Fun Alternatives to the Typical Office Holiday Party

It has been a tough 18 months, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns and physical distancing meant companies and their employees had to adapt the way they work. Some employees are working from home, some are in the office, and some are working a hybrid schedule. The office holiday party didn’t escape the virus’s clutches either. But rather than canceling, companies kept the tradition going and found virtual alternatives.

For a good reason too. The office holiday party has always been important for celebrating your employees’ efforts and achievements. And in times like these, it’s even more important to do so. The office holiday party provides a chance to applaud employees for going above and beyond in such challenging times, to maintain camaraderie within your team, and to keep employees feeling connected with your company.

So, what better way to do this than these creative alternatives below – all suitable for in-person, hybrid, or virtual office parties.


Ugly sweater party

This idea is a classic one! Ask your team to wear their most embarrassing holiday-themed sweaters, and everyone gets a chance to vote on the ugliest. The colleague with the most votes for the ugliest sweater wins. Get them to post photos on the office chat so employees can vote for their favorite. You can even mix it up a little. Hand out awards for different categories, like Most Original Sweater, Best DIY Sweater, or Most Scary Sweater. Keep in mind, awards don’t have to be pricey.  They can be something as simple as a printed certificate of achievement that employees can post at their desk.

Virtual white elephant exchange

No office party would be complete without a bit of gift-giving. In a white elephant exchange, colleagues give each other wacky, impractical, and yet desirable gifts. To organize one virtually, set a minimal budget (like $10). Enter all participating employees’ names in an online gift exchange generator. The generator then assigns a colleague’s name to each participant. Unlike in-person exchanges, you send the gift to the recipient’s home address rather than in person. Make sure to get HR’s buy-in, as they are the keepers of home addresses and will need to be involved in mailing out gifts. On the day of the event, open your presents together on an online platform and have each employee guess who sent them the gift.


Holiday gift boxes

Holiday gift boxes are an excellent way to make all employees feel included and appreciated. This is especially true for remote employees located in different places. You can send themed treats, perks, or goodies. For example, a beanie hat, fleece jacket, or cozy blanket would be perfect for the winter holiday season (you can even go the extra mile and order items with your company logo on them!) Or you can support the community by treating employees to a gift basket from a local business.


Gingerbread house building contest

This enjoyable and competitive activity will get your employees exercising their creativity. It does require a little preparation. First, order gingerbread house and decorating kits for attending team members. Better still, encourage your employees to decorate with additional candy to get super creative. Next, bring everyone together on a video call on the day of the event to decorate together. Both in-person and virtual teammates can participate. While decorating, play some thematic music or encourage everyone to tell a story about a meaningful holiday memory. When all houses are built and decorated, have employees share a photo of their masterpieces. Participants can vote on their favorite one (but no voting for your own masterpiece!)


Support local charities

The holiday season is a time for giving. Organizing a company-wide charity event is a great way to help people in need, especially in these challenging times. It also allows employees to make a difference to causes they care about, all while boosting morale. So, encourage your team to volunteer or make donations to a local charity of their choice. Virtual volunteering is also another option. You can allow employees to devote half a workday to volunteer virtually on a project of their choice. One example is Be My Eyes, a project that helps visually impaired individuals with video calls.


Enjoy an online class together

With anything from wreathing-making, cooking, craft workshops, and cocktail mixing lessons, you’re sure to find a class to appeal to your audience. Whatever the course, it is so much more fun learning a new skill together. There are many chefs and shop owners that provide classes to supplement their core business. Alternatively, you can go hybrid. Have an instructor present the class at the office for those who can attend in person while allowing remote employees to join in through a video platform.


Tips on a fun and inclusive get-together


Plan, plan, and plan some more

Planning is crucial for creating a successful event that genuinely entertains and engages your team. So, before the event:


  • Form a committee to plan for the event. Invite a diverse group of employees to join. This will help bring in a variety of new, fresh ideas.
  • Identify a time and date that is most convenient for most people to attend.
  • Work out how many are attending and decide on the food and venue.
  • If you’re going to host the party virtually, use alternative platforms like FaceTime or Houseparty to avoid that online meeting feeling you get from Zoom.
  • Set a budget, and don’t stray from it.


Make it interactive

Always include fun, family-oriented activities (i.e., gingerbread house decorating) in the party based on the employees’ interests. It encourages them to interact with each other and makes it more open for their families to get involved.


Celebrate your employees

Whatever you’re celebrating and whichever activities you choose, make sure you celebrate your employees too. Use these celebration events as an opportunity to reward and recognize achievements and contributions to your company’s success. Invite CEOs to make speeches and praise employees. Encourage your team members to talk about their accomplishments and favorite team-building activities while expressing appreciation for colleagues who have helped them out.


Make it voluntary

There may be employees who don’t want to attend the party for a variety of reasons. So, reassure staff from the outset that attendance is voluntary. Please don’t make them feel guilty for not attending and empathize with those who don’t feel like celebrating. Video the event to show highlights of the activities they missed. It may encourage them to participate in the future.

While office holiday parties might not look quite the same, even as we come out of this pandemic, it’s still important to celebrate and praise employees for their accomplishments. Members of your team likely faced additional challenges over the last 18 months, which may have taken their toll on them. So whatever form it takes, a virtual or hybrid holiday party is the perfect antidote—a chance for your employees to laugh with and spend time with their colleagues. It’s an opportunity for you to show how much you value and appreciate them and get them excited about the year ahead.