing an ugly Christmas sweater, combined with an in-person volunteer event for those in Dallas. Last year we had a special video appearance by the Grinch, but she brought some fun!
“It was difficult to find a game that works for a larger group, but one game we like is ‘Two Truths a Lie’ because it allows our team to get to know each other better.” (In the game Two Truths and a Lie, a person shares three things about themselves, except that one of the statements is false. The group tries to guess the lie.)
Bonus tip: “We’ve occasionally used the breakout feature (on Zoom) to allow smaller groups to chat, as having a lot of people in the same room can be a pain.”
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5. Gift cards are great
Dan Manian, CEO and co-founder, Donut
Donut is a Slack extension that helps businesses foster deeper employee culture, connection, and engagement. It’s 100% remote with employees in 12 states.
“In order to keep our events inclusive for all our team members, we always try to take into account the times and preferences of our employees. We do not plan our parties in the evening and we avoid activities related to alcohol. We want everyone to join our company to feel like they can participate, and decisions like this help remove potential barriers.
“We’ve been remote for a few years now and digital gift cards are great because they’re easy, customizable and cost effective. But there’s something nice about getting something physical in the mail every once in a while, especially if it’s personalized!
“For our holiday party, we plan to mix it up with a baking class or painting activity. Not only are these activities fun and hands-on, but they also give our team something physical to remind us of the party, even if we’re not together We prioritize bonding at Donut, and holiday parties are a great time to share our interests and passions outside of work.”
Bonus tip: “We know that in the winter months, people generally travel to see friends and family. We don’t want to complicate their plans, and we want them to feel free to book their trips well in advance, which is another reason for keeping our holiday events virtual.”
6. Be inclusive
Patrick Sheahan, CEO, Approx
Circa is a technology company for diversity recruitment and HR compliance. It has employees (remote and hybrid) in 19 states.
“This time of year gives us an opportunity to raise awareness and learn about the different expressions of the holidays and how each culture or group celebrates them in a unique way, whether religious or non-religious, including those who don’t celebrate it at all.
“So consider making your office holiday an inclusive party for everyone, just like we did at Circa, where we decked out our office in inclusive decor with a menorah, a Yule block, a kinara – all in addition to Christmas. We even had a Festivus tree for those who don’t celebrate!
“Based on inclusiveness, as we manage an increasingly distributed and hybrid workforce with some employees in the office and some working remotely, it is important to rethink and adapt our practices to our hybrid existence.
“Make sure everyone has a chance to participate. Consider hybrid meetings where remote employees can be ‘present’ when the event takes place in a common area. In addition to video, use the chat room to ‘bring them in’ to the festivities. Designate one or two people on the team who will be responsible for engaging the remote employees.”
Bonus tip: “Show your remote workers that you care. Whether it’s a gift basket, greeting card, or gift card, by sending something, you let them know you’re thinking of them.”
7. Try contests, games and prizes
Jason Jani, entertainer and owner, SCE event group
SCE Event Group is a leading entertainment company specializing in creative and personalized event services, from DJs to photo booths. Since the pandemic, 90% of the team is remote and 10% hybrid.
“Keeping it interactive and engaging is key to the success of a remote holiday party. By introducing contests, games, prizes and planning a little in advance, attendees will see this as more than just another Zoom meeting and will be happy to present.”
1. Hire a virtual DJ to create the perfect soundtrack for the party and engage the attendees.
2. Have a virtual photo booth to add a fun “personal” element to the photo [computer] screens. Guests can use their phone to create their own photo booth with photos, boomerangs and even gifs.
3. Implement a food theme and cater [a meal to] the external employees. A delivery order or credit for Uber Eats or something like that means you can deliver food to everyone’s house and they can enjoy it together.
4. Create a theme and have everyone dress up accordingly; even make it a contest: ugliest sweater, most festive, etc.
5. Plan an interactive game like Kahoot! keeping everyone involved. Questions can be trivia about the holidays in general, holiday movies, holiday songs, or even the company. Prize winners a gift card or some kind of gift.
6. Hold a virtual background contest for the holiday season and make it a game with attendees: whoever has the most festive or creative background wins!
About the author
Credit and financing expert Jerry Detweiler is the author or co-author of five books, including Finance your own business: start with fast financing with attorney Garrett Sutton. Her articles have been widely published and she has testified before Congress on credit legislation.