Office life has been tough this year and maintaining a stress free work environment has never been harder. With some offices opening up again, some staying closed, some choosing hybrid work... which I think means working from the back of an electric car? Anyway, with all of this going on, you may not have even seen your colleagues in non-pixelated form since March…wait, did it ever stop being March? What month is it again? Well, out of nowhere it’s rapidly approaching December, and normally that means a good old office Christmas party where you all get dressed up and learn what your colleagues are like when they’ve had a few too many Proseccos. But this year, on top of everything else, that’s probably cancelled too...
BUT it doesn’t have to be.
There are many ways you can make sure you and your team can still safely have a fun Christmas celebration, even if it’s from your own homes. Below are a few handy hints on how to make your online party as memorable as the time the boss danced on a table to Shakira.
Have Structured Activities
Everyone knows Zoom parties can feel a little awkward. One of the worst things about them is once you’re on camera, staring at 50 of your colleagues who are awkwardly trying to be festive...what do you actually do? At real-life office parties, we naturally find activities, we graze at the buffet table, pull crackers, grill Janet from HR about her crush on Nigel. At a Zoom party, it’s just you, your camera and your colleagues. About 5 minutes in, nobody knows what to do with themselves.
So a Zoom party will need far more structured activities than your usual office party. There are plenty of easy DIY options that you can work remotely. If your office usually does a secret Santa, perhaps you could arrange for gifts to be posted beforehand and opened together over Zoom. Something simple like a raffle, where everyone gets sent a virtual ticket number beforehand and one person pulls numbers out of a hat and sends a prize to one lucky colleague can be easy to pull off and feel very festive.
If you want to skip the prep, there are also a number of companies who host online games, quizzes and all sorts of other activities that are perfect for these situations. In Agent Venture you and your colleagues can pull off a live, audio lead heist from your separate homes, all you need is Zoom and a couple of google office apps that you probably already use at work. In Spectacular Pub Quizzes, you can have a classic, ready-prepared pub quiz and support charity Child.org at the same time. With Boozy Events, you and your colleagues are sent ingredients and guided on how to make your own cocktails by a professional mixologist over Zoom. There are plenty of activities to choose from, whether DIY or externally sourced, and depending on the length of your party, it may even be worth lining up more than one.
Keep the Technology Simple
In the confusion of adapting to online office gatherings, you definitely don’t want to upset any technophobes, or add a load of difficult prep for your colleagues to do. Nobody wants to have to do an hour of work before their fun, or download needlessly complex software. You want it all to be easily set up on the day with no more than 5 minutes prep time. You also don’t want anyone to be prohibited from taking part because they don’t have the latest version of IOS.
The good thing about using Zoom for these virtual gatherings is that if your colleagues can access the internet, they should have no trouble using it. Another good alternative is Google Meets, which is much like Zoom, but has a handy auto-caption feature, worth knowing about if anyone in the office is hard of hearing, or simply has trouble playing sound on their device.
There are also many ready-made events that will use Zoom as a base, with very little other software to worry about .With a lot of tailored online events, the tech is kept very simple. If you do one of Laithewaite’s virtual wine tastings, all you have to worry about is receiving a package of wine, popping onto a Zoom call and your guide is right there, ready to run your event. In Die Another Dame by Play Dead London, you log onto an immersive, Christmas-themed murder mystery through Zoom, and can have up to 2 people per device playing detective.
Split into Small Groups
One of the main reasons for the weirdness of Zoom parties is the lack of mingling. When we’re able to move freely around and physically chat, conversations can naturally end and we can move on to talk to other people as and when we feel comfortable. If you have 50 co-workers on a Zoom call, things quickly descend into a lot of people trying to talk at once, or 50 not-quite tipsy-enough people awkwardly staring at each other in silence. Not exactly the party atmosphere.
One way to avoid this is to split up into smaller groups. You can pick teams with the intention of hanging out with those colleagues you’re closest to, or talking to the people in the office you wish you could spend more time with. Hell, maybe you’ll even manage to get Janet and Nigel to finally spend some quality time together. A very simple way to do this, is to organise several Zoom rooms to run at once, that people can pop in and out of as they please, making online mingling a little easier. Labelling the rooms for specific purposes or conversation topics can be helpful.
In Agent Venture, with a big office party, there’s the option to have a short intro for the whole office, and then you spilt off into smaller groups of 4-5, with a special secret agent role for each person so you all get your chance to shine. In Moniker Partner’s ‘A Very Merry Mystery’ the entire office interact with the characters in a festive murder mystery tale, before splitting off into groups of 8-10 to try and solve the whodunnit in real time.
Ok so you’ve got your activities, you’ve split into small groups...but doesn’t everything feel a bit tame? A problem in the digital party world is that with everything so heavily planned the organic ‘party’ vibe that you get generally can feel a little hemmed in. The spark and fun you get with a large gathering can be missing.
But the spark can definitely be brought back with a little healthy competition. Easy to forget the weirdness of Zoom calls when you’re busy trying to beat the clock, or best your colleagues in a battle of wits! Everyone loves a chance to show off! A lot of board games are offering options for groups to play online during lockdown. If one of your group has an articulate board lurking at the back of a wardrobe, they have a system where everyone at the table can access the cards online whilst one player keeps track on the physical board of which team is in the lead! Quizzes can also be great fun and very competitive. A good way to pull off a successful office quiz is to have everyone in the office come up with a few questions and host their own ‘round’ and have everyone compete individually to see who scores the highest!
There are also a number of ready-made events you can book that create a competitive atmosphere. In team Tactic’s at home Scavenger hunt, you’ll have to run around and grab items from your house, and hope your team can beat the rest. In Agent Venture the small teams battle against the clock to save a secret agent from a terrible fate, and their Deluxe package comes with an office leaderboard complete with photos of each team to foster a competitive camaraderie and provide an office keepsake to remember who were the best secret agents that time you all did a heist! If you’re feeling extra festive, spy themed dress is encouraged!
Dress up/Have a Theme
Something that can be missing from festive Zoom gathering is well...festivity. It’s difficult to really feel the Christmas spirit when instead of being dressed up to the nines at a nicely decorated pub, you’re at home and wearing your Sonic The Hedgehog pajamas, hoping no-one will notice over your not-very-good webcam. Everyone loves getting dressed up in non-office clothing and taking silly, glittery pictures together in their ugliest Christmas jumpers!
This doesn’t have to be absent at Zoom parties however. There’s no reason fancy dress and silly photos can’t happen from home. If your office is into fancy dress, why not still have a theme and give a prize for the best dressed, or give small teams varying themes and pick a winning group? If your team chooses to go the charitable route and hold a virtual fundraiser, the fundraising kit from Crisis comes with a selfie frame, as well as some cool activities. You could even hold your party on Christmas Jumper Day 2021 (the 10th of December) and suggest that all your colleagues chip in £2 to ‘Save the Children’ to make Christmas extra special, whilst giving you all an excuse to get your silliest knitwear out.
Hopefully with all these tips and tricks, you’ll be able to have the online office party of your dreams, and get through this strange year with moral (and festivities) intact! Maybe when we’re able to go back to ordinary parties you’ll all miss being able to fall into bed straight away, no Uber necessary!
By Ellie Sparrow