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5 steps to throw a great virtual holiday party

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Virtual holiday – what? That sounds ridiculous.

I know – that’s what is going through your head right now. And trust me – that went through my head before throwing our first one years ago. But believe it or not – it actually works – and is a great way to build culture and connection within your remote team.

And even if some team members don’t celebrate Christmas – certainly still include them. In our holiday party this year – we had team members attend from the following countries: US, Canada, Bulgaria, Romania, India, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Poland, Spain, Russia, Nigeria, Mexico, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, UK, Ukraine, Austria, Armenia, Turkey and Egypt.

Here are 5 steps to throw a great virtual holiday party:

Step 1: Use a virtual world and create a ‘holiday floor’

The first key to throwing a remote party is to make it ‘feel’ like an in-person event. Virtual worlds work great for this purpose – since the skeuomorphic depiction of a space tricks the brain to thinking people are in the same physical room. We use Sococo and it works great.

If you already use a virtual world – create a new floor specifically for the holiday party. To make the floor festive – name each of the rooms something fun and related to the holiday you’re celebrating. In our case – it was Christmas.

Step 2: Setup a themed scavenger hunt

To get everyone in the holiday spirit, make a themed scavenger hunt and open up the holiday floor about a week prior to your event.

To start the scavenger hunt – designate 1 room as the starting point with instructions and a clue. From there – the team members will need to decipher the clue to figure out which room to go to next.

As they jump from room to room – they discover various factoids about Christmas – as well as clues to find the next room to jump in. Factoids can be linked directly in Sococo through hyperlinks in each room. The hyperlinks can be to a website, blog, video, etc. Get creative!

You can embed various questionnaires (we used Google Forms) in the rooms and reuse the information at the actual event itself.

You can also create little puzzles for them to play (this one was obviously a bit easy) – which then becomes a clue to the next room.

And for the final room and conclusion of the scavenger hunt – embed a quick video from your CEO thanking the team for all their hard work this year – as well as encouraging them to attend the holiday party.

It was really great to see various team members work together to solve the hunt and make their way around the virtual holiday floor. It really got the team excited for the party itself.

Step 3: Throw the party

For remote teams that are scattered around the world – it’s always hard to pick a time that works perfectly for everyone. But since this is an event where you want folks to be synchronously engaged – try to pick one that can maximize the attendees. This year – we had team members from 12 different time zones across 5 continents.

And for people that can’t make it – be sure to record the party. Believe it or not – we always have folks watch the party and have fun even weeks later.

One good touch for the event is to ask people to come in holiday attire. Having folks dress up really adds to the comradery and spirit. This holiday attire can be representative of their local traditions or be part of the games you play (more on this in the next section).

Step 4: Play games over video

I wouldn’t have believed this prior to doing them – but there are a ton of fun games you can play over video! Here are some of the games that we’ve played:

Ugly sweater contest: Have folks dress in their ugliest holiday sweater and everyone votes on the winner.

Best holiday hat contest: Have people wear a themed hat and vote on the winner.

Best holiday background contest: Have people decorate their home office and everyone votes on the best setup.

Other games you can play over video:

  • Charades: Use an online charades word picker and have 1 person act out the charade on camera. Everyone participates and guesses – tons of fun remote.
  • White elephant/Secret Santa: Prior to the party – assign Secret Santa and do a gift reveal on camera. The gifts may take a while to ship to the folks – but tons of fun also.
  • Jeopardy: Setup a remote Jeopardy board (choose from any of them online) and split up into teams. Compete with either themed questions and/or questions related to your company.

Step 5: Ask team members to describe their holiday traditions

The best part of a virtual holiday party with your remote team is learning about their personal & country’s traditions. This is a great way for various team members to get to know one another on a personal basis and open up trust/communication.

In this year’s party – I learned:

  • Romania has a tradition of ‘pig roasting’ on Dec 20th where the kids ‘sit’ on the roasted pig
  • Bulgaria sets out odd number of plates and only serves vegan food for Christmas
  • Nigerian kids do ‘banga’ (fireworks) and eat a ton of meat on Christmas
  • Newfoundland kids do ‘mummering’ – where they dress up in ghost-like costumes and go house to house and perform for food/snacks – and the hosts have to guess the mummers’ identities
  • Russians go to a banya (bathhouses) where they alternate between hot saunas and ice-cold baths. They also have people ‘beat’ you with bunches of dried branches while in the sauna.

Conclusion

Trust me – I was a virtual holiday party skeptic too. But after experiencing them – I couldn’t recommend them more. With 1 simple hour and some creativity – you can enhance your remote team’s sense of connection, understanding and trust.

There are so many holidays and traditions around the world – take advantage of them to build your team’s culture.

I hope some of these tips helped. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions. Would love to hear about your virtual holiday party! You can reach me on Twitter – @andytryba

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Andy Tryba
Andy is a technology optimist and the founder & CEO of Think3, Founder & CEO of Crossover, co-founder & CEO of RideAustin and the CEO of a variety of technology companies including Engine Yard, DNN Corp, Kayako, Bizness Apps, FogBugz, School Loop, Agemni, SLI Systems, and Sococo. Andy runs each of these companies with 100% remote talent – across all functions.

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