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Connecting Employees Through Holiday Parties, 2020-Style

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This holiday season is different than the ones that came before. Here’s how to re-purpose the tools and tactics that have kept remote teams running these past several months to create meaningful, company culture-building holiday activities.

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For many business owners, employees are often more like members of their own extended families. They celebrate important milestones together — both business and personal — and support each other during difficult times. For many, 2020 has exemplified “difficult times,” which makes it that much more important for work families to find a way to celebrate this season together.

It seems obvious that the traditional festive get-togethers and social activities, including the annual office holiday party, will either be canceled or modified in some way this year. In a , replicating the mingling and breakaway conversations that happen in the physical world is a bit more challenging. Because employees who are more connected to each other tend to be happier and more productive, it’s business-critical that companies find creative ways to facilitate those interactions as part of a holiday celebration.

In the absence of the usual parties, there are virtual ways to celebrate that can feel both natural and festive, all while using the same tools we use for work. With a little creativity, it’s possible to take those same tools we use to work and turn them into a memorable event for a year that many would rather forget. Consider one of these ideas or your own variation of them.

Related: 4 Tips to Fight Employee Disengagement During the Holidays

Tip 1: Take the opportunity to be inclusive

The classic office holiday party can create a lot of pressure. This year, there’s an opportunity to remove some of those pressures. Rather than having just a single event, try hosting smaller video chats and other activities with particular themes. Consider a virtual holiday cookie-baking class and, as an added bonus, send the ingredients and some fun cooking accessories to employees’ homes. Take advantage of “bowl season” and host viewing parties for sporting events. Consider a holiday movie night with a dress-up theme, and send some fun gifts from the company. And don’t forget to include the family — perhaps host a virtual happy hour with employees and their significant others, or fo something that includes the kids, such as a virtual or puppet show event. The trick with these types of activities is to keep them on the smaller side so that it’s easy to socialize and focus on all types of interests.

Tip 2: Remember what we’ve learned about remote work

High-quality video and voice is essential. If the quality of your meeting is poor, it will be difficult to have fun.  We know how frustrating it is to keep saying “can you hear me now?” For holiday celebrations, encourage some fun and novelty events so it doesn’t just feel like another conference call or check-in. Lean into the visual aspect by hosting an ugly sweater contest, asking employees to provide a video tour of their home holiday decorations or share family recipes and traditions. Try branching out beyond video to share holiday family photos on a messaging channel separate from usual workstreams. Integrate multiple channels like video and messaging to host larger events, such as company-wide trivia contests that still let you break out into smaller groups (or teams, if you’re playing a game) to allow a more natural conversation. Finally, to keep participants engaged, remember to keep structured events short and interactive.

Related: Preparing Ecommerce for the “New” Holidays

Tip 3: Recognize that it’s still 2020

We’ve all gone through a lot this year, and it would be remiss of organizers not to recognize the challenges teams have overcome while also providing a fun experience. Dedicate some or a specific event to calling out the great work each employee has done. Reflect on the challenges of the past few months and how the organization plans to move forward to meet the opportunities of the . Create separate spaces, whether messaging channels, calls or other types of events, where team members can have informal conversations. Although we use our team messaging feature extensively for business at RingCentral, we also host several channels that are meant for employees to connect on a personal level, including one focused on recipes and another where employees share cute dog photos.  Those little moments of connection are helping us keep our personal relationships strong even as we’re working apart.

Some employees might not be interested or able to take part in virtual celebrations altogether, and that’s OK. Give each person the flexibility to join in activities that genuinely interest them. Use the budget usually reserved for catering or in-person parties to give employees a stipend for , drinks or other items they might need for an activity. It’s a small that goes a long way to help people feel connected to each other.

The holidays are an opportunity to reflect on the journey we’ve traveled, give back to employees and bring our work family closer together. This year is no different. Use as a tool for inclusivity and draw from your own experiences of virtual events that have worked well in the past. Most of all, give employees options to celebrate in ways that speak to them and allow team members to learn a little bit more about each other. Doing so can leave a positive, lasting impact on your company’s culture moving into the new year.

Related: 4 Tips for How Entrepreneurs Can Unplug and Recharge During the Holidays

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