Creating intentional connections in the hybrid workplace: how to host an awesome virtual celebration

Remember parties? Getting the invitation, anticipating the date, dressing up, gathering with friends, enjoying special moments, eating, drinking, laughing and even dancing together. When this pandemic is finally behind us, WE WILL PAR-TY!

Social psychologists tell us that we gather because it’s a way to feel aligned with the energy of the collective, in sync and part of something greater than ourselves. When we celebrate a milestone with a party, we’re making meaning of who we are and reinforcing what we value. That makes a lot of sense to us at Habanero; when we find ways to make meaningful social connections, even while physical distancing, it feels like we’re a getting a dose of energy and realigning our way forward together.

Like so many organizations, we have struggled to feel socially connected with each other now that we aren’t in the office together every day. Our pulse survey results for connection were consistently low throughout the end of 2020, and while the virtual meetups and happy hours were appreciated by some, they just couldn’t match the in-person experience. As the winter holiday season approached, we knew that drifting through the end of the year without a party wasn’t an option. So some very clever Habs designed our first online holiday party, and it was a big success. When we continued to work remotely into 2021 and we saw that another celebration was coming up in the calendar, we knew what we had to do.

In this post, we’ll share what we’ve learned about creating intentional connections in a remote or hybrid workplace, so you can plan your own successful virtual event.

Here are a few tips to help you kick off planning:

Start with your event type

  • Is it a birthday party? An anniversary? Something else?
    The type of event can help determine the tone and scale of the experiences you plan.
  • What types of activities would you do for this event if we weren’t in a pandemic?
    This can be a helpful guidepost when considering how to approach your experience.

How we did it

As you may have heard, we recently celebrated our 25th birthday. Because it was a big milestone, we wanted to do something extra special to celebrate, and this guided most of our decisions on how to design the experience.

Get creative

  • Are you doing something just because you’ve done it before?
    We considered sending another care package, but it felt overused and familiar. Because this was a special event, we wanted to do something different.
  • Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box.
    Start brainstorming! Bring in your wacky ideas. You never know where they may lead you.
  • Consider the whole experience
    Working from home means you’ll likely need to send any gifts to employees via snail-mail. Don’t overlook intentional touches you can add to make this experience special.

How we did it

We sent gifts directly to employees’ homes with:

  • A commemorative poster that brought a little piece of our brand to employees’ at-home setups
  • A birthday treat voucher
  • A confetti surprise!
Prepping the confetti that would go in the envelopes.

Understand your audience

  • What type of gift would employees appreciate most?
    Beware of giving stuff for the sake of giving stuff.
  • What type of gift makes sense for your event type
    Think about what would be common to receive at your event type (for example, food or prizes). If you’re going the food route, consider employees’ dietary restrictions and location. Do they have access to a delivery service (like SkipTheDishes or DoorDash), or will that leave them without a gift at all?

How we did it

We gave our employees an expense voucher, which allowed them to choose their own birthday treat. This gave us flexibility when it came employees’ location, food allergies, dietary restrictions and preferences.

Voucher and poster sent out to employees.

Define your format

  • How will you create engagement with this event?
    It’s not enough to gather everyone together. We know that people are missing in-person connection, but open-ended calls fall flat. Gifts are nice but are far more memorable when paired with an experience. Take the time to craft an engaging format.

How we did it

Along with our gift, we hosted a company-wide event with a team-based scavenger hunt activity. Employees had the opportunity to get up from their desks to search for a blend of 90s-themed items and Habanero memorabilia while working with their team to win prizes!

Miro board with our mystery prizes on it.

Choose a platform

  • Which tools and technology are most familiar to your employees?
    We don’t want this event to be stressful! Try to mitigate learning curves and technology issues by using familiar software.
  • What types of tools and technology do you need based on the format for your event?
    Consider what you might need to facilitate virtually, if anything.

How we did it

We leveraged Microsoft Teams and their breakout room functionality for our party. Breakout rooms make it easier for folks to connect in smaller groups and help engage those who may not feel comfortable talking in all-hands meetings. Our tool of choice for our scavenger hunt was Miro. It allowed team members to collaborate across each region, drove competition between teams and enabled us to design an experience that was unique to us and our brand.

Pro tip

We thought our scavenger list had more than enough items to keep Habs busy. Don’t underestimate the competitive nature of your people! Come prepared with a tiebreaker, especially when prizes are on the line!

Promote your event and generate excitement

  • How will you get people excited for your event?
    Be strategic about which details to share and which to hold back in order to pique people’s interest.
  • How are you going to let folks know it’s happening?
    There’s an opportunity to be more intentional than just a meeting invite!

How we did it

Just like you would expect for an in-person birthday party, we sent out an invitation. Just like in non-pandemic times, we left out some of the details. We prompted folks to check their snail-mailboxes, mentioned there would be an activity, but didn’t ever reveal it all at once. After all, you never know all of what will happen at an event until you get there!

That's it!

We hope that sharing our experience and tips helps you create your own super-sweet virtual event.

Stories say it best.

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