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November 16, 2021

10 New Holiday Ideas for the Workplace: How to Keep It Fun and Inclusive

Two martini's in a cheers pose. One with a Christmas tree in it and one with a Popsicle.

Holiday season is around the corner. That festive time of year when we look forward to taking a much-deserved break from the day-to-day grind and having a little fun with our fellow team members.

And it’s not just about the party either. The work you do to establish a strong working culture now, will help you attract and hire even more awesome talent in the future.

But coming up with ideas for workplace holiday celebrations can be trickier than it sounds. Add in the fact that there’s a mix of both religious and secular celebrations during this period, and it’s easy to find yourself in murky waters. 

To help managers and HR pros navigate the holiday season while keeping it as fresh and inclusive as possible, we reached out to some of our best and brightest HR buddies and scoured the internet for out-of-the-box ideas to help you rock your next holiday party.

Ready for a little festive inspo? Let’s get started!

Holiday Ideas for Work: Ground rules for keeping it inclusive

As much as we all love a good time, none of us likes to feel left out

Before we jump into our list of workplace celebration ideas, let’s set some simple ground rules to make sure none of your team members feels like the wallflower at your next office party.

  • Spread out celebrations throughout the year. As you may already know, December isn’t the only time of the year when religious or cultural celebrations are held. Make an effort throughout the year to acknowledge other holidays so employees from other backgrounds don’t feel excluded.
  • Holiday party attendance should NOT be mandatory. And that goes for both your virtual and in-person events. Employees may have different reasons for not being able to attend an event, especially if it’s outside working hours. If an employee can’t attend, grant them the choice without fear of being labeled as “not a team player”.
  • Choose activities that interest everyone. Make sure the games and activities you choose don’t only appeal to a single cultural or religious subset of your team, even if that subset is the majority. With a little creativity, you can choose activities everyone can feel comfortable participating in.
  • Celebrate virtually. Since some team members may have elderly, or other at-risk family members at home, taking your holiday celebrations virtual can be a great way to keep the party inclusive. If you opt for an in-person gathering, just remember to follow all Covid-19 guidelines so that team members can feel safe enough to attend.
  • Choose a neutral date for the party. As most employees will be busy or off work on the actual day of the holiday, make sure to choose a date that leaves plenty of time for rest and time off.

All good? Awesome.

Let’s dive right into some awesome holiday party ideas!

#1 ― Take your holiday party virtual with a little help from VR

Who says you can’t go completely virtual with your holiday party?

Instead of sticking to Zoom or any other old video conferencing tool, you can take a page from Intel’s book and offer up a stimulating VR holiday experience that will leave your employees thrilled.

With the help of experiential marketing company Event Farm, Intel threw an “office” holiday party like no other in 2020. 

According to Event Farm’s co-founder Ryan Costello, the plan was that “partygoers will download the V.R. software on their personal computers, design their avatars and mingle with co-workers using their computer’s audio all while enjoying wine and prepping meals alongside a celebrity chef―meal kits will be sent to their homes ahead of time.”

Now that sounds like a good time.

If you’re not a fully remote team, or if you’re a remote team that meets in-person at the end of the year, feel free to flip this script.

Instead of hosting your VR party online, you can rent out a VR experience center or get tickets for all team members. Afterwards, the team can eat out at a pre-booked restaurant together. This is a great way to offer a truly stellar experience, without breaking the bank.

Or if you want to keep it remote and affordable, tools like 100 Point Challenge start at just $199.

#2 ― Take a new spin on the classic themed holiday party

This December, ditch the same old secret Santa routine and breathe new life into another workplace classic: the theme party.

This is an option that can work for all kinds of diverse teams, either virtually or in-person. 

One of the easiest and most inclusive ways to throw a themed party is to simply pick a decade. These days, there’s a DJ for every era and many of them are happy to make live virtual appearances at your online event.

Even better, you could have your team nominate songs to include on the playlist so everyone gets to hear their favorite tunes. Or, you could be really brave and go with a ‘kara-offkey’ party where everyone gets to sing their own favorite tunes.

If you choose a decade as your theme, you can also opt to integrate some focused trivia games so team members can have fun sharing their answers to questions about celebrities, movies, music, and news stories from that era.

#3 ― Give your team a self-care break

For remote teams who already spend the majority of their time in front of screens, a virtual party might not cut it. And you may not have the time or budget to bring the team together for an in-person gathering.

To help cut down on screen fatigue and still make sure her team had a little extra time for fun during the holiday season, Maleeka Hollaway, Founder and CEO of Atlanta-based brand communication agency The Official Maleeka Group, gave her eight employees additional paid days off and sent each team member a self-care package.

“We want to make sure that our team is practicing self-care and taking time to unplug from work,”
Maleeka explained to the New York Times.

Sometimes, the wisest move is to skip the holiday party altogether and give each team member your full stamp of approval to celebrate with some well-earned R&R.

#4 ― Take a vacation at work

Seeing as travel is still restricted for many, hosting a vacation themed party can be a fun way to help employees transport themselves to their dream destination — at least, in spirit. 🌴

Poll your colleagues to find out their dream vacation spots. The location with the most votes wins. Whether it’s a tropical destination or a cooler, more adventurous spot (hello, Northern Lights of Iceland!), you should have no problem finding some awesome decorations to help bring the theme to life. 

Top that with some local food and you’ll have your party popping in no time. 

To make it even easier for employees to engage during the party, try organizing games and contests with questions and prizes related to your chosen destination — the history, fun places to go, famous people from that location, and so on.

#5 ― Host a virtual happy hour (with gifts! 🎁)

For Deanna Baumgardner, who runs the remote-first team powering Employers Advantage, an HR consulting company specializing in small business, the transition to remote work has affected how many companies choose to celebrate the holidays.

But that doesn’t mean you should skip them altogether. The way Deanna sees it, celebrating together as a team is still important. She advises company leaders to “be more intentional about how they communicate, what they communicate and how company culture is facilitated throughout the organization.”

Last year, Deanna sent each team member a gift and hosted a virtual team happy hour.

“Each person opened their gift during the team happy hour and then we played a game in which each person ahead of time gave me 2-3 fun facts about themselves that nobody on the team would know and then as I went through each fun fact, the team had to try and figure out who the person was that the fun fact belonged to,” Deanna explained.

Everyone had a blast, plus they got to know more about each other. Win-win.

#6 ― Celebrate togetherness, through food

For most people, throwing a party in December is equal to a Christmas celebration. But for many teams, that’s just not reflective of their working population.

Instead of celebrating just one holiday this year, why not go for many? Invite employees to dress in their various cultural or religious attire and bring a favorite cultural dish. 

Research has found that sharing food can actually help strengthen bonds. So believe it or not, noshing together can bring your team closer.

To make things even more interesting, you can invite each employee to share a little-known historical fact about their culture or religion.

The caveat with this one? Make sure your team is diverse enough to pull this off effectively. The last thing you want to do is make team members from an already underrepresented group feel even more left out for being the only one who brought a non-Christmas dish.

#7 ― Organize an in-person workcation

COO of Dollar Flight Club, Kyle Maltz believes the best way to get a remote team to really connect is to bring everyone together in person. 

But then, as a team that’s always been remote, he has the opposite problem many other businesses have when coming up with holiday party ideas for the workplace.

To get everyone to connect on a deeper level, Kyle and his team “plan an annual short team retreat to not only connect in person but also work together in person.”

The way he sees it, bringing your remote team together to not only have a little fun, but also swap notes face-to-face on shared projects, is crucial to nurturing team culture.

Kyle says this gives them the “opportunity to share more about what is going on in their lives and also share their thoughts on the work they do both as a team and individually for the business.”

#8 ― Uplevel the virtual dinner party

Another awesome holiday party idea for the workplace is to take a new spin on the dinner party.

Instead of sending everyone food to be eaten together on Zoom, ask employees to exchange their favorite recipes and everyone can choose a dish to make. On the day of the party, each person can briefly talk about how awesome (or challenging 😅) it was to make the dish.

You’re sure to get some interesting answers, especially from people who have never prepared the dish (or in some cases a dish) before. Then, add in a little murder mystery or food trivia game and you can be sure everyone will have a great time.

As with all of these ideas, the best way to keep it inclusive is to ask your team in advance if they like the idea. After all, you want to make sure your employees are genuinely up for it, before asking them to spend their time making a dish they might not even eat.

#9 ― Invite a local celeb for a guest performance

This holiday party idea is about two things: First, making sure your employees are having a great time. Second, showing support for local artists and talent. 

Choose an awesome solo musician, band or dance group to perform at your party. If it’s a virtual party, you can easily live stream their performance for your team to watch and even share instructions with team members on how to ‘broadcast’ the performance to their TVs for more of a big screen experience.

If you want to go for extra wow factor, you could also make their performance a surprise. 

If your team is globally distributed, Cameo is an awesome and super affordable option for hiring a celebrity to crash your holiday party or deliver personalized shout outs to top performers. 

#10 ― Volunteer at a local charity together

No matter how your team celebrates this time of year, it’s always a great idea to give back. 

By partnering with a local or mission-aligned charity, everyone on the team gets the chance to do something meaningful together — all while giving back to the community.

If going out in person isn’t an option, you can always opt for donating simple items as a team. Even better, you could invite a leader from the charity organization to come and speak to your team, virtually or in-person, about the work they do so that your team can get an inside view into how their contribution is making a real impact.

Because while remote work might have changed the way we work, it can’t stop you from having fun and making a difference this holiday season.

No matter which holiday party idea you choose, remember to keep it focused on nurturing a sense of belonging with your team so that everyone feels safe, appreciated and ready to do even bigger things next year.