How to inspire holiday cheer remotely

Another holiday season without a Christmas party? Not necessarily. These businesses have conjured clever ideas for remote celebration.

Holiday parties, home baked goodies at the coffee bar, and cubicles decked with boughs of holly are a few of the workplace amenities that make it fun to go to the office at this time of year. Sadly, most of us will be celebrating remotely again.

We’ve have had a lot of time to learn how to make the distributed workplace more human, though, so I turned to my network on Qwoted to see what businesses are doing to put a spring in the step of their pandemic-weary colleagues. Perhaps you’ll get some ideas from their responses.

Most respondents held holiday-themed events. On-demand staffing platform Wonolo partnered with virtual reality firm Remio to send Oculus goggles to its 300 employees for a company-wide virtual dance party. It’s also fielding a scavenger hunt to help its many new employees “put a name with a face and bond over a shared activity,” said Rachel Kim, vice president of employee experience. The company’s virtual holiday party will include crafting, secret Santa, and gifts for everyone from their employer.

Software development automation firm Bitrise extended festivities to employees’ families with virtual Santa visits. “The kids love it,” said Rik Haandrikman, vice president of growth.

Global theme

Articulate, which makes courseware authoring tools, has been fully remote since 2002. This year, it used the virtual events platform Weve to offer a variety of holiday parties themed for different parts of the world. Executives got a budget to pick out one gift to give everyone (such as pralines from New Orleans) and packaged them together as a sampler.

Just in time for the holidays comes a new product from venerable greeting card maker Hallmark. Its Video Greeting Cards allow people to record short video messages that the service auto-stitches together into a multimedia greeting accessible from a QR link on the card.

Kansas City, Missouri-based VideoFizz was the lucky company Hallmark picked for the back-end technology. “It’s a dream come true for me because I created this technology to connect families,” said CEO Laura Steward. “And Hallmark has the best artists in the world.” Steward said some greeting compilations stretch for an hour or more, which isn’t a bad deal for $5.99.

Automated messaging technology firm Evive is holding a trivia event via Zoom, with the winning team receiving $1,000 to donate to a cause of their choice. Teams were intentionally made up of people from different departments to encourage interaction. Allego used its own sales enablement platform for a holiday sing-along that anyone could join.

Tips from a veteran

Virtual events provider Teambuilding.com has run thousands of virtual holiday parties, and CEO Michael Alexis offered some tips. Don’t try to emulate physical events too closely, he said. “You need to provide more structured games and activities,” he said. Start with icebreaker questions about things like people's first Christmas memory or favorite holiday movie (see an exhaustive list here). Search Google for "holiday trivia questions" and host a contest.

“Secret Santa adapts quite well” to a virtual format, Alexis said. Give employees a budget to buy something for each other and then use the company’s return address to keep the source of the package anonymous. You can also host a holiday bingo party with themed clues like "still believes in Santa" or "has regifted a present" instead of numbers. Here are 21 more ideas from Teambuilding.com.

Financial management software giant Quicken recently planned a two-day virtual offsite to a resort in the Amalfi Coast, a destination that was selected by employees. “Employees each got gift boxes delivered to their home with trinkets and snacks specific to the Amalfi Coast and were able to virtually gather in a tourist destination through a shared meeting space,” said Chief Marketing Officer Linda Itskovitz.

Loom asked employees to use its platform to record short videos about something they're grateful for. One man shared his gratitude for his family and then surprised his son with the gift of a Playstation 5 right on camera. “Encouraging our team to share a bit about themselves — whether work-related or not — builds affinity across time zones and teams,” said CEO Joe Thomas.

Calendly, which makes a platform for scheduling meetings, hosted a virtual potluck and recipe exchange just before Thanksgiving with recipes submitted by employees compiled into an e-book. At a virtual holiday mixology class early this month, people learned to make two holiday drinks from an expert bartender and sipped their creations in a virtual cocktail party, said Julia Betts, head of employee engagement. Owl Labs took a similar approach with virtual wreath-making classes and charcuterie board classes, as well as a Biscotti-making session taught by an Italian chef.

If you’re considering a virtual holiday event this year, Sammy Courtright has some advice. The co-founder and chief brand officer of workforce engagement platform Ten Spot recommends limiting any one activity to less than an hour. “That not only boosts engagement but keeps Zoom fatigue to a minimum,” she said.

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