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10 Ways Your Office Can Still Celebrate the Holidays Virtually or In-Person This Year

American founding father John Adams once said that “every problem is an opportunity in disguise.”

This year has certainly tested that perspective. But your employees have fought to overcome so much and find opportunities in the face of daunting problems. They deserve a reward. So, this holiday season, do not focus so much on the problems Covid is causing with your holiday party. Instead, find opportunities to brighten the lives and moods of the people who make your company what it is. We all deserve a little fun for getting through 2020. Let us get creative.

1. Service as Celebration.

Encourage your teams to volunteer or donate to a charity vetted by the company. When so much seems out of control, sometimes the best thing to do is to control what you can. We cannot single-handedly fix everything wrong this year, but we can donate a little time and money to making things just a little bit better. Volunteering will not just help those in need, it will also make you and your employees feel better. Everyone wins.

We recommend identifying a local charity to help. Popular ones this year include food banks and toy drives for children in hospitals. Helping to hand out food at food banks is something your employees can often do socially distanced outdoors, which may be first they have seen each other in real life in months. However, you want to help, giving your employees a day or two off or public recognition for their donations would go a long way. As an added bonus, organizing the donations and work as a company activity would provide your brand a real boost while also helping those in need.

2. The Zoom Holiday Party

Ok, you are sick of zoom calls by this point, we know. But if you are in an area where getting together, even outside, is not safe currently, a virtual party is better than no party at all. A virtual party can have financial and logistical advantages over the traditional holiday get together. First of all, a virtual party will be more cost-efficient. Plus, there is no danger of driving home or hassle of organizing Ubers; people will have a very short commute from their living rooms to their bedrooms.

You can organize competitions like best holiday outfit, best background decorations, and best toast. Though not quite as fun as an in-person party, you can still have your executive team address everyone, put a cap of all of the year’s success, and give them all some optimism for the future.

3. The Virtual Karaoke Party

Every office has the outgoing folks who crave the spotlight but singing from the safety of their own homes is likely to bring some usually shy people out of their shells as well. Even if many prefer not to sing, they will still be quite entertained. Nothing breaks down walls and gets people to see each other as humans, not just 2D co-workers, quite like off-key singing to Britney Spears. There are a host of free karaoke resources on Youtube and other sites, so your teams can all find songs that let their inner star shine through. One key warning, however, is that time delays will make group singing impossibly bad. Funny, but impossibly bad. So, for the most part, stick to one singer at a time.

4. Host a Murder Mystery

This is more for smaller teams and departments, but it is a great way to socialize without the small talk. Murder mystery parties give everyone something to talk about and are endlessly entertaining. Nothing is as funny as seeing your boss accuse someone of murder in a badly done Southern accent. Kits that take care of everything are available online and people can dress up at home and enjoy a cocktail while they play.

In fact, Murder Mystery parties lend themselves to a virtual setting quite well, as secret side conversations can be had easily over text or chat. Even if you do not get to it this holiday season, murder mystery parties are a great group bonding exercise because they let your teams interact in a low-stakes environment protected by silly costumes and fake personas.

5. Company Trivia

You can customize your trivia game to suit your team’s specific needs. You can start by asking people to submit interesting facts about themselves, which you can turn into questions. You can also ask general company questions like, “Which department has the most people?” or “Which Executive has been with us the longest?” You can even turn the event into a subtle-ish training session with questions about your products, workflow, or procedures.

A good mix of silly and practical questions will work best, but they key is to keep the questions positive. You can offer prizes for the top performers and even have tiny trophies printed for the Company Trivia Champion. The most important consideration will be your host. Do not just default to seniority, pick someone with enough personality to keep people engaged.

6. Escape the Room – Virtually

It is 2020, of course there is a virtual version of everything you can do in-person. A lot of companies have started offering on-line challenges for groups. Your team can escape virtual rooms. You can even take virtual tours of the world and solve puzzles and challenges along the way. Though these activities are mostly for smaller groups, rather than whole companies, you can arrange for groups to be broken down into manageable sizes, depending on the activity.

Since one of the best benefits of in-person company events is that people across departments can meet and form relationships to improve communication, consider putting people into groups randomly, rather than lumping them by department. As added motivation, you can offer prizes to the teams that finish that fastest.

7. Holiday Party In A Box

To really reward your teams, consider sending them all wine, ordering them food, or otherwise providing the refreshments they are missing out on because there’s no in-person party.  You can include hand-written notes from managers to their direct reports thanking them for all their hard work. Yes, this is a bit costly and labor intensive, but the in-person party with fully catered meals would have cost much more. In a year when many workers feel stuck at home and may be struggling to cope, direct and personal outreach that demonstrates how much they are valued can make a big difference. Do not assume your employees are all fine because they appear that way for 30 minutes at a time on conference calls. Many people need a little extra attention and recognition this year. Giving it to them is good for both them and your company.

Outdoor Holiday Activities

The next three suggestions are dedicated to in-person activities. Obviously, if you live somewhere like New Zealand or Australia, this will not be as helpful since you can have a regular holiday party this year. But, for those in much of the rest of the world, we still face a variety of restrictions and concerns. Luckily, that does not mean the holidays are cancelled. Before we get to the suggestions, here is a quick recap of what medical experts recommend when outdoors in public:

  • Encourage social distancing. People should stay 6 feet (2 meters) apart from anyone who is not a member of their household.
  • Wear a mask. Though all national health agencies recommend a mask from any indoor activity, many also recommend them even when outdoors near people, even when 6 feet apart. If it is winter where you are, the mask will probably be a comfort against the cold anyway.
  • Either encourage people to bring their own refreshments or offer single use, pre-packaged options.
  • Avoid choke points or congregation points where people cannot distance 6 feet.
  • Clean common touch areas regularly.

For more information, check out the CDC, WHO, or you nation’s health agencies. Even if you think you are up to date on recommendations, it never hurts to check.

So, what kind of celebration can you offer your employees given the limits of the season?

1. Drive-in Movies

One of the positives to come out of this year is the resurgence of drive-in movie theaters. These theatres are the perfect way to feel like you are a part of a group, doing something normal, while maintaining a safe distance from those around you. Consider renting out the drive-in for your company and providing bagged snacks. It makes for a great activity and it is extremely family friendly.

This option is surprisingly flexible as it also gives you the ability to make speeches, hand out awards, or do many of the other things you would have done at a regular in-person event. 

2. Office Art Gallery

Many offices have people back part time or on split schedules. They never really get to interact. This activity allows them to interact indirectly while also decorating the office. Give everyone some art supplies and have them make their best holiday painting, playdough sculpture, or drawing. Artistic expression has well documented and extensive therapeutic benefits. In a year where so much has been different and limited, giving your teams some time to create for the sake of creation can do a lot of good. You can then take all the works of art and turn the office into an art gallery where people can come in at different times to view the collection and perhaps sample some wine and cheese (individually packaged, of course, rather than communal).

To make things fair, do not just reward the “best” or most aesthetic pieces. You can also give out prizes for Most Original, Funniest, or “Don’t Quit You Day Job,” That way, everyone has a chance to win a prize.

3. Talk a Walk Somewhere Pretty

Most cities and towns have some kind of outdoor light show, holiday garden, or event. Organize your team to go at the same time to feel like it is a group outing, even if everyone has to stay socially distanced. The mere act of all participating in the same activity will create a shared experience, even if it is not quite how everyone imagined the holidays 12 months ago.

Ideally, you will be able to reserve an hour or two just for your company. But, if that is not possible, prioritize venues with one-way paths and call ahead to find out when their less busy times tend to be. A nice bonus for this activity is that walking reduces stress and is great exercise. Both are things everyone could use in 2020.

Office holiday traditions are just as important as personal and family traditions. On a practical level, year-end parties and events help your teams get to know each other as people, which facilitates better communication throughout the year. Plus, they serve as a loyalty-boosting reward. Throwing an event for your workers lets them know that you value their contributions for the year and that you have seen their hard work. On an emotional level, they provide a book-end to the year to help your employees process how far they have come, celebrate what they’ve accomplished, and look forward to achieving even more in the coming year. And this year, we are all looking forward to the coming year with a bit more intensity than usual. Let us find a way to celebrate!

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