2021 continues to be a year of surprising twists and turns. As many people continue in their work from home or hybrid work models, the positive attitudes toward flexible work grows. According to a January 2021 remote work survey by PWC, "83% of employers say the shift to remote work has been successful, however, over half of employees would prefer to be remote at least three days a week once the pandemic concerns recede."

Working from home is not just about employee sentiment. The fact remains that 13.4 % of employed people are still working in fully-remote roles due to the pandemic (not including those who had remote roles pre-pandemic). This is about 10% lower than earlier in the year, but still causes a dilemma for the companies who need virtual holiday party ideas.

How the Pandemic Changes Planning

Organizations have been dealing with remote and hybrid work situations for over 18 months. The challenge remains of assessing the productivity and other benefits that come from having more flexible work arrangements. As the holiday season approaches, leaders are thinking about planning and logistics. These plans center on recognizing and rewarding employees during the upcoming holidays and bringing them together, no matter where they may be working.

There are many benefits of holding a virtual holiday celebration. When we gather with other people, especially in times of celebration, chemicals in the brain such as oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin and endorphins are released in response to the stimulation of the situation. These shared experiences and happy times lead us to mirror the moods of our colleagues. Additionally, having rituals and traditions that center around holiday celebrations allows employees to focus on things that are predictable and consistent. This consistency leads to a reduction in stress. 

Modern Virtual Holiday Party Ideas to Include

What are the best holiday party ideas and how do you put a modern spin on them? Whether a virtual holiday party, or hybrid celebration, these are some creative ideas to include. The bonus is each one is a holiday song so you'll have your virtual holiday playlist too! 

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire - The Christmas Song (Nat King Cole or Michael Buble')

For thousands of years, food has been a primary way we show care for other people. Whether it was hunting, gathering, cooking or sharing, the connection people build through food cannot be denied. Things are no different today and it carries over into food benefits in the workplace. 78% of employees surveyed believe food benefits would have a positive impact on the overall culture at their companies. It's not just about nourishment either. 

By giving someone food, the ability to have food delivered, or funds to make the food-buying and cooking processes easier, you are giving them the gift of time. You're reducing the time they normally spend handling those tasks. Instead, you are gifting them more time to enjoy those meals with family and friends. You may also be freeing up time for the employee or team member to devote to their own wellness, to help someone else, to do a hobby or sport they like, etc. It's a win-win situation.

The gift of food benefits, such as the DashPass for Work or DoorDash gift cards, gives your leaders the opportunity to help employees in other ways. 82% of those surveyed said they’d feel more satisfied at work if their company offered free food delivery cards. If you're considering a gift that gives all year long,  provides employees year-round access to delivery of meals and groceries. You'll be saving your employees time shopping, time cooking and in the end, it will ease their stress. 

If you're looking for specific holiday party support, using DoorDash Group Orders fits that bill. It provides a way to have each employee fed with delicious, nutritious food that you can request delivery using non-contact delivery safety measures. This provides a sense of security for employees because they know the food was handled in a safe, appropriate way before delivery.

No Place Like Home for the Holidays (Perry Como)

Workplaces everywhere participate in gift exchanges, "Secret Santa'' assignments in departments, or gift giving contests. So, how do you pull that off in a virtual world? What if everyone from your workplace is at home? Make the most of it! From movies like The Wizard of Oz to songs like the one above, we grow up knowing there is no place like home. Now, even while at home, there are so many ways you can use technology to connect and make memories.

If you're ready to plan a virtual Secret Santa or gift exchange, look to technologies like Elfster and Giftster. Each tool enables the organizer to invite multiple participants. Once a participant accepts, they create a wishlist of various items within a set price point. The tool then randomly assigns the matches. The administrator can even create questions for participants so they get to know each other better. Ask about their family traditions, which holiday they celebrate, how they celebrate and what they like best about this time of year. It's a special way to create new bonds for some and stronger bonds for others. If your employees have a DashPass for Work membership, they can get free deliveries on all eligible orders bought from pet shops, floral shops, liquor stores, and more.

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Underneath the Tree (Kelly Clarkson)

In this song, Kelly Clarkson sings about being alone on Christmas. Some employees have been alone due to the pandemic and others are alone for other reasons. A nice gesture is finding a way to reach out to employees so they don't feel alone. One way to do that is by sending holiday decorations. Whether you celebrate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas or another holiday, decorating your home or workspace is a way of declaring the traditions you hold dear. There are ways you can make employees feel special during the season by sending a box of decorations for their home before your virtual holiday party. 

In the workplace, it is a bit easier to be inclusive and use decorations from various holidays. With workers at home, it requires a little extra communication and planning. First, let employees know you'd like to send them a little box of goodies. If they choose to, they can disclose if there is a special religious holiday they celebrate. If they are not comfortable sharing that information, you can give other options for Winter themed boxes. Winter boxes can include decorations with snowflakes, snowmen, wreaths, etc. Either way, you can send your employees the perfect box of fun decorations to brighten up their home or office.

And So This is Christmas (John Lennon)

The holidays are a season about giving to others. Many workplaces have selected families in need to "adopt" during the holiday season. You can work with your local Red Cross, Salvation Army, churches, or other charities to identify families who need a little extra help during the winter season. Having everyone donate items that a family needs brings everyone together with one goal. It gives employees a sense of accomplishment and wellbeing by enabling them to help make someone else's life a little better.

A modern twist on this in 2021 would be to "Adopt a local business". During the past two years, small businesses have been struggling. One way your employees can work together to spread joy during the holiday season is to identify a local family business, or other small business, and find out what they need. It may be some actual physical items such as coats, gloves, hats, etc. Or it may be an investment in time to help them make needed repairs to their business, move inventory, or other odd jobs around the business. Rallying employees to help a business in need is a great way to give back to the local community during the holiday season. 

Whether you adopt a family, a business, or both, share pictures and stories at the holiday party. Even if it is a virtual party, employees can feel part of something larger than themselves. They will be proud they were able to spread kindness and holiday cheer too!

The Ugly Christmas Sweater Song (YouTube)

When thinking about ways to bring people together to celebrate for a virtual holiday party, an ugly sweater contest came to mind. We've seen them worn in holiday movies like Deck the Halls or The Santa Clause 2. We've heard songs about them. But the real fun is finding them and wearing them.

There are a couple ways to handle this virtually. You can have employees submit photos or come on zoom wearing their favorite ugly sweater. You could also send different ugly sweaters to employees from each department, then have the departments compete. Either way, putting on funny holiday sweaters and voting is a great morale booster. As for prizes, send a new ugly sweater and a DoorDash gift card of course!

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River (Robert Downey Jr.)

Personal acts of service are a wonderful way we show someone they are important to us. As we prepare for the holiday season, we know that virtual holiday parties and celebrations are not always about giving a physical thing. Sometimes, the best gifts and recognition comes when we do acts of service in support of other people. As 2021 comes to a close, finances remain tight for many Americans. There isn't always the ability to purchase something for an employee. Finding ways to lend a hand and take on a task for someone is often the best gift.

Whether you are a leader or an employee on a team, find a colleague and offer to help lighten his or her load. Take on a bit of extra work. When you do that, you not only actually reduce their stress, you show the person that you value them. It is a small gesture that creates a huge impact. If you are the leader of the team, find one thing you can do for each person to lighten their work responsibilities. You will validate that the work they do is important and simultaneously spread holiday cheer.

Run, Run Rudolph (Chuck Berry)

With the intense focus on wellbeing, more employees are participating in physical fitness. As quarantine restrictions eased, people found themselves in need of some exercise. In February, a Harris Poll survey of 3,013 adults found that 42% of respondents reported weight gain. The median weight gain was 15 pounds. One way to build camaraderie, create a challenge and promote wellness  by hosting a race or physical competition. Not only will employees feel closer to each other, it can be a way to help them achieve their own personal health goals.

Hosting a holiday race, for example, is a great way to bring employees together whether they are working in the office or still working remotely. You can hold an in-person race event for those who are comfortable doing so. For those at home, or who are less comfortable participating in larger group activities at this time, you can have employees submit photos or fun videos from their run. Have each employee track their time to completion and use the honor system to self report. In the end, give out fun holiday rewards like a DoorDash employee gift card for participating. 

Oh Why Can't Every Day Be Like Christmas (Elvis)

One way to get creative with the traditional approach to a party is to schedule it over time. Instead of hosting a party on one day for a few hours, consider hosting a party week. Set aside a few minutes each day to celebrate. Consider these mini parties as ways to bring in many of the components from what we've already suggested. Mix up having celebration days, competition days, and days that focus on inclusion of many belief systems. The overarching goal of the week should be bringing people together, engaging conversation and inclusion.

In fact, you could make the whole month of December your virtual holiday party! Get creative and ask employees for their ideas too. You may find that by focusing on the employee, service to others, wellness, and holiday cheer, you'll get more involvement and engagement than ever before. We know that employees have had a rough 18- 20 months, so anything you can do to ease that stress will be seen as a benefit. Have you considered setting a stipend each month for employees to use as a reward? Try DoorDash Expensed Meals programs. It gives you the ability to set an amount each employee can use per month, or for a one-time party. The employee can charge the lunch or coffee break to the company and it’s easily expensed through your portal.

As the future of the office and virtual work evolves, we must continue to use creativity and innovation to keep our teams engaged. We must also remain agile and adaptable as the return-to-work process ebbs and flows. One of the things employees miss the most is gathering for lunch or breaks. In a September 2020 survey conducted by DoorDash, 76% of employees say “eating and socializing with colleagues” is their most missed food-related benefit. Create a plan today to have a virtual holiday party to replace those good connections and feelings. For more creative ideas on how to choose benefits your employees will love, check out the white paper on how to choose 5 star benefits. Happy Holidays!

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Trish McFarlane
Trish McFarlane
CEO and Principal Analyst, H3 HR Advisors

Trish McFarlane is the CEO and Principal Analyst for H3 HR Advisors.  As a former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience in Big 4 public accounting, PR, healthcare, manufacturing, and IT, Trish brings that knowledge to her clients as an analyst and advisor.  She has been the author of the Trish McFarlane blog (formerly known as the HRRingleader blog) since 2009.  In addition, she began the HRevolution un-conference in 2009 and was a founding member of the Women of HR blog.