In many ways, 2020 has been a year unlike any other—and that’s true at work as well. Whether your team is back in the office with safety measures in place or still fully remote and juggling childcare and virtual learning, COVID-19 has put a strain on our schedules, our budgets, and frankly, our sanity. But that doesn’t mean a holiday office party is out of the question. In fact, it’s more essential than ever to stay connected with coworkers or celebrate the year (or at least the fact that it’s ending). You just may need to adapt to the times this year with our virtual holiday party ideas.
Ahead, we’ll discuss virtual event ideas, including online party games and icebreakers, as well as how to host a party in person with social distancing activities. Get all the dos and don’ts, from whether you should have a company holiday party (yes) to how to come in under budget and all the supplies to bring your company Christmas party ideas to life.
Adapt your company Christmas party ideas
The circumstances may call for tweaks to holiday party traditions or the introduction of new ones. Maybe you use the annual affair as an opportunity to give back to the community, or perhaps you’ll send supplies to each employee to make celebrating at home more special. No matter what you decide to do, it’s important to acknowledge that team members may be affected by the pandemic in very real and different ways. Be cognizant of when and how you host and give some grace to those who can’t participate.
Virtual holiday party themes
“Baby’s Breath” holiday cocktail party invitation by Oscar de la Renta; “We’ll have another” holiday cocktail party by Paperless Post.
If your office is remote, gathering online for a virtual holiday party might make the most sense. To prevent it from feeling like another meeting, celebrate with activity-based party ideas you might not consider in a normal year when dinner or cocktail parties are standard. As an inclusive holiday party idea for remote workers (or shy or dry) employees, you might even consider virtual office team-building parties more often. No matter what invitation you choose, any design can work for a virtual holiday party. Just add a link to your Zoom call or meeting the event’s location field.
Toast the team. Keep it simple and raise a glass to highlight the bright spots or company wins during this hard time. Give department heads a prompt if you want them to prepare a word in advance, too.
Take an online class. If you’re a small company, it could be fun to stream a class together and learn a new skill, whether wreath-making or cooking. Lots of local chefs and shop owners are offering sessions as a supplement to their brick-and-mortar businesses.
Have an Ugly Sweater contest. One of the benefits of remote work is that you don’t have to get out of your sweats. Take it one step further with a secular spin on the ever-popular “Ugly Christmas Sweater” party. Hand out awards for the best looks, like Most Original Sweater, Best Team Sweaters, Best DIY, and Tackiest Sweater.
Focus on wellness. Skip the drinks and focus on wellness and self-care instead: Do a group mediation or, if you’re a close-knit team, a yoga or pilates class. Gift a membership to a streaming service or wellness app to help keep it going into the new year.
Stream a holiday movie. Hype up the event with the best holiday movie bracket to determine a film you watch together. We’ll leave it up to you whether you think Die Hard is a holiday movie or not.
Organize a recipe exchange. With people cooking at home more than ever, our go-to dishes might be getting a bit boring. Mix it up by trading recipes with your coworkers as a fun way to share cultural holiday cuisine.
Escape the room—virtually. This popular team-building activity has gone virtual. IRL rooms are now streaming with live game hosts (see Puzzle Break and Mystery Escape Room), but you can also explore cities, do online scavenger hunts, solve mysteries, and more.
It’s in the mail: virtual holiday party supplies
Many of us look forward to office holiday parties as a break from the minutiae of the typical workday. That’s a little harder to do when everyone is at home, but it’s still possible to switch up the scenery a bit. Make your virtual holiday party ideas more fun—and cohesive—by sending out supplies in advance.
The extra thought and preparation ahead of time will shine through and make your coworkers feel appreciated. Even if you’re hosting a virtual holiday party that doesn’t involve an activity, an unexpected holiday package can set the tone: Think holiday accessories for a virtual team photo, a coffee mug and hot chocolate for a cozy winter treat, or a party recovery kit for the day after.
Virtual white elephant gift swap
A gift exchange is an exciting change of pace, but it’s best not to burden anyone financially right now. Give each employee a $10 gift card and the mailing address of who they are buying to send gifts directly to the intended recipients. You could even provide a little inspiration by setting a theme for the swap—perhaps a book or cookbook swap or desk upgrades. Then, have everyone unwrap their presents together.
Virtual wine tasting party
Chances are, your colleagues could use a drink, so why not send wine to each home office and cheers together? If you’re all local, pay your local bottle shop to deliver; otherwise, have a winery ship to the individual locations. Either way, ask them if they’ll walk everyone through a virtual tasting together—make it a blind tasting if you’re feeling competitive. Check the laws for your state around shipping alcohol.
Virtual coffee break
If team members are in multiple time zones, it can be tricky to set a time that works for everyone to gather. In this case, coffee can be a better fit than cocktails. Send a care package with baked goods for everyone to enjoy while you catch up, or send frozen cookies for reheating.
Virtual cookie-decorating party
Virtual painting party
Let your colleagues show off their artistic sides. Everyone gets a painting kit, and an instructor walks them through an interactive workshop.
Virtual holiday party games
“Spirited Script” by virtual holiday party invitation by Paperless Post; “Sky Glitter” virtual holiday cocktail party invitation by kate spade new york.
Of course, your team may be too big (or your budget too small) to send out supplies. Virtual holiday party games are a great, affordable way to keep everyone engaged and entertained.
Virtual company talent show
Your more extroverted employees will have no problem putting themselves out there and showing off their skills, whether through songs or skits. Have interested participants sign up for slots and take turns.
Virtual awards show party
Make like Moira Rose and turn the winter season into awards season by handing out silly prizes. Our design partner Cheree Berry held a “superlative celebration” to recognize her team (and make them laugh) with awards like Most Likely to Multitask in Her Sleep, Most Likely to Style Your Desk When You Aren’t Looking, and Most Likely to be a Barista in a Past Life.
If you work with a bunch of whizzes, play to their strengths with a quiz. Make your own version of Jeopardy inspired by your industry or company culture.
Virtual Family Feud
Or, do your own take on this other popular TV game show to find out how well you know each other. Team Bonding’s Virtual Survey Says can generate the questions for you or customize your own.
Holiday party charades
Miming works just as well through a computer screen. Traditional charades rules apply: Players cannot talk or type while they are acting out the prompt. Use categories like holiday movies, songs, or traditions.
Virtual office holiday party activities
Even when everyone’s physically together, office gatherings can take some time to warm up. Virtual party ideas require a little more to get everyone relaxed and social. We love these ice breaker ideas—the weirder, the better. You can encourage participation with gift cards for winners to places like go-to lunch spots or neighborhood shops.
Home scavenger hunt
Either give one prompt or put together a whole list of them, like “Raid the fridge: Everyone go grab the weirdest thing in your fridge right now. Weirdest wins.” or “Something sentimental: Pick out a meaningful item and share why it’s important to you.”
Holiday Zoom background roulette
Tell everyone at the beginning to pick a holiday-themed Zoom background (you might want to send instructions on how to upload); then, at the beginning of the call, pull a holiday-related word out of a bowl. Whoever’s background contains the word gets a prize.
Thorns and Roses
A classic at camps and conferences alike has each team member share a high and low from their year or week.
Holiday tradition, or not
For a festive twist on Two Truths and a Lie, ask each person to share a quirky family tradition. The other players must guess if the tradition is real or fake. We love that this game will reveal endearing holiday rituals. If you’d rather avoid discussing holiday traditions, interview everybody ahead of time to gather three “about me” facts; then, put the team to the test to see how well they know each other.
Virtual holiday dance party
Celebrate the end of a tough year by busting a move in your living room. Use a random song generator to play a song that everyone can get down to. Or, turn it into a karaoke party and take turns crooning the tunes.
Establish a socially distant office party game plan
If celebrating IRL, do it safely. The CDC currently recommends “keeping space between yourself and other people outside of your home.” Skip the big official office party and encourage divisions to host smaller get-togethers—outdoors if possible—so that individuals can stay the recommended 6 feet apart. Ensure you stay up to date on the guidelines and communicate them to your guests on the invitations. When everyone knows what to expect, there’s much less stress.
Socially distant holiday party activities
“Pod parties” work particularly well for those whose workplaces are back up and running, such as teachers or hospital and retail workers who already work with a close-knit, exclusive group. For larger offices, consider having each team host a smaller gathering in place of the annual company holiday party. As a bonus, these smaller celebrations can be much more budget-friendly than renting out a large party space for the whole company, so consider spending any extra budget on team member gifts.
Bundle up for socially distant holiday party activities like:
Christmas lights parade or neighborhood walk
Take advantage of all the decorations this time of year with a tour of the most festive part of town. Hand out hot ciders and stroll around as a group.
Hot chocolate and s’mores holiday party
Outdoor fire pits provide both heat and a place to roast marshmallows for the classic camp treat.
Wreath-making holiday party
Set up tables with the supplies needed to DIY this beloved decoration—wreath forms, florals, ribbons, scissors, and more. After crafting, clear off the tables for a catered lunch.
Host a holiday food truck
Holiday markets and food trucks make it easy to enjoy food and drinks al fresco. You can even pay one to come to your business’s outdoor space for a holiday luncheon. Rent or invest in patio heaters if you live in a colder climate.
Ice skating holiday party
This is one traditional activity that lends itself perfectly to pandemic times. Gaiters or scarves and mittens take the place of masks and rubber gloves.
Gift wrapping and gift certificates party
If kids, spouses, or other household members are home all day every day, it can be impossible to wrap presents in peace without spoiling the element of surprise. Give colleagues an escape and an opportunity to do just that with an outdoor wrapping party. Set out individual gift wrap stations, and send everyone home with gift certificates to finish any holiday shopping.
Office holiday party activities with social impact
When so many communities are struggling, donating your resources is a rewarding alternative to the customary company celebration. Provide an extra day off of work and encourage the team to volunteer with an organization such as a food bank, soup kitchen, or shelter. Alternatively, things like canned food drives, toy drives, or coat drives don’t take a lot of effort but can have a big social impact. You could even organize a wrapping party to get all the gifts prettily packaged before drop off. There are ways to give back virtually, too, whether you help design a website for a nonprofit or provide career guidance to young BIPOC professionals looking to enter your industry.
Virtual holiday party outfits
The dress code can be as formal or informal as you think your office mates would prefer: Either use it as an excuse to get dressed up or lean into a holiday party theme—as long as it’s inclusive. The important thing is to communicate it early (on the invitation if possible). Remember, it’s only from the waist up, so don’t stress. Think wide-leg lounging pants and a warm, festive top—the perfect mix of comfy and chic.
How to make a virtual holiday party memorable
Set the date.
Send invites in advance, and follow up with reminders leading up to the party. Use professional or business holiday invitations that communicate important information, establish a theme, and drum up excitement for the day.
In a normal year, you’re decorating the office and possibly even hosting more than one holiday event. Perhaps this year it’s best to keep it simple and stress-free: Pick one idea, and do it as well as you can within your budget. With any remaining money, invest in something generous or thoughtful for the team, like a gift or a care package.
Make it inclusive.
The goal of holiday parties is to bring people together, so be conscientious about including everyone on the team. Keep in mind that not everyone celebrates Christmas, for example, and that you may need to make adjustments to accommodate employees in different time zones.
Have an agenda.
Your colleagues are likely dealing with an increased workload and increased stress, both in their professional and personal lives, meaning time is at a premium. Make sure it’s well spent by setting an agenda for the celebration and sticking to it.
Recognize the team.
The end of the year is a fitting time to thank and acknowledge each other, particularly following a period of time that hasn’t been easy on individuals and companies. Keep it positive and inclusive, whether you give each person a fun award or note each department’s outstanding accomplishments.
Make it interactive.
This is a holiday party, not a meeting, and it shouldn’t be the CEO talking and everyone else listening (or surfing the web in silence). Break the ice, play a game, complete an activity, or alternate giving toasts. Everyone will feel more involved and more valued—and ultimately, that’s the goal.
Send holiday greeting cards instead
Whether it arrives in a mailbox or inbox, cards are still one of the best ways to connect, especially over the holidays. If a holiday party (even a virtual holiday party) is too difficult to arrange this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, consider replacing the annual affair with season’s greetings and a promise to celebrate in 2021.
“Golden Snow” small business greeting card by Paperless Post; “Winter Horizon” professional greeting card by Paperless Post.
Write personal notes.
Thoughtful cards with personalized notes to each employee will go a long way in making people feel appreciated. Even better, use it to acknowledge a donation that you made in their names, or a gift card or bonus on the way.
Encourage holiday card exchanges.
For a less involved (and less expensive) version of a gift exchange, coordinate an exchange of greeting cards, either by email or snail mail. Set a small budget, or give gift cards, so that team members don’t have to use their own money. Share a list of addresses for anyone who might want to participate.
Send client holiday greetings.
If your ‘Before Times’ go-to holiday party looked more like a series of client dinners, consider gathering to sign cards for clients over socially distant wine and cheese platters.
You got this! While your virtual holiday party ideas may look little different this year your team will appreciate a thoughtful toast to their hard work and the new year ahead. Get started with virtual business holiday invitations, or holiday luncheon invitations, for more intimate team gatherings.