From fun holiday parties to in-office birthday celebrations to team outings at fancy restaurants, all-company gatherings are some of the most anticipated and engaging events that your employees look forward to. Not only are they good opportunities to get to know your employees and peers on a more personal level, these company events also are valuable for team-building and morale, which are huge drivers for employee retention.
As we go deeper into 2021 and reflect on the ups and downs of the previous year, it’s clear that those gatherings are largely no longer possible in-person. But that doesn’t mean you should forgo these events altogether. In fact, many employers saw success in pivoting their regular holiday office parties to a virtual space.
You’re likely already familiar with the common tools (everyone knows Zoom!) that organization leaders have implemented to facilitate face-to-face communication, encourage employee engagement, and provide some sort of online team activity. Take this a step further by planning a comprehensive and in-depth virtual all-company gathering!
To help you plan your own virtual company event, this guide will walk you through the following topics:
- Why company gatherings are important, even while remote
- Fun virtual ideas to excite and motivate employees
- 3 tips for planning your virtual gathering
Providing these special engagement opportunities are huge drivers for not only your employee retention rates but also your recruitment efforts. After all, an engaging company culture that people truly enjoy being a part of is a powerful asset when searching for new candidates. And when remote, this type of event is even more valuable. Let’s learn why.
Why Company Gatherings Are Important, Even While Remote
Many people love the convenience and ease of working from home. Additionally, forgoing office rent or leasing a smaller space is great if your business wants to save some money. In fact, a Gartner survey of company leaders found that 80% plan to incorporate a hybrid work from home structure. In the same survey, 47% of respondents planned to allow employees to work from home full-time.
However, the shift to remote work was not the smooth, steady transition many would have hoped for. This was brand new territory for many organizations—and the obstacles and challenges that came along all became part of the learning experience.
For one thing, remote work can be very isolating. Without coworkers to laugh with by the water cooler or have lunch with every day, going to work can become a lonely and grating task. This can decrease team morale and weaken the foundation of community-building and camaraderie that you may have established before.
Additionally, special circumstances and a global pandemic pushed organization leaders to make the critical decision to go remote quickly. Your team members also are feeling the stress that comes with this type of widespread instability and crisis.
With different forms of remote work clearly now becoming the norm, it’s essential that you consider how you can incorporate all-company gatherings even for those who are not physically present.
Keeping up those all-company gatherings virtually is a way to provide needed engagement while reinforcing a shared team identity. These virtual activities and events remind your remote workers who are feeling isolated or unsupported that there is a team of people they have behind them. It gives them a sense of purpose and stronger loyalty to their peers and leadership.
Without an emphasis on team-building events and activities, you also risk employee churn and lower retention rates. It’s often recommended that these types of engagements are a core part of your employee compensation strategy (learn more with this Astron Solutions guide), especially if remote work is going to be a larger part of your company’s future.
Fun Virtual Ideas To Excite And Motivate Employees
Now that you have a better understanding of why pushing for virtual all-company gatherings is important, it’s time to brainstorm some exciting ideas. One of the silver linings of this past year is that many organizations dipped their toes into virtual event planning, so there’s a pretty hefty list of ideas out there that others have tried and found success with.
For your own team members, it’s worth thinking about past events they have enjoyed and how you might pivot those experiences into something virtual. You’ll also need to consider the tools you have at your disposal. A video conferencing platform like Zoom or some sort of live streaming tool will likely be imperative for any type of virtual event you plan.
While the events you plan and offer will differ depending on the preferences of your staff, here are some fun ideas that other organizations and businesses have relied on:
- Trivia night. Start compiling some fun trivia facts, divide your staff members into teams, and have a fun trivia night all from the comfort of your own home. Provide prizes that the winning team can pick up or easily redeem online for more motivation!
- Regular virtual happy hour. Happy hours are an integral part of in-person work as a way to relax and connect with peers in a non-professional setting. Take this regular activity virtual by sharing a drink with coworkers over video chat—once the workday is over, of course!
- Virtual cocktail making night. A fun activity we’ve seen involves sending employees an at-home mixology kit and then having everyone make and drink them together online during a virtual happy hour.
- Virtual exercise classes. Because of current circumstances, it’s less likely that your employees are making regular trips to the gym. Consider offering a virtual exercise class where you all follow an online video or hire a professional to lead a class while live streaming.
- Online skill-specific class (both work and not work-related). Online classes and courses have been a popular offering for a while now. Get your company learning together and involved by providing engaging classes to develop skills, whether it’s for work or just for fun.
- Group volunteer opportunities. This Re:Charity guide to corporate philanthropy tells us that corporate volunteerism is an effective way to develop meaningful nonprofit partnerships for your business as well as to empower employees to support the causes they care about. With our struggling economy and current health crisis, your team members are likely more philanthropically inclined than ever. Explore any relevant virtual volunteer opportunities and offer them as a company event to your staff.
There’s a wealth of different virtual event ideas you can bounce around. You can even go straight to the source and ask your own team members what types of gatherings and activities they’d like to do. Try sourcing suggestions from employees, or compile several choices into a survey and ask employees to rank their favorites.
3 Tips For Planning Your Virtual Gathering
Now, it’s time to start planning these virtual gatherings. The best events, whether virtual or in-person, are always well planned and backed up with careful consideration. The preparation for a virtual event is even more elaborate, as you have to combat common challenges like keeping employees engaged, choosing a conferencing or live streaming platform, ensuring there are no technical issues, and more.
Here are the top tips that are sure to help any business leader tackle their all-company virtual gathering with success:
- Leverage technology and tools. As mentioned above, technology will be integral to your event’s success. Video chat platforms like Zoom and live streaming sites like Twitch are popular choices, but there is a wide array of options available. On top of these tools, investing in a virtual event management solution also can aid your efforts, especially for large organizations. These solutions can help plan the event, facilitate breakout sessions, provide personalized agendas, incorporate gamification elements, while working on all types of devices.
- Put together an event communication plan. This type of plan involves building excitement around the virtual event, engaging your staff members before and after, and keeping all attendees on the same page. Use your existing communication tools to keep your team members updated on details, schedule out reminder emails, and explain how to access and participate in the event. This plan should lay out when you send the emails and the content that each will include.
- Ensure you’re fully prepared. Virtual events can go off without a hitch, but anyone who works with technology knows that unexpected obstacles can always pop up. Before the virtual event day, work closely with your event management solution provider and assess the other tools you’ll be using to facilitate the gathering. Ensure that you and the team planning and facilitating the event understand the technical and logistical information needed. Also, try and troubleshoot all potential problems and technical difficulties beforehand with a test run.
All types of virtual events are going to be a part of your organization’s future no matter what, whether it’s for your customers or your internal team. Making them a regular and strategic part of your company culture and employee engagement strategy will be your best bet for 2021 and beyond.
If your organization is remaining remote or implementing a hybrid working situation, planning all-company virtual gatherings is crucial. Especially for those team members at home, having a sense of camaraderie and community will not only bring some excitement to their lives but also drive productivity for your entire workforce.
Get creative to brainstorm the perfect ideas for your unique team, and back it all up with the right tech. You’ll be planning and hosting a successful virtual all-company gathering in no time.
About the Author:
Jennifer C. Loftus is a Founding Partner of and National Director for Astron Solutions, a compensation consulting firm. Jennifer has 23 years of experience garnered at organizations including the Hay Group, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Eagle Electric Manufacturing Company, and Harcourt General.
Jennifer has held volunteer leadership roles with SHRM, New York City SHRM, and WorldatWork. She serves as a subject matter expert to the SHRM Learning System and as a SHRM instructor. Jennifer is a sought-after speaker for local & national conferences and media outlets.
Jennifer has an MBA in Human Resource Management with highest honors from Pace University and a BS in Accounting summa cum laude from Rutgers University.
Jennifer holds Adjunct Professor roles with Pace University, Long Island University, and LIM College.
Jennifer received the 2014 Gotham Comedy Foundation’s Lifetime Ambassador of Laughter Award.