Christmas 2021: Your Complete Guide to Virtual Celebrations

A laptop sits on a desk in front of a Christmas tree, with a glass of sparkling white wine beside it, ready to host a virtual Christmas party

The holiday season is here and some may be feeling tentative about office celebrations this year. The pandemic not only changed the way we do business, but also the way we socialise. With an increase in remote employees and an uncertain future for in-person gatherings, you may be tempted to give up altogether. 

However, skipping face-to-face get-togethers doesn’t mean you have to be the grinch when it comes to your office party. Employees still deserve a fun way to unwind and feel your appreciation for their hard work. Implementing a few virtual holiday party ideas will help you plan an event to end the year on a festive and memorable note.

From creating the right mood to energising the party with games to building team spirit, you can still make this year’s Christmas party a hit. Read on for 13 virtual Christmas party ideas to brighten your employees’ holiday season. 

Top Tip: Some of your Christmas party expenses will be tax deductible, as long as you’re following HMRC guidelines. These include food and drink, entertainment, Christmas decor and employee gifts under £50. Find out what other Christmas party expenses are deductible 🎄

Table of contents

Promote the holiday spirit with a festive party atmosphere

You may not intuitively associate the word “party” with virtual meetings. A proper office party means music and mingling, games and good food. Hardly the picture you get when you imagine guests sitting in their own homes, logging on to a video call and staring into a glowing screen. 

But with a little creativity, you can give your online party the feel of a true Christmas celebration. The key is to bring the standard elements into play as you organise your gathering. The following virtual party ideas will help you set the mood and bring some holiday spirit to your Christmas bash.

1. Collaborate to create a playlist

Holiday music is a must when it comes to promoting a general feeling of good cheer throughout the festive season. You can keep Christmas songs playing throughout the celebration, but why not take it a step further and pull party guests into the fun? Invite everyone on the guestlist to help build out the playlist for the evening. 

Send out a survey to get people’s top picks for Christmas favourites. Or, set up a playlist on a streaming service, like Spotify, and invite everyone to contribute. People will be listening for their picks, and the mood will be set with a little of everyone’s personalities blending into your holiday soundtrack. Sharing the party DJ task is a great way to get started.

2. Hire virtual entertainment

You may not be able to gather in a theatre or concert hall, but that doesn’t mean you can’t offer your employees a world-class entertainment experience. From virtual musicians to comics to magicians, you have lots of options when it comes to online crowd entertainment. You can even hire a virtual caricaturist to attend your online party and draw fun pictures of your staff.

As an added bonus, without the constraints of location, you’ll have access to class acts from around the world. You can even now watch Cirque du Soleil shows together online (for free!). Consider spending some of your party watching a show that will bring your team together and make it feel like a special occasion. 

3. Screen a classic Christmas movie

On the topic of entertainment, nothing beats a classic Christmas film for stirring the holiday mood. Create a cheery ambience by having a holiday “watch party”. 

Let employees help with the planning by sending out a survey in advance, or polling them on their favourite Christmas movies. Then set up a viewing session through your video conferencing software or a streaming service like Netflix or Amazon. Turn up the nostalgia as you all settle in to watch an old favourite together.

4. Serve up party food 

One of the perks of being at work around the holidays is all the festive food that comes through the office. A party just isn’t a party without the goodies. Just because you aren’t all at the same location doesn’t mean you can’t treat your employees. 

Post a care package of holiday treats to each employee (and many of these expenses are tax deductible). Send out hampers of food for staff to enjoy during the festivities. Fill them with goodies like appetisers, cheese and biscuits, Christmas cookies, candy canes and cocoa to show some employee appreciation.

You can also let employees choose their own food and expense their costs. Or, you can send each team member a voucher, like a gift voucher to Uber Eats. Team members can order what they like and all enjoy a Christmas party meal together.

5. Celebrate a variety of holidays

Today’s business landscape is more diverse than ever. It can be hard to feel like a cohesive team when you’ve got employees from different backgrounds working in locations all over the world. 

The annual office holiday party can be a good time to engage with co-workers and build bridges. Expand your celebrations to include different traditions and bring everyone into the fun. 

Ask people to share how they’re celebrating this time of year, whether across the UK or in locations around the globe. You can also acknowledge different traditions through the music you play, the food you include in care packages and even the entertainment you bring in. 

Open employees’ eyes to new traditions and give everyone a chance to shine. 

Engage employees with interactive celebrations

The last thing you want is for your virtual office Christmas party to end up being just another video call. It’ll take more than a festive soundtrack to turn a “Zoom meeting” into “office party”. So, once you’ve set the mood, plan some activities that will engage attendees and promote mingling. 

Use fun classes or healthy competition to get people interacting and give people more enthusiasm for logging on. Check out these ideas for encouraging everyone to get in on the fun.

6. Hold an ugly Christmas sweater competition

This classic party concept works just as well virtually. Encourage people to find the most outlandish festive jumpers they can and dress up to compete. Everyone will want to show off their finds and see what coworkers come up with. 

You can inspire greater participation by upping the stakes with a prize. Promote it in the invitation—it could be a gift card for a night out or a physical prize like a gift box that you ship to the lucky winner. 

Then kick off the event with a virtual fashion show. Any partygoers who want to participate can flaunt their Santa hat or festive costume for the camera, or everyone can simply post photos of their ensembles into the chat. Use your video conferencing software polling features to gather employee votes on their favourites. Then, at the end of the night, announce the winner with great fanfare.

7. Offer a masterclass in virtual cocktail making, baking or crafting

Virtual group classes became popular over the pandemic, giving rise to companies like Feast-it and The Crafty Hen. Why not add an element of learning to your holiday party? Give people a gift with classes in virtual cocktail making, cooking or crafting at the event (but make sure you check with your team for allergens, dietary requirements, and non-alcoholic preferences before locking in any recipes or alcohol-related plans).

If your budget allows, you could hire an expert bartender or chef, or invite someone from inside the company with a special talent for DIY to lead the class. Then make sure employees can create along with the instructor. Help them prepare by distributing a list of required ingredients or equipment in advance. Or collect sign-ups ahead of time and send out supply kits to each participant. 

Working together to learn a new skill will get employees talking as they compare progress and results. Have everyone show off the finished product on screen and capture a group screenshot to share afterwards. 

8. Set up a virtual photo booth

Help people create memories with online photo ops. If you want to keep it simple, have employees create their own props and backgrounds. Or, for a more technically inclined crowd, purchase a virtual photo booth that includes online Christmas props and backgrounds. Then capture screenshots as they pose. 

Create an online holiday album to share the final results and use a graphic design platform such as Canva to edit images, if required. You could even turn the photos into Christmas cards or social media posts.

A virtual booth gives employees a souvenir of this year’s celebrations. It can boost team morale by giving them the chance to get photos with virtual teammates—potentially people they haven’t seen in person for months. 

9. Host a gingerbread house competition

Nothing boosts a party spirit like a little bit of friendly competition. Create a fun, competitive atmosphere with a gingerbread construction contest. Announce the contest in the event invitation and have people sign up to participate. Then send each of the participants a kit with everything they need to create a gingerbread house, encouraging them to get creative by adding elements of their own. 

You can run the competition in advance and have people submit photos of their final product for judging at the party. Or, for heightened excitement, schedule a set amount of time for people to execute their construction during the party. 

It’ll be hard not to feel jolly as you review people’s creativity. You might all marvel at one contestant’s flawless candy decor or applaud another’s inventive additions of a holiday waterslide park. Whatever the final product, this sweet challenge will create memories and add a dose of cheer to your event.

Bring people together with virtual team-building activities

Office Christmas parties are a time to strengthen teams and build working relationships. They provide the perfect opportunity to reconnect and share a laugh or two at the end of a busy year. Use your gathering to build team spirit with virtual games and activities aimed at getting people to work together. Take a look at the following ideas for fun group celebrations.

10. Organise an online talent show

Make your party all about the team by inviting employees to share their talents. Set up a virtual sign-up in advance, and then create a programme for the evening. Have one of the organisers or a company leader emcee the event. 

Employees will gain a new appreciation for their coworkers by learning more about them. Whether realising their cubicle mate is a concert-grade pianist or marvelling at a colleague’s magic act, holiday cheer will abound as guests cheer their coworkers on.

Alternatively, if enough people are interested in participating, you could host a Zoom karaoke night and give your employees the chance to belt out their favourite songs in the spotlight.

11. Hold virtual secret Santas

Get everyone in the spirit of giving with a virtual secret Santa gift exchange. This perennial favourite will surely bring your employees together as people put thought into picking out a gift for someone else. 

Converting the gift exchange to an online affair is simple. Draw names using a virtual randomiser, such as DrawNames’ Secret Santa Generator. Send out details on when the gifts must be shipped by, spending limits and any themes you may want to incorporate (e.g., Christmas socks). Then have everyone play Santa and send it to the recipient they chose. 

During the party, gather people around the virtual Christmas tree to open the gifts online and reveal who had who. 

12. Host a holiday murder mystery night

With a little planning, a virtual murder mystery night can make for the perfect party activity. It can be just as engaging and successful as an in-person evening of sleuthing. Choose a mystery story kit, like the ones from Masters of Mystery, and assign attendees specific character roles in advance. 

During the party, have a host lead the team as they uncover clues and solve the mystery. Working the case together will spark some lively discussion. And collaborating to bring the culprit to justice is sure to help team members unwind and connect.

13. Holiday party games

What better way to get a party rolling than with ice breakers and a fun game or two? There are plenty of virtual options to get people talking and having fun. The following interactive, collaborative Christmas games are great options for engaging your guests.

Organise a virtual trivia night

Recreate a popular group activity with a pub-style quiz. Divide people into teams and have a host deliver the questions. Use your video conferencing platform’s capabilities to give teams breakout time to discuss their answers.

Make the game extra festive by including seasonal challenges. Try “name that tune” or introduce holiday trivia questions about the history of common traditions.

Set up a virtual escape room

Get team members working together with an escape room challenge. You can purchase or download prepared escape room scenarios, such as a bank heist or escape from Hogwarts, that include a theme as well as challenging puzzles and clues. Employees will have to collaborate with some creative problem solving to crack the codes and break out of the game.

You can host the event yourself or opt for fully hosted and supported events to get your team solving puzzles and winning together.

Challenge employees to a holiday scavenger hunt

For low-prep-time fun, create a remote-friendly scavenger hunt. Make a list of things people are likely to have at home—or of categories that will inspire creativity. Throw them on the screen one at a time, or tell everyone what they need to get, and shout “go!” Whoever gets back to the camera with a qualifying item first wins the round (appoint a moderator to verify who got back first). 

Go all out and make the list items seasonal, but try to keep them general enough to allow for varied interpretations. For example, ask for “something used to deck the halls”. There will be a mad scramble as people race to be the first back with a viable item. And you’ll likely get some good-natured arguing over whether an argyle sock from the clean laundry basket counts as a Christmas stocking.

Play Christmas movie charades or Pictionary

Give the old standbys charades and Pictionary a holiday spin in online versions of the games. Generate a list of holiday movie classics to use in challenges. On each team member’s turn, have the game moderator share a title through the chat feature.

Things will get lively pretty quickly as players act out or draw their clues in front of the camera and teammates shout out answers. You can take drawing to a new digital, slightly more difficult level by having players use their mouse to draw in the whiteboard feature of your video conferencing tool.

Wrapping up

Hosting a virtual office Christmas party can bring holiday fun and stronger morale to your team. This list of helpful ideas is a great jumping-off point. Implement them as-is or use them to kickstart your creativity as you cater to your company’s preferences. 

However you get your team together this holiday season, infuse your plans with the same holiday spirit you’d put into an in-person event. Employees deserve a chance to relax at the end of a long year. Putting extra effort into creating a standout virtual event will make this year’s party a celebration to remember.

Happy holidays from Tide!

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk, published on Pexels

Emily Bates

Lead Talent Partner at Tide

Tide Team

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