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A GoLinks Virtual Holiday Party: How We Planned a Remote Holiday Party in 2020

Hello, readers from beyond 2020. Considering a virtual remote holiday party? Read how we did it in the middle of a pandemic.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many companies have shifted their attention to how to celebrate the holidays with their distributed team, and some debating if they should even do it at all.

Without the ability to gather around the punchbowl or physically exchange white elephant gifts, how does an organization begin to plan for such an event? Zoom meetings can be awkward enough as it is for some, now we want people to have genuine fun isolated in front of their keyboards?

Yes, it can work. And at GoLinks, we made it work.

In this post, we’ll go over our planning, scheduling, what we actually did, and the results of our 2020 virtual holiday party.

🤔 Planning a virtual holiday party

Assemble your PPC (party-planning committee)

  • If you’re a larger organization, you may have office managers that will take the reins. If you’re a smaller organization, like us, you’ll want to recruit the appropriate individuals to help ideate and execute the challenge.
  • Don’t offload this task onto any one person, even if they typically do the planning in any other year. This may be new territory for them.
  • Consider having an IT team member or someone that can advise on the appropriate tools to use for your activities.

Things to consider

  • Headcount. Hosting a virtual holiday party for 10 people is much different from hosting one for 100 people. It’ll guide you to what types of events you’ll actually be able to do.
  • Timezones. This is a tricky one. At GoLinks, we have team members in PST, CST, and EST. Finding a suitable time for all of us to join meant having to be flexible with schedules.
  • If delivering items to team members, account for shipping time and general delays due to holiday bottlenecks.
  • Be inclusive with activities. Not everyone will be comfortable doing certain things on camera nor want to have the entire event revolve around drinking.
  • Be considerate of team member’s workspace. They may be sharing an office with their significant other, sharing common areas with roommates, or have children in distanced-learning classes.

Elicit ideas

  • No shame in throwing everything you can think of that can be achieved remotely at this point. Refine later.
  • We considered both professionally hosted activities (Airbnb offers tons of online experience activities for groups) and activities that would be easy to accomplish with the tools we already have.
  • With any activity, we had to ask ourselves, “Do we need to provide the team with anything?” and ‘How do we get people involved?” Make participation easy.

It’s worth noting here that not everyone may want to participate. Your event should be optional and team members should feel free to be as involved as they feel comfortable doing so.

Quran-team meal

  • We knew that we wanted to have a meal together with the entire team. Furthermore, we thought that it would be fun to order from the same restaurant so that we can bond over similar food.
  • Being that we have team members in vastly different areas, we did our best in finding a restaurant with many franchises, and those that did not have access to one had the ability to find something similar near them or pick something else entirely.
  • Each team member was provided a meal stipend via Uber Eats to get food delivered (please don’t make your team member pay for their own meal). Everyone used go/food to place their orders.
  • If you plan on using a delivery service, account for when restaurants open and when the targetted delivery window is. We found that we had to cross out some restaurants due to food arriving too late for PST folks.
  • For those that opted in, wine was shipped to each team member’s home in advance.

🗓 Scheduling a virtual holiday party

Day of the week

  • Friday. Maybe Thursday. Need I say more?

Picking a time with team members in different timezones

  • Disclaimer: Currently, we only have team members in the US. If you have team members in drastically different timezones, there may be better tips elsewhere in the interwebs.
  • Being that we wanted a meal together, compromises were made to accommodate all timezones.
  • We wanted to give everyone ample time to hang out with the team while still being able to jump off and attend to outside-of-work duties afterward.
  • If you want your virtual holiday party to be outside of working hours, consider what that would mean for your team member’s significant others and/or families
  • We ultimately decided to start the holiday party at 1 PM PST and had our last event end around 3 PM PST. This meant west coast people were having a late lunch while east coast was having an early dinner.
  • Team members had the option to continue celebrating afterward (after the party is the after party!).

Setting expectations

  • Let your team know ahead of time so that everyone can properly plan.
  • Event information and agenda were always available at go/holidayparty. Team members could pop into the document at any point to see latest updates.
  • We set up a Slack channel for announcements and party chatter: #holidayparty.
  • It will be important to remind team members that it is an optional event and they can participate as much or as little as they want.

🎉 What we (actually) did

Here is the actual breakdown of our agenda and how it went.

Preparations

  • Place food orders the morning of the party
  • Decorate workspace or wherever you were planning to take the call from

Cocktail half-hour

  • Drinks and appetizers while the team trickles in. We used Google Meet as our video conferencing tool.
  • Holiday music is playing and people are grooving.
Image for post

Holiday song emoji pictionary

  • Team members had the chance to win raffle tickets to be used towards prizes later on.
  • We set up a Google Form that we team members accessed using go/emojipictionary while our founder, Jorge, presented the clues on screen.

Lunch/dinner

  • When everyone’s food arrived we all shared photos to our #holidayparty Slack channel.

Guess that holiday movie

  • Team members were given still frames of popular holiday movies and had to correctly guess the movie titles.
  • Again, team members used a go link, go/guessthemovie, to access a Google Form.

Workspace decoration & ugly sweater contest

  • Team members took turns showing off their holiday decorations.
  • Winners received additional raffle tickets.
  • Somehow this ended up with our Head of Sales jumping into a pool fully clothed 🤷‍♂️.

Raffle for prizes

  • All team members received one raffle ticket by default.
  • Top three winners of the emoji pictionary game, holiday movie guessing game, and workspace decorations received additional tickets.
  • As for the prizes, pick what you believe would be exciting to people or may have some relation to your business.
  • We quickly spun up a random name selector using Google Sheets.

After party!

  • Aside from generally enjoying chatting and sipping on wine, we set up a couple of games to play as a group. DrawasaurusJackbox games, and AirConsole are a few common ones we use.
  • For games that require looking at a common screen, one person will share their screen on the call.
Image for post
  • Virtual karaoke is an option that is very quick to get up and running. Simply have one person (or rotating team members) present a browser tab with a karaoke version of the song playing. The audio from the video will play through for everyone on the call.
  • While we’re sure that there are more sophisticated ways to approach karaoke, this allowed us to use tools already available without fumbling around with other technologies. I guess you can call this the MVP for virtual karaoke.
  • This is also a good opportunity to take advantage of being at home. What are some hidden talents team members would like to share with the rest of the group? Maybe your software engineer can shred a mean guitar solo.
  • Alas with families and other duties beckoning, team members dropped off little by little until we came to a full stop around 6 PM PST.

📈 Results

Team feedback

  • All team members had a great time. It neither felt overbearing nor underwhelming.
  • Team members felt comfortable enjoying the festivities whether they participated a lot or a little.
  • Everyone agreed that it helped bring the team a bit closer while we’re all social distancing. Seeing team members that they don’t normally interact with as much on a daily basis was extremely valuable.

Technology

  • The technology we chose to use for the party and its activities worked beautifully. Because we kept everything pretty low-tech, we did not run into any technical issues.

What we would do differently

  • Start planning earlier. Many professionally hosted events were booked up or required more advanced notice. Providing more time for potential shipping/delivery issues is always a plus as well.

Take time to celebrate your team and company successes

2020 has been a tough year. While we all look towards coming together in person again soon, don’t miss the chance now creatively find opportunities to invest in happiness for the entire team.

Remote work is here to stay, even in a post-pandemic world. Virtual offsites and distanced celebrations will continue being something to consider going forward. Set you and your entire organization up for success by exploring ways to engage with team members virtually.

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