2020 Alternatives to In-Person Holiday Parties

If your staff can’t meet in person to celebrate the 2020 holiday season, don’t let that stop you from celebrating together and doing something as a team.

man with laptop holidays
Set an optimistic tone for 2021 with tokens of appreciation and fun and meaningful activities

In 2020, perhaps more than ever, celebrating the holiday season at work is important. Learn about alternatives to traditional in-person work holiday parties this year, plus how 3 small business owners are transforming their traditions.

Sierra Dietz in Rockland, Maine

During the holidays, Sierra Dietz — owner of the Grasshopper Shop of Rockland in Maine — typically thanks and celebrates her staff by hosting a holiday dinner catered by a local restaurant at her assistant manager’s home.

This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, Dietz has decided not to hold the dinner. But she still wants to recognize and celebrate her staff. “We don’t feel like we can have an in-person gathering like that,” she said. Many business owners agree, especially as the United States heads into the fall months with COVID-19 cases climbing across much of the country. Instead, Dietz will give each employee a gift certificate to a local restaurant.

“They can choose to dine in or get takeout,” she said. “This way, I’m still lending support to our restaurant community as well.”

Josh Senior in Brooklyn, New York

Josh Senior, founder and CEO of Brooklyn-based video-first creative agency LEROI NYC, is also forgoing the company dinner at a local restaurant he usually sets up for the holidays. Instead, Senior plans to set aside an hour during the workday in November — before it gets too cold in New York — for employees to meet up in a local park for a physically distanced get together. He’ll buy prepackaged, individually wrapped food and possibly gift employees company swag, such as LEROI-branded sweatpants.

Jasmine Sung in Houston, Texas

Dr. Jasmine Sung, who owns a family dental practice in Houston, is considering sending her employees and their family high-end steak meals delivered by a service like DoorDash. Another idea she’s mulling over is to gift each employee a mini shopping spree at a local mall, up to a certain dollar limit.

Celebrate virtually

Director of Collaboration Superpowers and remote work expert Lisette Sutherland says more and more companies are looking for creative holiday celebration ideas this year in light of the pandemic. Over the last 2 weeks on her website, there has been an increase in the number of companies searching for virtual company party alternatives.

“Clearly, what we’re seeing is that it’s not safe to go back to the office in many places around the world,” she said. “So, people are trying to figure out how to have some sort of celebration with their teams virtually. People are going to go virtual. It’s really the only option this year.”

“people are trying to figure out how to have some sort of celebration with their teams virtually. People are going to go virtual. It’s really the only option this year.”

A great way to kick off a virtual holiday party is with an icebreaker, said Sutherland. Ask each employee to talk about the story of their name or show any picture from their life and tell the anecdote behind it. Games could include:

  • A speed typing contest
  • Virtual quizzes
  • Online treasure hunts
  • Pictionary: Use a virtual whiteboard tool like Jamboard or Mural to draw the pictures and The Game Gal to generate words

Meet up in a virtual office space 

Sites like Sococo recreate a physical office space virtually. “There are a lot of people who are moving their holiday party into this type of format,” said Sutherland. “It gives you a sense of presence.” Employees can move around from room to room and talk to different people as if you’re actually at an in-person party.

Have food delivered 

While some companies are arranging festive meal deliveries to employees, you could also make a whole day of it. Arrange for a local coffee shop to deliver coffee and pastries to your employee and their family in the morning, then arrange for lunch deliveries to team members in the afternoon and hold a virtual holiday luncheon. Encourage staff members to dress up in festive holiday clothes for the celebration.

Send a custom gift

“A lot of what I’m hearing from business owners is, ‘we’re trying to figure out something else special and different this year, because we can’t do what we usually do.”

On sites like Knack and Boxfox, it’s simple to create custom holiday care packages. Or maybe you order unique gifts for your employees from a local business. JC Woods is the owner of Houston’s Anvil Cards, which sells custom, Texas-themed greetings cards among other items. Woods has had several businesses contact him in the last few weeks to make custom items for their employees this year. Hes is designing 2021 calendars, personalized stationery sets, and notebooks. “A lot of what I’m hearing from business owners is, ‘we’re trying to figure out something else special and different this year, because we can’t do what we usually do,’” he said.

Set up a virtual dance party 

Make a holiday playlist on a site like Spotify and ask employees to dress up for an online dance session. Maybe staff wear ugly holiday sweaters or funny hats. To help remote employees feel connected, The Zapier team has picked a popular song from Spotify and asked staff to make a 5 second video of themselves dancing using Apple’s Photo Booth. The team then uploaded files to Giphy, created GIFs, and then combined those GIFs into a dance montage posted in the company-wide Slack channel.

Encourage employees to decorate 

To make the holiday season feel a little more festive, have employees working remotely decorate their desk or workspace. You might even purchase and send each employee a few holiday decorations — some lights or strings of snowflakes — that they can put up at home to enliven their space.

Organize virtual volunteering 

Set aside a few hours or half a workday for your employees to volunteer virtually. Put together a list of meaningful potential projects and let employees pick one to do together. Or, let each employee choose their own project. Then, afterwards, have the entire team come together online to talk about the experience. Opportunities are endless. Unique projects include helping low-vision individuals during video calls through Be My Eyes, and aiding conservation efforts by tagging animals in videos and images with ZSL Instant Wild.

Sutherland said that exactly what you decide to do this year as an alternative to an in-person company holiday party doesn’t matter. Just do something. Marking the holiday season together as a team will help lift morale and set a positive tone for 2021.

“Given the pandemic and stress and isolation everyone’s feeling, this is a year when it’s especially important to reach out to each other,” she said. “Holiday parties are a great excuse to get together and do something as a team. Recognize accomplishments and celebrate that we’ve gotten through the year.”

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