Everyone seems to be talking about virtual Christmas parties at the moment.
I have to be honest, I can’t think of anything worse than a sad virtual Teams call where we’re all sat at home with our Christmas jumpers, or in a sparkly top and pyjama bottoms, pulling a cracker by ourselves and having company mandated FUN.
However, bringing people together is important, and having fun together is (for PowerON, at least) one of the crucial elements that holds our culture together. I don’t claim to know all of the answers but here are a few ideas that we’ve tried which have worked pretty well.
But please – don’t use this as the recipe for your Christmas party!
Plan, plan, plan
Firstly – throw out any standard formats you have for your large group meetings. That’s it, shred them, and smush them right down into the recycling. You might be able to get away with a presentation-heavy agenda, and some ad hoc discussions, in person (though I’d argue that it’s not the best way to do it!), but online you will lose most of your audience’s focus within about 20 minutes.
Think about how you’re going to make your sessions engaging. What tools do you have for interactive discussion? We’ve used breakout rooms, the chat window, Microsoft Whiteboard, Forms to submit quiz answers – there are tons of tools out there. Try and change the format around so you ask questions and get answers in different ways.
Also really think about your scheduling. We used to do a 9am-2pm meeting followed by team building in our company meetings; online, people need variety, and content in short, sharp sessions. And coffee breaks. Definitely coffee breaks.
Our face-to-face company days have always been heavily information focused. In lockdown we’ve focused much more on recognition and well-being first, and communicating information very much as a secondary goal.
We have had two whole company meetings online since March. In the first, we collated a piece of positive feedback about every single employee, linked them into our values, and had 5 minutes to focus on achievements where every person had something to feel good about. Our post-lunch icebreaker was a desk yoga session, using a YouTube video.
In the most recent October meeting, we had our annual awards (complete with photoshopping the heads of award winners onto famous images of people celebrating…that might just be a PowerON thing!) and had an external facilitator from Laughology to run a session around growth mindset, and flipping your thought patterns to positive. These all got pretty good engagement and got people talking.
We like to start the fun early by sending out a package to our employees. The first time, we sent some chocolate from a local chocolatier, which proved that the way to PowerON’s heart is definitely through our tastebuds. The second, we got a bit more adventurous with a couple of PowerON gifts, some chocolate (of course!), a badge to tell people which team they’d be in for team building, and their individual PowerON Bingo card and rules. This gave the event a bit of a build up – people enjoyed receiving their parcels and got the idea that they could expect to enjoy the day!
On the day, we did our best to intersperse “serious” content with fun. Over the two sessions, this has involved quizzes, Guess Who played using the new Together view in Teams (cue much diving off screen), and of course PowerON Bingo – typical PowerON buzzwords for people to listen out for during the day, and to shout BINGO no matter what was going on. We also did an online escape room where our teams competed against each other and people enjoyed that.
Obviously you have to tailor your fun to your culture. We laughed a lot. Some people (er…me) had to go off camera for a few minutes to compose themselves. Not all businesses can (or want to!) operate like that!
We did spend some money on the event, but nowhere near as much as if we had paid for travel, hotels, and a night out, and the little extras made a big difference to people. The real work is in the planning and creativity – every element had to be considered and brought together. But it is absolutely worth it – the effort demonstrates to employees that they are important, and that they’re still part of the PowerON community even though we can’t get together in person right now, and employee feedback suggested that the event achieved our team building goals, whilst still lacking the fun of getting together in person!
So those are our ideas. We have the next one to think about so any ideas that have worked for you…please let me know!