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Holiday Activities for Bonding your Virtual Team
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Holiday Activities for Bonding your Virtual Team

|Dec 31, 2020

We have officially entered the holiday season, that mysterious and magical period between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day often full of office parties, team happy hours, and opportunities to bond over shared holiday experiences. In the ‘new normal’ of COVID-19, though, many workers are still following social distancing measures and working remotely. Will this have an impact on your team’s holiday spirit, or more importantly, their morale?

A 2019 survey of 2,000 Americans revealed that 83% of companies host an annual holiday party, of which 45% refer to it as a “Christmas” party. Regarding the perks of an office holiday party, most have free food (96%), allow employees to bring a plus-one (74%), provide free drinks (60%), and give gifts to employees (48%). As a result, 47% of workers are excited to attend their company holiday party.

In the absence of holiday parties, secret Santa gift exchanges, and other office activities, your company is not only risking a dip in holiday spirit, but a dip in productivity. A 2018 report surveyed 2,000 full-time employees in the U.S. to learn more about what keeps workers motivated during the holiday season, revealing that one-fifth of workers feel more motivated by more holiday festivities in the workplace. Other top results for staying motivated included a holiday bonus (44%), the ability to work remotely more than usual (37%, from the pre-pandemic age), more scheduling flexibility (33%), and a better-organized vacation schedule for the team (19%). Interestingly, the survey also showed workers tend to be more productive for companies with more closed days during the holidays and managers that make it comfortable to ask for time off.

A transparent and flexible work environment can only go so far for teammates split across multiple locations—or even time zones—facing low social connection. A recent survey from Morning Consult found that 58 percent of remote workers feel disconnected from their co-workers, and 44 percent of respondents reported feeling more isolated and lonely working from home, too.

Building team spirit and establishing company traditions builds positive morale which results in increased employee motivation, and ultimately happy employees make your business more productive and profitable. In fact, by some estimates, companies with engaged employees see 2.5x more revenue than companies with disengaged employees. On the other hand, detached employees are estimated to lead to up to $550 billion in global annual losses due to slow productivity and poor customer retention.

The loneliness of mandated remote work might even be heightened during the holiday season. A 2017 survey of 2,700 workers across 27 U.S. cities found that although 51% say they are more cheerful at this time of year, 35% feel more work-related pressure than normal. Top reasons for the increased work stress included balancing holiday events and work obligations (32%), taking time off and coming back to a heavy workload (23%), having fewer coworkers available to help with workload (18%), buying gifts for coworkers/business contacts (11%), and attending office holiday events (8%). (There is a silver lining to a virtual office event, though—you don’t risk the average of 16% of workers who call out sick the day after a holiday party, of which men are 47% more likely to call out!)

Don’t forget, productivity might also be impacted by teammates not having a proper work-from-home setup. An ergonomic working environment can improve the mood and health of your team, such as with Autonomous’ standing desks and office chairs to improve productivity by reducing body pain from poor posture.

If you have isolated teammates working remotely, how can you keep them engaged and effective without the regular holiday activities? Use this list for ideas to increase collaboration, motivation, and trust in your team while safely maintaining social distance.

Keep activities inclusive for your diverse team.

Your employees are valuable because they come from many types of backgrounds and have different traditions. It is important to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone may celebrate Christmas, or even know some of the more common Western Christmas traditions.

Although your company may be tempted to default to classic Christmas games and activities, avoid celebrating specific religious holidays to honor the diverse people in your organization. Your team will enjoy the activities more when everyone can fully participate with enthusiasm, making the seasonal holidays special for all in your company.

Keep activities inclusive for your diverse team

To ensure inclusivity, consider establishing a virtual Activity Committee composed of a diverse range of staff to brainstorm and plan holiday events. Employees from different parts of the company and different levels will be able to weigh in on what their colleagues will be most excited about. This has the double benefit of flagging any exclusive or inappropriate activities, while also spreading out the burden of activity planning so no one person gets overwhelmed.

Integrate a holiday game into your meeting.

In the weeks leading up to a holiday break, try one of these icebreakers at the beginning or end of your meeting, especially if your team is less interested or cannot all attend a separate virtual event.

A holiday game

The Naughty List Game

Take inspiration from ‘The Naughty List’ below, played similarly to the classic party game ‘Never Have I Ever’. Feel free to customize your own to fit your team’s culture.

  • Every team member starts the game by holding up ten fingers on-screen.
  • Each team member takes a turn making a statement starting with “You are on the naughty list if…”, reading from the pre-set list or making up their own!
  • If a team member has committed the act, the team member will lower one finger per act.
  • The game continues until only one employee has fingers in the air.
  • Whoever has fingers in the air at the end of all rounds wins the game.

Holiday Scavenger Hunt

Make a list of holiday or winter themed items, and your staff have 5 minutes to run around the house trying to find corresponding items. At the end of 5 minutes, staff can share what they found cheer for the person who was able to find everything on the list!

  • Open-ended items to ‘scavenge’ work best, such as:
  • This keeps me warm when it gets cold outside
  • This represents the holiday tradition I’m most excited for
  • This item is the most re-gifted

Most Likely To...

This is a game of seasonal superlatives that asks remote coworkers to consider which teammate is most likely to perform in specific ways during the holidays. You can collect answers in advance to keep answers anonymous, or have everyone submit their answer live in the chat box during a meeting. Whichever teammate’s name comes up most wins the round. You can keep track of all the round winners and name the most-mentioned employee as the king or queen of the holiday season.

Most likely to

You can ask your team to decide who is most likely to:

  • Spend a fortune on decorations?
  • Procrastinate Christmas shopping until December 24th?
  • Cry while watching a holiday movie?
  • Forget the words to a carol?
  • Pick out the perfect present?
  • Make an epic cup of hot chocolate?
  • Fall while ice-skating?

More than a one-time game.

Virtual Secret Snowflake

This secular version of the classic ‘Secret Santa’ game is especially fun for teams that know each other well, or live relatively close so as not to rack up mail costs. Gift exchanges can re-capture the fun of spending holidays in an office and make your teammate feel valued. To hold a virtual office Secret Snowflake, you can pick names using a gift exchange generator, then send presents, and wait to open gifts together over a video chat platform.

Physical packages add a more personal, tactile feeling to the holidays, but teammates can also send each other virtual gifts such as online gift cards or internet subscriptions.

Holiday Playlist

Holiday playlist

Each teammate is likely listening to music while they work, anyway. Why not share in the spirit together by collaborating on a shared music playlist? This could include holiday-themed tunes, or simply songs that put a teammate in a good mood.

If everyone uses the same music platform (such as Spotify or Apple Music), you can all be added as “collaborators” to one playlist and add freely. If staff use different music players, each person can send their top 5 (approximately) songs to the team manager to compile into one playlist. And voila! A playlist everyone can listen to throughout their day while being reminded of each other, or even continue listening to throughout the year.

If your team does have a virtual holiday party or activity, this playlist will make great background noise!

Virtual Holiday Party

Set aside team for a longer team bonding experience all together! If you’re looking for something more interesting than a simple happy hour, read on.

Holiday Movie Watch Party

Movie watch party

Pick a beloved holiday movie (or have teammates vote one one) to watch all together. There are many apps and websites that allow multiple people to watch one streaming video all together, even while still sharing their video/audio (for live commentary) or by using a shared chat box (for written comments and jokes). There’s also always the good ‘ol “Share Screen” option—just make sure to test it first.

This activity may work especially well for a large team, where not everyone could talk during one team game, or for staff who may not be as comfortable all talking together but still want a holiday activity. Your team might be interested in one of the many classic Christmas movies—A Christmas Story, Elf, Home Alone, etc.—or may be interested in a more generic winter-themed movie to be more secular—Ice Age, Snow Day, Cool Runnings, etc. This activity can also be easily accompanied by movie drinking game rules, if your team is comfortable and excited about that idea.

Holiday Trivia Quiz

Holiday Trivia Quiz

Team trivia (or individual trivia, for smaller offices) can spice up any remote party, and holiday-themed questions make it extra fun. To play, prepare your questions, split into teams (if you have enough people), and quiz your team on holiday/winter knowledge. Add extra personality with holiday-centric names, such as “The Grinches” or “The Wisemen.”

There’s a 10-question set pre-made here, you can find many trivia questions on Kahoot or Useful Trivia, and there are plenty more readily available online.

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