How to host a virtual staff Christmas party on Zoom

Asian woman on a video call at home, working from homeIf you’re reading this, the chances are you’re either contemplating organising a virtual party, or it’s been on the to-do list for some time and now you find yourself under pressure and wondering where to begin.

The good news is that there’s still time to pull together the party everyone thinks you’ve already planned.

Firstly, it’s good to have understanding of the limitations of Zoom and video conferencing in terms of hosting a social event. Then, we’ll take a look at the techniques you can use to help make your event feel more like a party and less like work. And finally, we’ll look at party planning and entertainment options to suit every budget.

Virtual limitations and party techniques

In a Zoom party, it’s virtually impossible for people to hold simultaneous conversations nor to split into groups and chat separately in a natural manner. Zoom does however have ‘breakout rooms’ which are a little formal, but the next best thing. They can be used to host different entertainment, or simply as spaces for people to chat in smaller groups.

When hosting a virtual event, your aim is to give people a feeling of connectedness and whilst there are limitations in the technology, there are also ways to trick the brain into feeling more ‘at one’ with attendees. To do this is, you need to get as many of the five senses in sync so everybody experiences the same thing at the same time.

There are several methods to do this and usually the more you incorporate, the better. A brain-activating activity or game, a performance (live works best!), eating or drinking together, or something that involves physical movement all stimulate senses that can trick the brain into a feeling of ‘having had a night out’.

Setting the scene is equally important as it triggers the brain to prepare itself. This is especially true for office parties whereby many employees are on computers all day and video conferencing is heavily associated with work. Some tips are to set a theme for the party, consider allowing your employees to bring their housemate or partner along, and to share the event details with an engaging invite, rather than using Zoom’s bland inbuilt system.

Office Christmas party planning

This year it’s not a case of inviting everyone to a meal, putting a few quid behind the bar or a band on stage knowing that guests will amuse themselves. In 2020, most parties are going virtual and that means you’ll need to structure your party. Which in turn means a little bit of planning. Maybe even an agenda!

Firstly, we’ll assume you’re familiar with the technology. If not, you’ll need to set aside some time to learn. If you need assistance, there’s a helpful Zoom guide here.

Being last-minute, you’re going to need to get the invites out fast, so the first thing to do is figure out what your budget covers and what is possible to arrange in such a short timeframe. Then get it booked. Have you decided on a date? Do you need to discuss dates or budget with the team?

If you want to book live entertainment, time is of the essence. Get on the phone to check availability. Other forms of ‘on demand’ entertainment should be faster, and anything DIY or free simply requires your time and creativity.

Office party entertainment

Corporate virtual entertainment providers can easily be found online and if you have a reasonable budget and are seeking more of a ‘hands off’ approach, this is a good option. For live music, Lockdown Presents is a platform where you’ll find musicians for around £200 depending on duration and number of attendees (pricing here). Shared experiences involving snacks and drinks or cocktail making always goes down well and for this I can recommend a beer, rum or gin tasting from In House Tasting at around £30 per head (my ‘born out of lockdown’ startup). Even if your budget is minimal or zero, there are still plenty of free or almost-free activities you can do to evoke that feeling of connectedness.

Whilst you may feel the Zoom quiz has been done to death, it’s free and it lends itself well to the platform. Quizzes are great for easing attendees in, are introvert-friendly and attendees can participate whilst sipping a beverage of choice. With a little creativity, they can be a lot of fun. As can a home-based scavenger hunt or dress-up races. The key to making games and quizzes more engaging is personalising them with a sprinkling office banter. In terms of food and drink, you could give everyone a shopping list or order takeaways— pizza or finger food works best. Whatever you do, try to incorporate something physical into your event.

Regardless of whether you go fully managed, totally DIY or somewhere in between, remember you still need structure; at a virtual party people can’t just mingle and entertain themselves.

For an in-depth guide to hosting a Zoom party, including ideas and free resources, visit:

Kirby BryantAbout the author

Kirby Bryant is director and co-founder of In House Tasting, a company born out of lockdown that provides on-demand video tasting experiences of spirits, wines and beers. She has been operating Cambridge Wine Royston, a wine merchant selling to hospitality and the public, with her business partner, Lisa Pilgrim, in Hertfordshire for 15 years. It was hosting virtual wine and gin tasting events and the take-up of home delivery during the first COVID-19 lockdown that spurred them on to develop the on-demand, virtual home-tasting sessions.


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