Secret Santa is back! Tips for Virtual Holiday Party Success

Sep 22, 2020 | Event Management, Incentives & Recognition

Virtual rewards for your virtual team

The days are getting shorter, the leaves are changing, and you can smell pumpkin spice literally everywhere. Fall is here, which means we are one step closer to the end of this crazy year that has defined a “new normal” for just about everything. But, fall also signals another important event among business leaders – holiday party planning. What will your holiday party look like this year? You have a fantastic opportunity to reengage your team members (yes, even your remote workers) through a virtual holiday party.

This year, of all years, may seem like the perfect excuse to skip your holiday party. Most, if not all, of your employees aren’t in the office, your remote workers are spread across multiple time zones, and you can’t physically gather. Why should you plan a holiday party in the first place?

Here’s why: Your employees desire to be recognized for their achievements. Sure, there won’t be Secret Santa celebrations and unlimited drinks to fuel the holiday party fun, but gathering with your team is important. A holiday party can be so much more than just a party. It’s an opportunity to highlight the accomplishments of the past year. It’s a way to celebrate your remote employees and motivate them to do more next year. It’s a way to praise your remote workers for being loyal to you in an all but “normal” year.

The proof is in the survey

At the end of last year (before-COVID), we surveyed 3,000 U.S. employees representing various industries and roles. We took a particular interest in the sales team. Using rsX℠, our proprietary technique, we measured the relationship strength in the workplace. We learned that recognition fuels trust, alignment, and commitment within each of these groups. Employees want authentic recognition—and recognition that’s delivered more frequently. They enjoyed recognition not only from their leaders but also from their peers. The study also showed just how powerful incentives motivate repeat behavior and generate trust with their company.

Remote working has taken a toll on the workforce. The new face of the workplace has forced business leaders to be craftier than ever to ensure they build a culture of trust and commitment among their virtual team. Team bonding will always be necessary.

Your remote workers want to know they are still a valuable part of your team, whether working from their couch or their cubicle. Your holiday party can help with this.

Ultimately, your remote employees want to hear from you, they want to belong, and they want a sense of normalcy. Don’t use this year as an excuse not to gather for a holiday party. Instead, turn your celebration into a virtual holiday party.

Tips for Virtual Holiday Party Success

Keep it short and sweet

Just because your past holiday parties stretched into the night doesn’t mean your virtual holiday party should do the same. We don’t want to be in front of our computer for hours at a time when we’re working­—the same goes for when we’re having fun. Limit your virtual holiday party to under an hour and make sure you have plenty of ways to keep the program moving along. Our attention spans are getting shorter. You can hold remote teams’ attention longer by reducing the long speeches or premade videos. Instead, offer shorter “segments” of information to keep the flow exciting.

There are unique ways you can break out of the mold and captivate remote employees’ attention with unique programming for your virtual holiday party. Consider the following virtual office party ideas:

  • Cooking demos – Treat your team to a cooking demo. Not just any cooking demo will do. You have the opportunity to get creative with:
    • Picking a specific meal for a top chef to demonstrate
    • Selecting a holiday-themed dish and having your CEO teach your team how to cook it
    • Listening to a famous chef tell their story about how they got into the industry and why
  • Craft cocktails – You’ll receive bonus points from your remote teams if you send all the cocktail ingredients and/or the mixing tools to your employees before the event. Consider the following:
    • Halloween-inspired cocktail making
    • Oktoberfest Beer Tasting Experiences
    • A lesson in crafting cocktail basics
  • DIY designs – Get your virtual team members in the holiday spirit with the following:
    • Holiday floral arrangement how-to: wreathe making, centerpiece creation, or the perfect outdoor arrangement.
    • Pumpkin carving experience.
    • Design your own Halloween costume or mask.
    • Crafting the perfect fall display.

Bonus points: You can really enhance the experience by bringing in a celebrity or athlete as a part of these ideas!

Engage your team members

The best part of the holiday party was the lively conversation! You had a chance to interact with your team members outside of the office. You were able to meet their significant others. You all laughed at the same inside jokes. This was fun, and the team-building effects of the night were felt long after the party was over. You can create the same ambiance in your virtual holiday party. Encourage your virtual employees to invite their families to join in the fun. Children on laps and spouses in the video frame could offer a fun way to personalize the event. Consider using virtual breakout rooms for small group discussions or games throughout the event to spur interactivity and fun.

Get them excited before the event

Think back to your last holiday party. Chances are, most of the excitement was in getting ready for the event. You can craft the same atmosphere of anticipation and delight with a virtual holiday party. When we work with clients to design sales incentive programs, we always say “a secret incentive program is never a successful incentive program.” The same applies to your virtual holiday party. Communication is key to introducing this new virtual holiday party concept and motivating your virtual team members to participate in a meaningful way. Similar to the way we design our incentive programs, we recommend communicating early and often, varying the message, imagery and method of communication, and using a variety of tools to reach your virtual team members.  

Don’t come empty-handed

At the end of the year, do you usually treat your team members with gifts or bonuses? Despite the disruption to the physical workplace, your virtual teams will still expect the same treatment this year, too. As easy as cash sounds, cash rewards simply don’t work. Research continues to show that employees prefer non-cash awards, like merchandise and travel experiences, over cash. This is because cash is used up quickly for everyday expenses, and these expenses generally aren’t fun. It’s used for car payments, groceries, or even gas. When cash is used for mundane purposes, your employees will forget why they received the cash in the first place. Rewarding your team members with money also blurs the lines between the reward and the compensation. If you have to discontinue your cash bonuses, your team members won’t be happy, and therefore won’t be very motivated.

Good news – there’s a solution for your holiday gift-giving that’s as easy as cash but works much better. This year, reward your virtual team with award points. It works like this. Your remote employees will receive awards points for exceptional work. Then they can redeem their awards points for a multitude of reward options that are sure to motivate all employees. Now, you can gift your virtual team members with the best gift of all – the gift of choice.

Our Rewarding You platform is designed to make it as easy as possible for you to reward your virtual team. First, it’s an online platform, so giving and receiving is easy. Plus, you can brand the platform for seamless integration into your current communication. Mobilizing and engaging your virtual teams has never been simpler.

Your employees will love it too because there are literally millions of reward options, giving them the utmost in flexibility and choice. Rewards include:

  • Merchandise – Your employees can choose from various electronics, major appliances, sunglasses, jewelry, apparel, and luggage.
  • Gift cards – Your team can choose gift cards for restaurants, retailers, entertainment, gaming, home/personal services, dining, retail, and spa/wellness.
  • Charitable Donations – Team members can choose to donate to various organizations active in education, human rights/services, hunger and disaster relief, children’s charities, grass-root environmental causes, and arts and medical research.
  • Experiences and event tickets: Your remote employees can redeem their points now for future events, like sporting events, theatrical performances, musical shows, or comedy clubs.
  • Vacations and Travel: Feed your virtual teams’ wanderlust. They can redeem award points for a trip next year.

This year is unlike any other. Embrace this by giving your remote team members a virtual holiday party they will never forget. In the meantime, you will be showcasing to your remote workers just how valued they are on your team and increase their overall motivation along the way.

Samantha Decker

Samantha Decker

Samantha Decker is the Marketing Director at One10. Decker oversees marketing initiatives for all three of One10’s business segments – travel and events, incentives and recognition and marketing services. Bringing unique marketing experience to One10, Decker has led rebranding and growth efforts for every organization she has been a part of and is a strong advocate that purpose and profits can coexist in business. Decker was named a Corporate Connect 40 Under 40, has been published in industry articles, and is currently a member of Team Women in Minneapolis.