How to host the perfect virtual team bonding party

Part of fostering company culture is providing time to connect outside of the office. From happy hours to paint nights or succulent making classes, these allow employees the opportunity to disengage with work and relax. But how can you keep up the momentum and provide a healthy outlet for your team, when, well, everyone is remote for the foreseeable future? It’s a tricky situation that frankly no human resources department has had to navigate in the past.

Luckily, there are many creative companies—like the ones below—who have found ways to host virtual gatherings across the miles. Get inspired by their tactics and approaches to create the same good vibes in your business:

Have open-ended gatherings weekly

Throughout the week, Ingenio is offering many touchpoints to allow employees to bond. Every day, at noon, team members are invited to attend ‘The Lunchroom’ where they can eat lunch virtually and catch up with each other. As a bonus, the leadership team at Ingenio is offering a stipend through DoorDash each Wednesday, as they normally do in office. Not only does this give employees one meal free a week but it supports local restaurants and eateries, too. Also, daily at 5 p.m., the brand invites employees to join a ‘Happy Hour’—wit or without booze. If they couldn’t make 12 p.m. work with a busy schedule, the hope is they can tune-in at the end of the day. For those who don’t need quite as much social interaction but want to join in on the fun, they have a standing ‘Margarita Thursday’ from 3 to 4 p.m., where it’s bring-your-own-tequila to Zoom. 

Warren Heffelfinger, the company’s CEO says regular gatherings boost morale because they reinforce the strength of their work culture in a simple way: connecting with one another. “We have some employees that have been with Ingenio for 20 years, and going from seeing familiar faces every day to little to no interaction can be quite jarring,” he shares. “Through lunchtimes and happy hours, we’re reminding each other that we’re not alone and that there can still be levity and camaraderie in times of crisis. That sense of unity definitely makes a huge impact.”

Don’t forget about birthdays or other celebrations

Walking into the office on your birthday means you’ll be dazzled with a cupcake, a card that was passed throughout the office to be signed, and other surprises. But for those spring-time babies who are stuck in quarantine this year, it can feel like a disappointing lap around the sun. The same goes for those who are expecting babies, planning to wed, and other milestones that warrant a toast. That’s why Michel et Augstin is taking time to pause and pay tribute to their employees—even from afar. 

As the head of communications for the company, Briana Haas experienced first hand, the team didn’t forget her March 20 birthday. They put together a funny video and sent a spa gift card to be used once businesses are open again. For another birthday, everyone was challenged to create a dessert to surprise another coworker using whatever they have at their homes—and all eating the sweet treat together. (The birthday person was sent their own treat—rather than having to make it!)

It seems simple but hey, it makes a big difference in the spirit of the company. “Just seeing their faces, having an opportunity to laugh with them, being kept in the loop on business and how things are moving forward helps fend off the isolation,” Haas shares. “Honestly, in a time of uncertainty, it’s just nice to have this kind of support from your company and coworkers. Not everyone is so lucky.”

Try to keep up with culture as usual

Typically when working at VISION Production Group, you can expect to have Monday morning team tacos. And you can bring your dog to work any day you’d like. Every Friday afternoon, there’s a happy hour, and birthday and team-building activities are common occurrences. However, with remote work, re-creating that ever-connected team vibe isn’t as easy. Tracy Shappro, the president and CEO of the company says they’re trying their best to provide many Zoom sessions, all with the goal of boosting morale. So far, these include virtual happy hours, taco talks, coffee breaks, pet ‘meetups’, and even Peloton exercise breaks. 

Though it looks different than how it used to, Shappro says this fact still rings true: a great culture is one where employees love coming to work, where they feel appreciated and respected, and where creative level and positive energy of the environment is conducive to creativity and innovation. “Our team really does enjoy coming to work and they care about each other as well as our clients.  We’ve just transitioned that same philosophy to work remotely which is so important now, especially as employees are juggling working from home with kids, family members, and the stress of the virus itself,” she shares. “ We’re embracing video conferencing, virtual meetings, and connecting as a team. Location to us is not that important. What’s important is that we keep a sense of togetherness to make sure our company continues to provide our clients with the same high level of creativity.”

Get creative—and involve customers if you like

And if it makes sense for your business. The founder and CEO of Cohere, Antoinette Marie Johnson decided to experiment with her company’s unique intersection between food, design, and sustainability. To foster those same fundamentals internally, they often host Lunch & Learns that brought teams together to collaborate. During these sessions, experts in various fields were invited in and talked about their specialties. Employees were able to ask questions, bond together, and perhaps, go home with a new skill. “We knew we had to reinstate a digital version of this while everyone was at home isolated. It’s great quality time even when not in-person,” she shares. 

From ‘How to Grow Mushrooms at Home’ to virtual wine and cheese pairing courses, employees can now attend these sessions virtually, all free of charge. And well, they decided to open it up to customers too, since hey, we all need a little pick-me-up these days. “Interacting with internal employees for “fun” is essential, but also inviting outsiders is a great way to still have everyone show up with their A+ professional attitudes,” she continues. “It’s networking in the best way while making each other smile, laugh and something to learn.”