Learn how to plan a virtual Christmas party for your employees.
Do to COVID-19 restrictions, regular events are more difficult to plan for the foreseeable future. But that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate.
In the following sections, we’re going to break down everything you need to know to plan a great virtual Christmas party.
Let’s get started.
A “regular” Christmas party is a single event that usually lasts 4 hours or more. You might start with some food and drinks, followed by some entertainment, then speeches before wrapping up the evening with music.
Virtual events are different. Instead of having one main event, organisers often plan multiple small pods for people to join in. For example:
- Activity pods
- Team/department pods
Think of it as a mini-convention rather than a single event.
Planning one is easier than it sounds but it does require the same amount of care and attention to detail as planning a regular event.
Choosing a date and time
While the location is no longer an issue, the date and time still are worth thinking about.
Generally, the best time for hosting an in-person company event is in the evenings or during the weekends. This isn’t necessarily true for virtual events.
There are a lot of factors you need to consider. Here are a few to get you started:
- Do employees get time off for the event? For example an afternoon off.
- Is there anything major on? The Oscars, a GAA match, the first annual Christmas screening of Die Hard…
- Does the event overlap with family time/tasks? For example, picking up the kids from school. Remember, your employees are unlikely to book a babysitter for a virtual event.
- Are you planning the event for just your employees or their families as a whole?
- Is it a busy time of year for any department in particular? For example, mid-December your sales team might be extremely busy while your other teams are already in “wrap-up” mode.
Pro-tip: As a rule of thumb, we recommend blocking off a Friday afternoon in December. The event is less likely to conflict with any other plans and it allows you to space out your different Zoom activities.
Setting up the tech
Most likely, your company already has all the tech needed to host a virtual Christmas party. All you need is a professional Zoom membership, good internet, decent microphones and Webcams.
You can run your entire virtual event on Zoom (or equivalent software). However, using a free version of zoom will not work. Group calls are limited to 40 minutes which is generally too short, so you’ll probably need a business account.
These currently start at €190 a month for 10 hosts (i.e admin users). At that price you get:
- 10 concurrent meetings (+ breakout rooms)
- Each meeting supports up to 300 participants.
If you need more users, you can add additional users/hosts. You can see all the prices on the Zoom website.
At first glance, it may sound expensive. However, if you compare that to the price of renting a venue and providing drinks etc., it’s a relatively small outlay.
Business accounts are billed monthly which means you can cancel at the end of the month if you don’t need Zoom (or that particular package) any more.
Note: Small companies might get away with using a pro account. These start at €14 per user and are limited to 100 participants.
To improve the quality of your content, you can pre-record some of it and stream it through Zoom. It sounds safer but be aware that there is a trade-off, as pre-recorded content may not be as engaging.
If your employees are “just” watching a video, they won’t get the feeling of being at a live event. That doesn’t mean you need to stay away from it entirely but you want to find the right balance between pre-recorded and live.
Determining the pods
When planning the pods, remember that this virtual event is replacing a party and not a business meeting, so every step of the way, plan for fun.
Remember: Engagement is king. People don’t want to sit through an hour of doing nothing. It’s not a movie, it’s a party.
The size of a pod will depend on how interactive it is. The more interactive the pod, the smaller the groups.
For example, if you have a digital card game pod, you’re going to want to set the max capacity of the pod to 6 people (or however many can play simultaneously).
The good news is that it’s very easy to create a new pod on the spot. If the pod is full and people are still interested in joining, create a new breakout room and add it to the calendar.
How many pods do you need?
The total number of pods you need will depend on your expected attendance.
For example, if you expect to have 80 people at the event, then you might want to plan 5 pods of 10 people that are repeated twice and one “main pod” where everyone is invited (for example the CEO speech).
Don’t overthink it. Just make sure you have enough space so that everyone gets to do something.
Keep each pod activity fairly short. The ideal length will depend on the nature of the activity. But as a rule of thumb, keep everything under an hour.
If it lasts just 10 minutes but, they are 10 great minutes, then that’s perfect. Don’t make the pods longer than they need to be. As people are sitting behind screens, the level of engagement just isn’t the same.
When it comes to entertainment over Zoom, the possibilities are endless. Consider your audience and what they are likely to enjoy. Then plan accordingly.
Here are a few examples to get you started:
- Speeches: the CEO or manager might want to make a speech to cap off that year’s hard work.
- Digital Santa: you can book Santa to call in over Zoom (this is especially relevant for the kids of your employees but it can be fun for adults too!).
- Magic shows: you can book a magician to perform a show online to baffle and amaze your employees. It’s fun, different and original.
- Music bingo: You can play a game of music bingo online. It’s a fun and interactive game that’s easy to play. Or book a professional entertainer to host it
- Pub Quiz: Similarly, you can host a pub quiz on Zoom. Just make sure that your questions can’t be answered by Google. One option is to have company-related questions such as: ‘How many interns do we currently have?’
- Video games: as everyone is behind their laptop/tablet, playing a video game is an easy option. Just make sure you choose one that is suitable and easy to learn.
- Workshops: plan a virtual workshop for the guests to learn a new skill. This can be work-related but doesn’t have to be. For example, a cooking workshop.
For some more ideas, check out our dedicated article on corporate Zoom entertainment ideas.
Choosing the speakers
Once you have established your pods, you need to establish the speakers. They’ll be in charge of conducting the pod activity.
In some cases, it’s obvious. For example, speeches will naturally be done by senior managers. Similarly, if you’re hiring external entertainers, they’ll take care of their pod.
You only need to take care of the pods that don’t have a natural/default speaker.
For advice on Zoom entertainment, you can check out our guide to hosting zoom shows. It’s for entertainers but a lot of the advice applies here too.
Pro tip: to make their pod run smoothly, they’re going to want to be extremely familiar with Zoom.
Creating a calendar
The purpose of the event calendar is two-fold. Firstly, it tells your employees when different events start and secondly it acts as a map for your employees to hop between different group sessions.
Setting up a calendar
We recommend using a popular calendar tool such as Google calendar or Outlook (i.e just stick with what your company usually uses). They can then be shared internally.
Don’t print out the schedule. It sounds tempting, as it adds a physical element to the event. However, the reality is that things are going to change up until the event and even during the event.
Using a digital calendar, allows you to set up new calls & breakout rooms (i.e pods) on the fly when you need them.
That way if a pod is a lot more popular than anticipated, you can adjust accordingly.
Pro-tip: If you ask your employees to confirm attendance on the calendar, it will give you an estimate of how many people are going to attend each pod.
The benefit of planning a virtual Christmas party is that you don’t have to have all of the pods on at the same time. Instead, you can spread them out throughout the entire event.
Two common approaches are:
Ad hoc participation
Simply list all the pods ahead of time and let people join in as they please. This is the simplest option.
Create different teams and groups, and have them rotate through the different pods. The benefit is that everyone gets to try out everything. The downside is that it does require some additional planning.
Don’t leave too much downtime between pods. 10 to 15 minutes max. It increases the chances of people dropping out.
Instead, cover up your downtime by setting up some breakout rooms for casual chats. It’s a key component of parties, virtual or otherwise.
Zoom is very easy to use. However, some people are still going to need help. For that reason, we recommend that you have a virtual helpdesk.
This might just be a dedicated ‘Slack channel’ or email that people can contact to get their question answered.
For small events, you can probably get away with just the organisers replying to these queries. However, for larger events, you’re going to want a dedicated person (or more).
Adding some physical elements
To make the event more tangible, you may like to add some physical elements to it. We’ve listed a few ideas you can consider below.
For every activity that has a winner, why not hand out, or rather send out, physical prizes. It’s a great way to make the event feel more real and memorable.
Instead of paying for catering as you would normally do, why not send out food vouchers to all your employees instead. It will make their day!
Care packages/gift boxes
The equivalent of a goodie bag for adults… Send out care packages to all your employees filled with goodies for the festive season.
If your pods require your employees to get their hands dirty, for example by following along with the pod presenter in a DIY activity, it will make them feel more in the moment.
Sending out invitations
You want to make the invitations feel as personal and fun as possible. For that reason, we recommend that you don’t use the built-in Zoom system.
It’s designed for business meetings, not parties.
Instead, we recommend that you create a custom email/invitation, either digital or print.
The easiest way to do this is to use an email marketing tool. For example Mailchimp.
Basic information to include:
- Calendar link
- Start time
- End time
- What’s required for the show
Pro-tip: some corporate servers block Mailchimp by default. If you face that problem, send the invitation to yourself and then re-send from your inbox.
To add a physical element to your virtual party, you might want to print and mail out the invitations. It’s a bit more expensive, but it makes the event feel a lot more personal. This might help increase attendance.
You’ll want to include the same basic information shown above.
Hopefully, this article has given you some ideas for your virtual Christmas party.
For some more general corporate Christmas party planning ideas, check out our dedicated article on the topic.
At PartyWizz, we specialise in providing corporate entertainment. Both in-person and digital. If you’re based in Ireland or the UK and you’re looking for corporate entertainment, feel free to get in touch.