With the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been a tough year or two, especially for office holiday parties as lockdowns and physical distancing took over. Companies had to adapt to the new way of work, and many employees were separated working from home, some in the office, and some working a little bit of both with a hybrid schedule. The holiday party was always an important way to highlight employees’ hard work and many achievements throughout the year. It’s a great way to reward employees for going above and beyond, especially during the last two years.
Many employers still want to celebrate holidays that don’t equate to the traditional office holiday party. There are plenty of alternatives to the traditional office holiday party that are cost-effective and fun to help build positive spirits and employee morale. Holiday parties that require minimal investment and planning are really appreciated by employees, too, who are stressed out during this time of year.
So, what better way to do this than these inspired alternatives below, which are all suitable for in-person, hybrid, or virtual office parties.
Virtual white elephant exchange
Company gift giving can become really expensive really fast, which is why a white elephant exchange would be a fun and easy way for employees to partake in some gifting. So what is a white elephant exchange?
Similar to secret Santa, colleagues give each other funny, impractical, but desirable gifts. The beauty of the white elephant exchange is that it can be held virtually as well for a virtual holiday party.
First, use a gift exchange generator where you submit all participating employees’ names, and then the generator will assign a colleague’s name to each participant. If this is a virtual event, each participant will get their assigned colleague’s home address to send the gift to with HR’s approval. Set a minimal budget of no more than $15 or $20 to ensure employees stay within the budget. Then, on the day of, open your presents together via an online platform or in the office!
Ugly sweater party
The ugly sweater is one of the best company Christmas party ideas. It’s a classic! Ask your team to find their most embarrassing holiday-themed sweater and wear it to a fun little shindig. Everyone can get to vote on the ugliest or funniest sweater. If the event is held virtually, everyone can send in pictures of their sweater to vote. You could even hand out awards for different categories like the Best DIY Sweater or Most Scary Sweater.
Gingerbread house building contest
A fun idea for an office holiday party is a gingerbread house-building contest. It’s a very enjoyable and creative activity that can be competitive in a fun way. It requires a little bit of preparation to get all of the decorating kits. Still, it is fairly inexpensive—order gingerbread houses and decorating kits all together for the team members that are attending.
If the party is held virtually, you can send the kits to employees’ houses. Encourage employees to decorate with extra candy or supplies that they have at home too. While decorating in person or on a video call, play fun holiday music or chat for fun. When all the gingerbread houses are decorated, have employees share a photo of their masterpieces and vote on the best one.
Holiday gift boxes
Some gift ideas for a company Christmas party could be holiday gift boxes as they are an incredible way to make employees feel appreciated during the holiday season. Holiday gift boxes are especially great for remote employees that are located in other places. These holiday gift boxes can include items like a cozy blanket, a seasonal mug, or cookies. You could even get all of the items from local businesses to support small businesses during the holiday season.
Holiday cookie tasting
If you are planning on hosting a holiday party in person, think about holding a holiday cookie tasting. Ask employees to bring in some of their favorite cookies to share with other coworkers, and then make sure you order some extra supplies of bakery cookies to ensure that there are enough. Add some soft drinks or holiday drinks to go with, and then add some holiday music. You could even make it a cookie exchange if the event is held virtually.
Support local charities
While everyone loves receiving gifts, the holiday season is a time for giving. Instead of a grand holiday party, you can organize a company-wide charity event to help others in need. It allows employees to make a true difference in a cause they care about while supporting team work and fun. Virtual volunteering is also an option with this idea. You could write cards to nursing homes as a team or volunteer virtually on a project of their choice.
Make cookies for a holiday cookie tasting
With a company-supplied punch, soft drinks, and mulled cider, ask employees to bring in cookies to share with their coworkers. Keep the event low pressure by specifying that bakery products are welcome, too. Make sure the company orders a supply of bakery cookies to ensure that every employee has a chance to sample a variety.
Make the event festive with holiday music and gift certificate prizes for the bakers of the employees’ favorite cookies. If your employees are interested, you also can sponsor a cookie exchange.
Holiday card exchange
If you work for a large company, it can be difficult to plan and orchestrate a large holiday party. A simple and cost-effective way to still have a little holiday cheer is spending time having a holiday card exchange. Employees can sign up to write cards to their coworkers, and then participating colleagues can draw names from a hat to send individual cards. You can also split it up between departments.
Enjoy an online class together
With many office holiday parties moving virtually, an online class is a great option. Anything from a cooking class, craft workshops, or a cocktail mixology class would all be very fun to do with your coworkers and learn a new skill at the same time. Many places offer online classes to businesses, and it can even be a hybrid event with some in person and some online who aren’t able to attend.
How to have a successful holiday party
Plan, plan, plan
Planning these types of events are crucial for a successful event that people truly enjoy and are engaged by. Before the event, you want to form a committee that helps plan. Invite a diverse group of people to gain a wide array of ideas and help. Next, identify a date and time for the party where it is most convenient for most people. Figure out how many employees will be attending and decide on the venue or whether it will be held virtually or both. Make sure you set a budget to not overspend.
The best way to get employees engaged is to always include some kind of fun activities (i.e., gingerbread house decorating) that are family-oriented in the party based on the employees’ interests. It encourages employees to interact with each other and makes it more open for their families to get involved if they want to.
Whatever way you decide to celebrate and whichever activities you choose, make sure you focus on celebrating your employees, too. These celebration events should be used as an opportunity to recognize and reward achievements and contributions to your company’s success. You can invite CEOs and managers to make speeches and praise employees or hand out prizes for MVPs.
Make it voluntary
This is important. There could be employees who don’t want to attend the party for a variety of reasons. So, make sure you reassure staff from the beginning that attendance is voluntary to all holiday party activities. Please don’t make them feel guilty for not attending and empathize with those who don’t feel like celebrating for personal reasons. A fun way to keep them involved is to video the event to show highlights of the activities they missed later on. It could encourage them to participate in the future.
Holiday parties done right
Holiday parties might not look exactly the same like they did ten years ago, especially after the pandemic. However, it is still super important to celebrate your employees and their many accomplishments during the year. Many people struggled this past year, so it is even more crucial to acknowledge their hardships and thank them for their hard work. Whatever form your holiday party takes, whether that be virtually or in person, it is a chance for your employees to enjoy themselves and have a laugh!