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25 May 2020
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How to Throw a Virtual Office Party: 9 Entertaining Ideas

While the company has had some remote working experience before the lockdown, online corporate events remain an unchartered territory yet to be explored for the first time. Here are 9 exciting options for your team.
Let’s start from the key performance indicators achieved by a major IT company in 2019: more than 180 events were held, 90% of them offline. Then in March 2020, almost at a moment’s notice, in just two weeks, 90% of the employees shifted to remote working. How was event production supposed to readjust in these circumstances?

Luckily, they had a solid base. Here’s the first tip: when organizing any major event, try to involve talented employees within the company. Our co-workers formed rock bands and performed at corporate parties, developed cyber games, hosted quizzes and competitions.
Once you switch to online mode, this tradition will stand you in good stead. Reach out to those talented co-workers, and the ideas for events will come naturally.
Top 9 events that can be held online and on an almost zero budget 
1. Online party
Organize a party featuring a DJ set with vinyl records — or even two parties. That’s awesome if the DJ is your co-worker. You can bring the turntables and the streaming equipment to their place, post the event announcement on social media and your intranet portal if you have any, and your co-workers from the IT department can help set up the live stream. Take our IT company with 2,000+ employees as an example: just two events attracted 550 participants and got positive feedback.

If you don’t have a co-worker doubling as a DJ, you can hire one. Since parties are still banned in this country, you can get a good discount. Go live on YouTube!

2. Home concert
The next major event can be a virtual home concert of a rock band formed by the co-workers. Launch the live stream on YouTube, available to everyone interested. The performance will be attended not only by the employees, but by their family members, prospective job applicants, and your social media followers.

In every team, there is usually a co-worker who can play the guitar. Invite them to give a heartwarming evening performance. And your company’s YouTube channel will give exposure to these lockdown homegrown artists and gain new subscribers.

3. Sporting events
We are now offering our office yoga classes online. They are held twice a week in exchange for a donation. It’s hard to believe but the yoga instructor is our co-worker, too. In addition, the attendance has increased compared to offline classes at the office — they are more convenient, as you don’t have to rush home right after the class.
If you don’t have a yoga instructor in your team, launch any type of workout online — even if it’s only «Holding a plank every day at 12.00» via a video call. Yes, the audience is small, but the engagement numbers will go through the roof at zero costs.

4. «Doctors vs Corona» adventure quest through Russian cities inspired by Plague.Inc
13 teams of five participants each «conquered» the cities, guessing the objects located on online maps, looking closely at monuments, and learning about the history of Russia. The quest was hosted by our co-worker, and she was the one to come up with all the activities.

All you need to do is launch the online registration, put the teams together, buy the game engine (the quest hosting platform), and provide prizes for the winners.
We deliberately centred the quest on a hot topic. But if the company doesn’t have a game designer, you can simply cover the cost of the employees’ participation in a third-party quiz. There’s a wide selection of those now, and they are not very expensive.

5. Events for children
Being with kids 24/7 is bliss and... hard work. In addition to articles for parents with ideas on how to keep your child entertained during the lockdown with materials available (completing quizzes around the apartment, playing the chemist or the cook, staging amateur plays, etc.), get ready to award the kids with certificates of gratitude that they did not interfere with their mothers’ and fathers’ working from home, that they lived through this difficult period without breaking restrictions — and did a brilliant job overall!

The certificates may be both printed and digital. We chose the online option, published an announcement for the employees with a link to the template so that everyone could download it and write in the name of their little lockdown hero.

6. External events
These can vary from quizzes to social activism. For example, we took part in the «I Know About Autism. Do You?» campaign launched by the Zvezda Foundation. We shared the campaign information on our corporate social media with the audience of more than 5000 people. As a result, more than 50 people were able to take the test on early detection of autism in children and became more knowledgeable about this issue.

Make informative compilations of online resources on how to work from home. On a regular basis, put together articles on online courses and training options, on free quizzes or live streams and tours, on good films and TV shows to while away the quarantine time.

For events with zero budget, monitor online activities and send invitations to your employees. Activities of this kind have multiplied during the lockdown. It will cost nothing to the company, but provide the variety and change of scene for the employees.

7. Competitions
For people who have never worked from home, this is a stressful situation. That’s why it is crucial to keep in touch with the co-workers and stand by them. Competitions titled «How to Work from Home Efficiently» and «Remote Work Challenge», in which everyone can share their secrets to staying motivated, always attract a large number of participants. Our pets had been our greatest solace. It’s a lot of fun when someone’s cat ambles into the frame during a live stream. Having had our share of laughing, we assumed a more serious attitude, compiled the best remote work practices, shared them via our official channels and communicated them to our team leaders.

The lockdown period also involved two environmental events: Earth Hour and Earth Day. We launched competitions on social media and intranet portals: our co-workers posted photos of how they spend time without electricity (the winners shared images of the moon as seen through a telescope and a theme-based origami). We also invited a famous environmental blogger to give us a Zoom lecture on sustainable living habits.
Currently, there is an ongoing contest for the best crafts project using recyclable materials. Our co-workers enjoy such things. All winners will be awarded after we return to the office.

Competitions and lectures can be held in any format. It entirely depends on your imagination. Just get your co-workers together and try to see the positive side of events. Invite teammates to lectures and discussions that might be of interest to them! Award prizes for active participation or just post updates naming the winners and send them attractive digital certificates. Recognition is sometimes more valuable than any prize.

8. Educational activities
At the moment, it’s crucial to keep the employees informed about the pandemic and other diseases. Set up an online meeting with a virologist. This will mitigate the emerging panic noticeably.
We are sure that you and your colleagues have something you could teach others, either related to your professional activities or your hobbies. Let it be known and share it with everyone.

9. Planting houseplants instead of trees
Twice a year our team members plant trees: fir trees and flowers around the office building, apple trees in parks. Since we are going to be on the lockdown at home till the end of May, these events will be held online. We’ll host a lecture on how to repot houseplants properly and tell about the plants you can grow at home — from scallions and basil to avocados. Speaking of which, you can grow beautiful two-meter plants from seeds of store-bought avocados. 30 people have already signed up for the lecture, so it seems to generate some interest. And the lecturer will be our co-worker — a gardening expert.
You can follow the results of planting online and share the pictures of your thriving plants.

What conclusion can be drawn from all this?
Events in the online format, remote learning and working from home are a new reality that has its benefits and drawbacks. We are forced to change and adapt very rapidly, doing a lot of things for the first time.

Now we are looking forward to returning to conventional events and real-life meetings with co-workers. But we will definitely keep some of the virtual events. Experience has shown that this format has some undeniable advantages:

1. A greater degree of engagement. Our co-workers’ performances leave a more vivid impression than those of hired musicians. 1000+ comments left during the live stream and dozens of reposts on social media prove it.

2. A wider inclusion of managers. Experience suggests that managers make up only about 5% of the participants of offline events — it is lower than their share in the company staff. 95% of the participants are frontline employees. With the transition to the online format, we have significantly increased this ratio, by almost 20%. It might be attributed to the fact that the managers usually have a heavy workload and no time for an offline event. However, all they need to do to join a virtual activity is to turn on their laptop.

3. Involvement of all offices. Integrated virtual space makes it possible to bring employees from all regions together. It is increasingly complicated at offline events.

4. Apparent budget savings. The need for event venues, office rentals, catering and other expenses is eliminated. You need to find equipment and prizes, as well as spend some time on planning and communication. It results in substantial savings.

5. Novelty and simplicity. If your colleagues are left unimpressed with regular events, try to approach them from a new angle. Look into engagement and audience reach — probably, that is exactly what you were lacking. To learn about your audience’s wishes, just ask your co-workers what kind of events they would like to participate in.
Virtual corporate event planning checklist
1. Select an audience-appropriate event and announce it at least a week before via the available channels: the intranet portal, the newsletter, social media, and instant messengers. This way the employees will set their schedules accordingly and won’t make other plans for Friday evening.

2. Make sure to ask the co-workers to register for the event. This way you will be able to predict the number of participants and see whether the activity needs any additional promotion.

3. Test different online platforms. Use those that do not cause any audio or image distortions. It’s a major advantage when the platform is accessible from different devices, such as laptops and smartphones.

4. Prepare the script and the timing. Prior to the event, come up with interactive activities (competitions, prizes) and select those who will livestream them during the event.

5. Run a test live stream with a focus-group.

6. On the day of the event, send out the relevant information to the participants: share direct links to the live stream via email and instant messengers.

7. At the end of the event, collect the participants’ feedback and analyse the statistical data to gain insight into what to consider in the future.

By Natalya Sokolova and Anna Leonova
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