Christmas parties… Love them or hate them, they are an inescapable tradition of workplaces across the globe.
From dodgy karaoke to ill-fated romances, the anticipation keeps us motivated throughout the run-up to Christmas, and the embarrassing photos and stories of shame keep us entertained all through January.
But, this year, the global pandemic has sadly stretched into its ninth month, and we are facing a Christmas like no other. The traditional Christmas party is a no go and has been replaced by the virtual Christmas party.
Some will be delighted and can cross ‘think of an excuse to get out of the work party’ off their December task list.
Others will be disappointed not to be able to get together with their friends and colleagues to toast the end of another year, especially one that has brought such challenges.
The odd scrooge aside, we think it’s incredibly important to make an effort to reward employees for all their hard work in this extraordinary year
The good news is, by this point, we’ve all got our heads around video conferencing platforms, so it shouldn’t be a new experience for most. Some teams may have even run virtual work get-togethers before.
Whether you’re a seasoned virtual event host, or this is your first foray into digital and online socialising, how are you going to make sure it’s a night to remember, in a year most of us would probably like to forget?
Luckily for you, we’ve got some virtual Christmas party ideas and tips to keep things fun and festive…
Set the mood
1. Tech the halls
Zoom, Mitel, WhatsApp, Google Meet… No, these aren’t Santa’s new reindeers! There are a few new guests on the invite list this year, who you’ll need to get acquainted with.
Before you get stuck into planning the fun stuff, choose your platform and make sure you and your team all know how to use it so that the festivities can start with a bang – you don’t want connection issues spoiling the mood and eating into valuable party time.
It’s likely you’ve already been using some kind of video conferencing software this year, and if that’s been working for you, the simplest choice would be to stick with that.
There might be something a bit fancier out there, with added features that could inject some extra fun into your evening (think backgrounds, games, polls) – but make sure you give it a proper test run in advance and know that everyone’s home setups will be able to support it.
If you’re using a free tool, check the limitations – nothing dampens the mood more than having to log back into a party every 40 minutes!
2. No work talk
If you’ve been using video conferencing software as a normal part of your day to day work communications, there’s a danger that the Christmas party will feel like just another work call.
Traditional work parties are often held somewhere away from the office, whether that’s a pub, a restaurant, or other venue; so that people don’t feel like they’re at work.
This change of setting isn’t going to be possible this year, so you’ll need to try hard to make sure the party feels different from a meeting, and that starts with a ban on ALL work chat. Make sure you enforce this – Santa gave us the ‘mute’ function for a reason!
You could take turns at playing the moderator, briefly muting anyone who veers too closely toward shop talk, or punishing them with a forfeit.
The aim is to spend time together as people, in a social environment, rather than as colleagues. No one should feel like they’re at work. If you usually spend a lot of time on video calls together, maybe a festive background is needed or you could consider changing your display names to something more festive.
Another way to set your virtual Christmas party apart from your usual virtual meet ups, is to have a theme.
Christmas is the most obvious and safest theme. Most people enjoy showing off their natty Christmas jumpers, hats and noses, and dressing festively will help to create the Christmas mood.
But if you wish to ramp it up a little, here are some other ideas for themes you could try…
4. Set the table
If you’ll be enjoying a meal at some point in your party, why not send out a party package a few days ahead of the big day, filled with festive bits and pieces – think decorative table cloth, crackers, party poppers, a bottle of wine, a novelty item, and maybe even a card and present to open.
This would be a great way of distributing any ‘thank you’ gifts or bonuses you’re planning on giving out this year.
You can’t have a party without music, and while it’s probably not the best idea for everyone to have Christmas songs on full blast and out of sync (ouch), you can certainly use music to create the right mood during the party.
Entertainment does not have to be something you cut out of the Christmas party this year.
In fact, it’s essential to make things feel different and special, and to give some structure to the evening.
If you’ve ever had to attend a virtual meeting with no agenda, you’ll know this is essential!
There are probably more options available than you might think…
6. Dare we say… A quiz?
This one will be divisive, so let’s get it out of the way first. The obvious choice, and one that’s probably been done to death over the past 8 months; the good old-fashioned quiz is a classic for a reason.
Read the room on this, if your colleagues have suffered enough quizzes, perhaps give it a miss.
But if you’re one of the few teams who haven’t overdosed on this format, or you just particularly love quizzes, do something to make it different. Simply hosting the questions on Kahoot can turn a mundane quiz into a lot of fun.
If you’re stuck for inspiration, here are a few ideas for something a bit different.
7. On-screen entertainment
A gathering in person isn’t an option, but you’ll be viewing all your colleagues’ faces on screen – so why not make the most of it?
If you’ve had enough of quizzes, an alternative activity could be for everyone to act out a scene from their favourite Christmas film, for others to guess – the more cast members (amusing children and pets especially welcome) and props, the better.
You might be surprised by some of the talented actors and set-designers in your midst!
If you don’t want to be the stars yourselves, you could pick a Christmas film to watch together. To keep the socialising going, consider turning it into a game where you have to do something funny every time a certain word is said.
8. Talent show
If acting isn’t their thing, fear not, your colleagues may be talented in other areas, so give them a chance to show off!
Avoid the nightmare of people constantly talking over and interrupting each other by putting the spotlight on your team one by one in a talent show (willing participants only, of course).
This is a fantastic way to get to know each other better, and discover who people are outside of work – singing, dancing, impressions, poetry, magic tricks…
Sit back and watch as your team entertains you, vote for your favourites and then announce the winner later in the evening (this will keep everyone there until the end).
Who knows, a star could be born!
If, however, you don’t have high hopes for your colleagues’ secret talents and would rather call in the professionals, all is not lost.
If you would usually have hired a performer of some kind, or attended an event, don’t assume that hired entertainment won’t be possible this year.
Those working in the live entertainment sector have been hard hit this year, and there are plenty of magicians, comedians, musicians and other performers out there who would love to dial in and provide some quality entertainment for your party guests.
Party games remain a firm favourite, and that doesn’t have to change in a virtual setting.
There are a whole host of games that can be played on screen, and Houseparty is one platform you can use to create virtual ‘breakout’ rooms with fun activities.
The internet is also awash with ideas for ways to play from home. One we like the sound of is a ‘virtual snowball fight’. A festive twist on the classic ‘beer pong’ where each player puts their favourite mug in front of their computer and screws little balls of paper into ‘snowballs’. Standing back, they then throw the snowballs into the mug, earning points for each one that goes in (drinking penalties or prizes are optional!).
This game is great because it gets people out of their seats and actively participating, but there are plenty more ideas out there…
11. Awards & Prizes
This year of all years, you’ll likely want to show your team some appreciation.
This doesn’t have to be the main event, but you could set aside a portion of the evening for team member recognition. It’s up to you how you do this, and will depend on what your company’s circumstances have been this year.
You might want to give a brief individual thank you to each person, highlighting how they’ve contributed this year. Or, you might want to keep things light and get people to vote in advance on joke award categories like ‘most likely to wear pyjamas on Zoom’, and announce the winners on the night.
12. Cooking class
A great way to sort out your food and your entertainment in one fell swoop is an online cooking masterclass.
Whilst you can absolutely DIY this and arrange it yourself, don’t worry if you’re not a whizz in the kitchen, as there are loads of companies, restaurateurs and private chefs out there offering online masterclasses.
You’ll need to get the ingredients to your party-goers in plenty of time and make sure you pick a recipe that won’t require fancy or obscure equipment, but this is a great way to get everyone involved in a physical activity that they can enjoy together while not being physically together – and you can judge and enjoy the end results! #NailedIt
13. Wine tasting / cocktail masterclass
Another option is a drinks-related masterclass. You’ll know your team and their tastes, but cocktail masterclasses are usually a winner. If wine tasting isn’t popular, you could also try beer, gin, rum, whiskey…
There are a wealth of options out there, and many industry experts who would be happy to teach your team a thing or two about choosing, mixing, pouring, and enjoying the perfect Christmas tipple.
You can either purchase a pre-recorded masterclass or have someone join your video chat, depending on your budget.
14. Secret Santa
Now this is one Christmas tradition that’s easy to adapt to the current times. Instead of picking names out of a physical hat, you can use an online generator.
Then, set a budget, and either send gifts by post or set up a collection/pickup point and set a deadline for presents to be wrapped and dropped off.
It just wouldn’t be a Christmas party without Secret Santa!
15. Surprise visitor
Speaking of the S word, there’s one face we’re all hoping to see at this time of year…
Being of the *ahem* older generation, Santa is self-isolating at the North Pole. And with the elves all off on furlough until Christmas Eve, he’s twiddling his thumbs.
We’re sure he could fit a virtual appearance into his Christmas schedule – just Google ‘Zoom Santa for hire’ (there’s a sentence we never thought we’d say).
If Santa himself isn’t available and a member of your team has to step into those big snow-filled boots, make sure their display name doesn’t give the game away!
Food & Drink
Forget the entertainment, this is the real main event. Let’s face it, some of us only go to the work parties for the free food. If you want your virtual Christmas party to be a success, the catering needs to be high up the agenda.
Of course you can give everyone a food and drinks budget to spend as they please, but with restaurants and food companies pivoting left, right and centre, you are spoiled for choice in how to feed your guests if you want to do something special.
16. Festive spirits
First up, you’re all going to want a beverage to get the party started.
Every Christmas party has a booze budget, and this year should certainly be no different – but instead of sticking a round behind the bar, you can have drinks delivered to guests ahead of the party – pre-prepared cocktails, wine and beers can be ordered online in advance for arrival on the day, or you could send out hampers with all the ingredients for a festive tipple, and perhaps some pre-dinner nibbles.
Be mindful of any tee-totallers, and be sure to have a non-alcoholic equivalent
17. Restaurant food at home
If you’d usually go out for a Christmas meal, why not see if a local restaurant, café, or even chef, has created a delivery service so you can all sit around a virtual table together to share a meal.
If you usually go for a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, this is a great option – there is bound to be a local business delivering in your area, and they’d probably be delighted to receive a bulk order for a set time.
18. Support a local business
If you’re planning to have items delivered to your guests, there is bound to be a local company that would be grateful for your business.
Local pubs and bars might be able to supply drinks, restaurants/chefs could be delivering, and musicians and performers could also be looking in unusual places for work opportunities.
For all the ideas we’ve suggested in the above tips, we are sure there’s a local business that would be delighted to help.
While some might already be advertising an ‘at home’ version of their product or service, others may not have had the demand or budget to advertise this, so if you think your order would be large enough to make a one-off service worthwhile for them, put out a call to see if there’s anything they can offer.
By hosting your virtual Christmas party online rather than in person, you’ll likely be saving on costs – while this will no doubt be a relief if you’re one of the many, many businesses tightening their belts after a rough year, think about whether a percentage of the expense saved on your usual festivities could be donated to charity this year?
Or perhaps you could organise a raffle, buying prizes from local businesses and donating the proceeds.
Christmas has always been a time of giving, and there are those in our local communities who need it now more than ever.
20. Set a time limit
While traditional Christmas parties may have gone on to the wee hours, with revellers trailing off until only the most hardcore remained, no one wants to be stuck to their screens for an entire evening, even if the journey home is a little shorter this year.
Have a time limit, and ideally a schedule, and stick to it. You can always have an optional ‘after-party’ for those who want to continue the festivities.
Ready for your virtual Christmas party now?
Just remember, the most important thing is to have fun and relax.
Think about what your Christmas parties usually look like and try to mirror that in a remote environment.
Don’t force anything, and prepare for some hiccups – not everything will run without a hitch, approach it with good humour and goodwill, two things that will serve us well over this very different festive period.