With the COVID-19 pandemic putting in-office employees at risk across the country, more companies than ever are allowing staff to work from home. Although this is an ideal way to keep everyone healthy and safe, motivating and engaging employees virtually can be a challenge, especially during the holiday season.
But just because you can’t have your traditional company holiday party or fly remote workers in to celebrate in-person doesn’t mean you can’t spread cheer this season. It just means you have to get creative when it comes to planning holiday activities and events for your remote team.
Ways to Include Remote Employees in the Holiday Festivities
Here are some ways you can keep things festive and fun for your remote workers this holiday season.
1. Host a Virtual Holiday Party
You might not be able to have an in-office holiday party this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate the season with your remote colleagues.
Host a video conference holiday party during work hours so that all of your employees can attend. Be mindful of different time zones in case you have remote employees who are out of state.
If you have a large remote workforce, consider splitting parties into departments so that everyone has a chance to chat and participate in any activities.
Plan to do fun activities on the video conference, like enjoying a meal, a gift exchange (more on how to do this virtually shortly), or a holiday-themed decorating contest to keep everyone engaged and involved.
You can even prepare some icebreakers to get the ball rolling by asking questions about everyone’s holiday traditions or celebrations. For example, because your employees are spread out at different locations, have each one describe what their city or town does for the holidays, like tree lightings and caroling.
2. Throw a Virtual Cocktail Party
If your business typically throws a fancy cocktail party to celebrate the holidays each year, recreate it. Have employees mix up their preferred beverages and dress up in their party attire to help get everyone in the festive spirit. Offer a spending budget for drinks and hors d’oeuvres that employees can use to fund their evening.
If you don’t want to host an entire cocktail party or you’re looking for something more casual, opt for a virtual happy hour instead.
3. Have a Secret Santa or White Elephant Gift Exchange
You don’t need to be in a physical office to host a gift exchange. Use a service like Elfster to plan and organize a secret Santa gift exchange, or host a white elephant gift exchange and send gifts out to their recipients afterward.
Just make sure that with either gift exchange you:
- Set a reasonable budget
- Make participation optional
- Give everyone enough time to purchase a gift
- Select a date and time when everyone is available
- Put someone in charge of planning and organizing
- Send out gifts on time
- Clarify any rules beforehand
Gift exchanges can be a great way to encourage seasonal team building, which can help remote workers feel connected and like they’re part of the team over the holidays.
4. Send Remote Workers a Gift From Your Company
If a gift exchange is too complicated, or you’d like to show your appreciation for your employees as a company, consider sending each of your workers a company gift.
Choose something that represents your company culture and that your employees will appreciate and use.
For example, if you have a tech startup or digital small business, wireless headphones and speakers, gift cards, branded home office supplies, and company swag can all make ideal gifts for employees who work from home.
Instead of sending a single gift, you can also fill up a stocking with a variety of gifts for each employee, like chocolates and candies, notepads, socks, coffee, tea, stickers, and other small items.
5. Give Remote Workers Extra Vacation Time
COVID-19 has made it a stressful and trying year for everyone. Although many people typically request time off over the holidays, this year rest and relaxation are more important than ever. If possible, offer your employees an extra couple of days off over the holidays to enjoy the season and spend time with their families.
If you aren’t able to provide additional days off, consider letting employees off early on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Having a little extra time to detach and partake in seasonal festivities will help your workers unwind and relax after a difficult year.
6. Plan Festive Activities and Contests
Holiday activities can be just as fun online as they are in-person. Entertainment like ugly sweater contests, decorating challenges, and festive games are excellent team-building activities that will get your remote team into the holiday spirit.
Potential holiday activities and contests can include:
- Ugly holiday sweater contests
- Home office or door decorating contests
- Tree decorating contests
- Pictionary using a Zoom whiteboard
- Haikus and word games
- Festive bingo
- Customized holiday playlists
- Ornament decorating contests
- Gingerbread house decorating contests
Promote and support teamwork by segmenting departments into teams for contests and activities.
7. Pay for a Holiday Meal
Because you can’t share a meal together, offer your remote team members a holiday meal budget. This could be for a meal to enjoy during your virtual holiday celebration or for any other workday you choose.
To make it easy, set a budget and define any limitations — for example, if you won’t pay for alcoholic beverages — and reimburse employees through your accounting department after they provide a receipt. Because many employers provide a holiday meal either at the office or at a seasonal party, a one-time celebratory meal budget is a great alternative.
This way, you don’t need to worry about the logistics or planning and can allow remote workers to choose their own meal from a favorite local restaurant.
8. Send Handwritten Holiday Cards to Remote Employees
The appreciation that you show to your employees can go a long way, especially with remote teams. A handwritten card from a manager, supervisor, or even the company’s CEO is an easy way to spread holiday cheer and add a personal touch to your business’s seasonal celebrations.
If physical cards aren’t an option, consider sending personalized digital cards with a thoughtful message for each of your employees. Both SmileBox and Paperless Post offer free and paid customizable digital cards for the holidays, with a variety of designs and messages to choose from.
9. Help Remote Workers to Give Back
The holidays are a perfect time to give back and support charities. With many local organizations avoiding in-person volunteering this year, they’ll need help to stay afloat and to continue the important work that they do.
Virtual team members who traditionally volunteer over the holidays may be unable to give back to their communities this year, but you can help. There are a few different ways you can support your employees giving to charities and nonprofits this year. For example, you might consider:
- Donation Matching. Offer employee donation matching up to a certain amount. For example, you could set the limit to a maximum of $50 per employee. Have your company match any charitable donation your employee makes up to the limit, effectively doubling their contribution to a cause they care about..
- Individual Donation Budgets. Give each employee a set amount — for example, $50 — to designate to a charity of their choice. Then have your company donate the gift in your employee’s name to the chosen charity.
- Purchase Charitable Employee Gifts. Purchase employee holiday gifts that support charities. For example, World Wildlife Fund offers digital and plush symbolic animal adoptions that raise money for wildlife conservation and also bestow the donor with a plush and other gifts.
10. Create a Holiday Group Chat
Whether you use Slack or another communication tool to converse with your remote team, make sure to leverage its benefits over the holidays. Create a holiday-themed channel for your team and encourage them to share seasonal recipes, memes, favorite movies, and traditions. It’s an opportunity for employees to have typical watercooler chats even while working in separate locations.
These conversations can help remote workers to get to know each other on a personal level, build camaraderie, and spread holiday cheer. Use some simple questions to prompt employee engagement and participation, like:
- What is your favorite holiday tradition?
- Which holiday movie do you watch every year?
- What’s your go-to holiday recipe?
- Do you put up a real or fake tree or no tree at all?
- How do you celebrate the holidays?
Make sure to be mindful of employees who celebrate the holidays differently or not at all. Keep the topics neutral and fun and avoid questions related to religion, culture, or personal beliefs. If you aren’t sure what’s OK to ask, have your human resources manager come up with a list of appropriate questions and topics.
11. Stream a Holiday Movie or Play
Festive movies are a major part of the holiday season, so try including them in your office celebrations. List a few movies for employees to choose from and have them vote on their favorite. Stream the most popular choice using Skype, Zoom, or Netflix Party (which works for both Netflix and Disney+) on a workday when all of your employees are available.
If streaming a movie for your entire workforce isn’t feasible, break it into groups by department or host a couple of movies over different weekdays to give everyone a chance to tune in.
12. Arrange a Cookie Exchange
From shortbread and gingerbread to sugar cookies and rum balls, baked goods are one of the best parts of the holidays. And most people have a favorite recipe they’d love to share. Set up a cookie exchange between interested employees and have them mail treats instead of exchanging them face to face.
Make sure to:
- Set a mail-by date
- Specify an amount — for example, a half dozen cookies to each participant
- Consider any food allergies
Because COVID-19 is highly unlikely to spread through food or packaging, and the baked goods will be delivered by mail and not by hand, this is a great way to connect remote employees in a safe and festive way.
Host a video call so employees can get in some face time with one another once they’ve received their seasonal treats.
As you can see, even during a pandemic, there are so many different ways for you to make your remote team feel festive, included, and appreciated over the holiday season. Planning activities and creating a cheerful and engaging work environment can go a long way in helping your employees to cope with the end of a trying and difficult year.
Work within your budget and consider your team members to choose holiday activities that are a fit for your business and employees. Try your best to include each and every one of your workers, whether they’re typically remote or not, and most of all, encourage everyone to enjoy the holiday season!