How are you planning to celebrate the holidays with your team this year?
If you're a people leader in a remote-first or hybrid workplace, that might be a tricky question to answer.
While some companies will make the effort to try and get their teams together in person, this can be very expensive and logistically difficult.
Not to mention the fact that employees who live far from your central hub might already have other travel plans at this time of year, or be reluctant to spend time away from their loved ones during the festive season.
Fortunately, as remote work has become more common, a lot of creative people teams have come up with plans for virtual office parties which are as good as, or even better, than meeting in person.
Here are some of Guusto’s favourite virtual holiday party ideas, plus some tips on how to choose the right options for your employees.
Wine & dine online: virtual food and drink events
Most in-person office holiday parties include a meal and drinks, and there’s no reason that should change when hosting a virtual event.
Whether it's a full meal or something more casual, sharing some food or a drink together will be a chance for your employees to relax, socialize, and get to know each other outside the hustle and bustle of the virtual office.
Here are a few interesting ways you can include food and drink in your virtual party.
1. Virtual cocktail (or mocktail) hour
If your team enjoys a few drinks together when they meet in person, you can bring that experience online.
Send your employees a list of cocktail ingredients before your event, and then create them together. Some companies even hire professional bartenders to teach their employees how to make perfect cocktails, but you can try your luck at doing it yourself if your budget won’t stretch that far.
This event might not be a good fit for your company if you have employees that don’t drink, but you could add ‘mocktails’ to your menu to make it more inclusive. It can also make a nice addition to a larger program of virtual holiday party events.
Perfect for your team if: Happy hours were a regular occurrence when you were still at the office together.
2. Wine and cheese tasting
To add a touch of class to your virtual office party, you could have a wine and cheese tasting event. A number of companies now sell wine and cheese tasting kits which you could have delivered to your employees.
You can also book a virtual wine tasting event with several vineyards, wineries, and sommeliers, who will also deliver wines to your employees. If wine isn’t your thing, you can find similar options online for whiskey or craft beer tasting.
Alternatively, your company can organize a tasting event by itself, although this is trickier. You’ll need to send a list of suggested wines and cheese pairings in advance, and your coworkers might have a tough time tracking down your suggestions if they’re based in different regions.
The other drawback of this option is that, like a virtual cocktail hour, it’s not suitable for employees who don’t drink, as well as those who can’t eat dairy. If your people are game, though, it could give your holiday party a special feel.
Perfect for your team if: They have adventurous palettes, and enjoy the finer things in life.
3. Cookie decorating
A more family-friendly virtual holiday party idea, a cookie decorating party can be great fun for your employees, particularly those with young families.
It’s also fairly easy to organize. Employees can bake cookies themselves in advance, or just use store-bought cookies. Then all they need to do is buy icing, candy, and other decorating supplies.
Your team, their partners, and families can then decorate their cookie batches over a video call and show off their handiwork to everyone.
Be warned, though, it can get messy! Make sure to remind your employees to keep their laptops safe when the icing and sugar starts flying.
Perfect for your team if: You want to include your employees' partners and children in your celebrations.
4. Dinner party
If none of these ideas seem like a fit for your company, there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned sitdown meal.
Organizing this event is as simple as making sure everyone has food delivered to their homes and then hopping on a video call together.
If you want to recreate more of an in-person dinner party atmosphere, use the Breakout Rooms feature in software like Zoom and Google Meet to arrange people into tables so they can mingle in smaller groups as they eat. Try to group people with coworkers they might not interact with much at work so they can get to know each other better.
It can be a good idea to survey your employees beforehand and ask them if they’d prefer a dinner or a lunch, as some might prefer to have their evenings free. You could also organize games or other entertainment for them to enjoy during their meal.
Perfect for your team if: Your holiday dinner used to be the highlight of your office party.
Whatever option you choose, it’s important to treat your employees. At a physical office party, a company will usually cover some or all of the cost of the refreshments, and that shouldn’t change in a remote setting.
You can either arrange to have meals and drinks delivered to your employee’s homes, or send them gift cards in advance so they can order in themselves.
Fun virtual office party games for remote teams
Organizing an in-person office holiday party can be as easy as providing food and drink and letting your guests enjoy each other’s company.
A virtual party can be a bit more of a challenge. In the era of ‘Zoom fatigue’, your party could quickly start to feel like just another meeting.
To prevent this, many companies incorporate games and activities into their virtual holiday parties, with a lot of success. Games can help your employees feel more at ease and encourage them to interact with each other.
Here are just a few of our favourite virtual office party game ideas.
5. Scavenger hunt
As remote work has become more common, scavenger hunts have proven to be one of the most surprisingly popular ideas for virtual office holiday parties.
To play this game, give your employees a list of items that they will be able to find around the house. They have to find the items and bring them back to show onscreen as quickly as possible.
Your list can include things that are easy enough to find, as well as more unusual items that might be hard to search for. You can offer prizes to whoever brings back each item the fastest, or to whoever completes their list first.
It can be a lot of fun, and get very competitive!
Perfect for your team if: You want a holiday game that gets them out of their seats and active.
6. Lip sync karaoke challenge
Do you think your employees are rockstars? Well, now is their chance to prove it!
In a Lip Sync Karaoke Challenge, your team takes turns miming along to songs on a video call. You can choose songs at random or allow employees to pick out their favourites in advance, and even encourage them to dress up for the occasion.
It’s a great way for extroverted teams to have some fun together, with the added bonus that you don’t have to be able to sing to participate.
Even so, lip syncing in front of everyone might still be a bit daunting for more introverted members of your team, so it’s best to only try this if you know your employees will be up for it.
Perfect for your team if: The karaoke bar is the first stop for many of your employees on a night out.
7. Holiday movie party
If rewatching Elf, Home Alone, A Christmas Story, or other classic movies is one of your favourite parts of the holidays, why not share it with your coworkers?
You can host a virtual watch party by streaming a holiday classic and sharing your screen over a video call. Your coworkers can then chat and comment on the film as they watch.
One problem with this idea is that lags in visuals or sound could cause delays for some people. Getting discussion going while still making sure everyone can watch what’s happening onscreen can be difficult in larger groups, too.
If your team is game, a creative way to get around these issues is to turn it into a ‘movie dubbing’ party. Turn the sound of the movie off, and have your coworkers take turns improvising the dialogue of the characters. You can also do this with shorter clips of several classic holiday movies, and offer prizes for the best efforts.
Perfect for your team if: They’re movie buffs, or Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans.
We’re big fans of trivia here at Guusto, and regularly run quizzes during our team-building events. Trivia is easy to run online, and helps your team bond as they work together in teams.
Another underrated advantage of trivia is the variety it offers. Rather than just creating a series of questions and answers, you can create multiple rounds of your quiz that include different kinds of challenges.
For instance, you could create a quiz that includes a Scavenger Hunt round, a Holiday Movie Dubbing round, and a Lip Sync Karaoke round. This means there’s something for everyone in your team to enjoy.
Perfect for your team if: You want an event that incorporates a lot of different challenges to suit your team’s tastes.
9. Virtual murder mystery
If you want something a little different, there are a growing number of companies offering virtual murder mysteries. In these games, actors play out a story on a virtual call. Your employees are then broken into teams to question ‘suspects’ and try and figure out who the murderer is.
We can tell you from experience that it’s a lot of fun – we ran a virtual murder mystery as part of our holiday celebrations at Guusto last year.
If you have a limited budget, or just want to give your team members a chance to be creative, you can also opt for DIY versions of these games, where your employees will play the characters themselves.
Even if you decide this isn’t right for your year-end celebrations, it’s a great virtual office party idea for other times of year, too. Halloween could be the perfect time to try it out!
Perfect for your team if: You want an immersive, unique experience for your team.
10. Virtual escape room
If you’ve never been in an escape room before, here’s how it works: Your team is ‘trapped’ in a room and have to solve a series of puzzles to get out before their time runs out.
It’s a fun experience that requires a lot of teamwork and creative problem solving, which has made it a very popular team-building activity in the corporate world.
You wouldn’t assume that escape rooms could be replicated online, but a lot of companies have done a stellar job at recreating the experience in a virtual environment.
Every escape room has a unique storyline, and you can even find some that have a festive theme.
Perfect for your team if: Your team enjoys solving puzzles and working together to find solutions.
You’ll find several other interesting game ideas online, including holiday-themed versions of games like bingo and Pictionary. With a little research, you can come up with virtual holiday party ideas that will really engage and entertain your team.
Bringing old office holiday party traditions to the New Normal
Moving your corporate holiday party online doesn’t have to mean reinventing the wheel. If there are certain activities or traditions that were a big part of your holiday program when you were all at the office, your employees might appreciate you keeping them alive.
Here are a few holiday office staples you might want to recreate.
11. Virtual gift exchanges
If Secret Santa, Yankee Swap, or White Elephant gift exchanges were previously part of your company’s holiday celebrations, you can recreate these experiences online.
For White Elephant, Yankee Swap, and other exchange games, simply ask your employees to buy a gift and submit either a photo or a link to the product online. Then hop on a video call and play the game the same way you would play it in person.
The challenge is that employees then need to ship the items to the address of the recipients after the game, which might turn into a bit of a logistical nightmare.
A straight Secret Santa is a simpler option. Participants will know who will be receiving their gifts so they can send them in advance. However, you still might have to deal with a few disappointed people whose gifts didn’t deliver on time.
Using virtual gifts can make this easier. For instance, if you use Guusto, your employees could send gift cards instantly, and either preselect a merchant they know their coworker will love or allow them to choose where to redeem their gift. They can also write messages to send with their gifts to add a personal touch.
While this option has its drawbacks, it does encourage peer-to-peer interaction and appreciation, and could help build togetherness in your team.
Perfect for your team if: You want employees to show their appreciation for each other during the holidays.
12. Awards show
The awards show is one in-office tradition that is fairly easy to recreate online. Simply arrange a company-wide call and announce your awards, then send prizes to your winners.
Even if your company has never held awards before, it can be an excellent way to recognize your employees’ achievements and personalities and make them feel appreciated. All you need to do is create categories, decide on your prizes, and pick your winners.
Your awards can relate to accomplishments at work, like excellence in leadership, sales, or customer service. Alternatively, check out our list of culture-first awards ideas for some categories which celebrate people who really contribute to your culture in a positive way, rather than just those who get the most visible results.
Perfect for your team if: You want an end-of-year event that celebrates your people.
13. Prize draws
Rather than choose to give awards to specific people, some companies prefer to give prizes to employees by drawing names at random.
A prize draw can be a bit more inclusive than awards based on achievements, and make everyone feel like they have a fair chance of winning something. If your company has done this in the past, it’s quite easy to replicate online.
The downside of a prize draw is that it isn’t tied to any specific impact the winners have made, which can dilute the level of appreciation and recognition they feel. If your company is on Guusto, one way around this is to use the platform’s Draw feature, which allows you to draw names at random from any Shoutouts that have been made over a period of time.
You could run a draw from all Shoutouts made in the past year. The winner’s prizes will then be tied to a specific action they took at work. Provided your staff have been using the Shoutouts to recognize their peers consistently, everyone should be in with a chance.
Perfect for your team if: You want to add a bit of gamification to the awards experience.
14. Holiday sweater party
Do your employees love dressing up in cheesy holiday sweaters during the festive season? If so, you can incorporate it into your festive celebrations.
Simply pick a day when employees wear their holiday sweaters during work hours, and have everyone show off theirs during a video call. You can offer prizes for the most out-there designs.
This is one of the simplest virtual office party ideas, since it doesn’t require much in terms of budget and organization but is still a lot of fun.
It probably works better as part of a series of holiday events, though. Your employees will expect your company to make an effort to make the holidays special, and a holiday sweater party as your only event could be a bit of a letdown.
Perfect for your team if: Brightly-colored sweaters that light up and play holiday music are in vogue at your workplace every December.
15. Share your own holiday tradition
A lot of your employees will have their own holiday traditions – things they do every year with their family and friends that are unique to them.
So why not learn more about them? Gather your team and encourage each of them to share one personal tradition they have for celebrating the festive season. It could be anything from a movie they always watch, to a dish they create, to a tradition that relates to a specific holiday or culture.
This is a very low-key virtual office party idea, and is probably best as part of a series of events for a larger holiday program. But it’s a great way for your team to learn something new about each other, and get to know their colleagues a little better.
Perfect for your team if: You want an event that will make your team more connected.
Choosing the right option for your virtual office holiday party
So, what’s the right option for your company? When discussing your plans with your team, you should consider:
Your Budget: How much do you want to spend? What is your budget for food, gifts, and prizes? Can you afford to pay for outside vendors and entertainment, or do you need to look at cheaper options?
The Times and Dates of Your Party: When are you having your event? Will it be an evening event or happen during work hours? Will your team have enough time to plan it?
Who Your Team Are: What kind of people are they, and what kind of event would they enjoy? Do you have employees that don’t drink, or have young children, or others who might have issues with a specific type of event?
How to Build Recognition into Your Event: How will your event make employees feel appreciated? What additional rewards can you provide?
Once you start thinking about your party through this lens, the right options for your company will become more obvious.
Remember, too, that you don’t have to choose just one. Mix and match some of the virtual office holiday party ideas in this list (and any of your own), and you can create an event itinerary that’s teeming with fun activities for your staff.
Download Our Holiday Gifting Playbook
Ready to start planning your company’s holiday activities? We’ve got you covered!
The Guusto team has put our heads together to create The Employee Holiday Gifting Playbook, a free resource that includes insights, tips, and tools to help you:
- Navigate the challenges of planning a holiday program in the New Normal
- Find creative gifting ideas for your employees
- Plan your corporate holiday party
- Make sure your employees feel recognized and rewarded every step of the way
If you want the holidays to feel really special for your people this year, get it today!
***Editors note: This blog was originally published on September 13, 2021, but has been updated to reflect current workplace trends (and to add more party ideas!).