Party-Planning Checklist for a Virtual World - Glassdoor for Employers

Party-Planning Checklist for a Virtual World

How do you plan a company holiday party for Halloween, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or any festive gathering when all the rules have changed in a COVID world? This quick guide - developed with the help of the fabulous Workplace Experience Team at Glassdoor - will help you think of all the details in advance so you can put on an event that brings together your people to celebrate your community of coworkers in the midst of a global pandemic. 


Whether you're planning to meet up in person or on a virtual event platform, choose a location that is in line with your company's general guidelines on how you're addressing Covid based on current health recommendations in your location. Making sure you adhere to the rules is not only the right thing to do, it's also important for your business. If your holiday party were to end up being a super spreader event, it could pose a serious risk to your business if many employees were taken ill. 

Things to consider: 

  • Virtual event. If you have the budget, you could consider using services one of many virtual event platforms available. With this option, you can design every specification just like you would in a live venue, from main room design to breakout rooms featuring a variety of different activities and entertainment, like a comedian, musical acts or a magician. If your budget is tight, you can make the entire event happen on the platform you typically use for virtual meetings. We'll share some ideas below for how to make your party feel far more festive than your average workday. 
  • Socially distanced in-person event. If you live in an area where small gatherings have been deemed safe, consider a drive-in movie or another outdoor entertainment where your employees can feel a sense of togetherness while still being at a safe distance. 


Whether you're online or in person, it's critical to find a way to put people at ease with a fun atmosphere that feels safe. 

Things to consider: 

  • Virtual event. Send around a package of virtual backgrounds, from ghoulish backdrops for Halloween or snowy settings for the holidays, that people can use during the celebration. Seeing skulls and goblins or reindeer and Christmas trees will be a welcome change from desktops and keyboards. If you have the budget, have your internal brand design team create custom backgrounds that are branded to your company. And if stretching your dollar is key, hunt down some free festive holiday backgrounds for your virtual party. Everyone can set their own virtual backgrounds. You could even make it a contest to have your employees create their own backgrounds, then have colleagues vote on the winner. 
  • Socially distanced in-person event. If partygoers are attending their event from their cars or enjoying an outdoor setting within the confines of a painted circle for social distancing, food and beverage will have to be delivered to them. Consider having pre-printed party collateral including everything from games to food packaging designed specifically for the event so the party feels special. 

"Each and every one of us connects with different aspects of an event. Our goal has always been to provide events with experiences inside that will speak to a variety of people. From food and venue to creating areas where people can connect, everyone attending should be able to find something they love and ideally more than one thing. When we've curated different experiences within the same event that all tie together and stay true to our company values and brand, people have had a fantastic time. In Covid times, this strategy may mean hosting more virtual events that are smaller. Right now we are looking to have folks make connections outside of their day-to-day work." - Ainsley Hill, Director of Global Workplace Experience at Glassdoor.


No event, virtual or in person, should be devoid of music. Here's what to think about it when planning for this year's holiday parties. 

Things to consider: 

  • Virtual event. Send out a playlist in advance so people can stream background music in their own homes. Or, if you're hiring live entertainment for your virtual event, consider hosting different musicians in different breakout rooms. 
  • Socially distanced in-person event. The good news is that sound carries, so if you're hosting a party outdoors, people can be spread out and still enjoy the tunes. And if you happen to be in a place where you can't blast music (the bad news is that sound carries), there's always the silent disco route. Sanitized wireless headphones can be handed out and hooked up to the same central sound system for an outdoor dance party. 


A party isn't a party without a little entertainment. Even in a virtual or socially distanced setting, it's pretty straightforward to delight your guests with a great performance or two. 

Things to consider: 

  • Virtual event. Reach out to any kind of entertainer you would consider for a live event. Not only are most of them coming up with innovative ways to practice their craft virtually - even coming up with new and fun ways of sparking audience engagement, they are in need of work! Your people will not only love the spectacle of a fantastic act, they'll love that you're supporting artists during a challenging time. Make sure you hire musicians and magicians, but don't be afraid to think outside the box a bit: you can hire breathtaking acts from anywhere in the world to join in a webinar format  - from Cirque du Soleil performers to fire dancers. Just make sure they include a little company branding to make it feel more custom than broadcasting a cool YouTube video. And if your people demand dancing, there are all sorts of options for throwing virtual dance parties with live DJs. 
  • Socially distanced in-person event. If your event is outdoors and entertainment is on a distant stage, you can consider having guests opt to sign in to a live feed that gives them a closer view of the performance. 
  • Budget-friendly, culture-affirming options. If your budget is tight, consider tapping into the talent of your own employees. A "[Your Company]'s Got Talent" event is a great way to showcase your people, make them shine, and increase engagement across the board.  
  • Don't forget the host factor. Just as we've seen at the Oscars, a host can make or break the entire affair. Whether you're virtual or socially distanced, make sure you have a master of ceremonies who can bring great energy to the event while capturing attention and raising collective excitement. 

"Company events are great opportunities to take some moments to just laugh out loud with your co-workers. With so much uncertainty right now, it's healthy to have a good belly laugh. Events like parties, social hours or even just team trivia over lunch are great ways to really turn off work even if it's just for an hour or so." - Jesús Suárez, Senior Workplace Operations & Events Coordinator at Glassdoor

Games and activities

In 2020, there aren't many places where games are safe in a format other than virtual. Here's a list of ideas for fun, interactive activities that bring your people together in unique ways: 

  • DJ party
  • Socially distanced outdoor silent disco
  • Virtual variety show
  • Comedy act
  • Talent show with bonus points for party-theme-inspired performances
  • Murder mystery
  • Online scavenger hunt
  • Virtual escape room

Party favors

A little something to take away from the event and remind you of some time well spent with your colleagues - that's the 'why' behind what can feel like an extraneous expense. If your budget is tight, it's an easy one to skip, but if you have the funds a bit of party swag is especially great for a work-from-home environment. Employees can keep it on their home-office desks to bring extra camaraderie to a socially distanced workforce. If your budget is tiny, even a printed party invitation can act as a piece of desk decoration post party. And if your budget is bigger, mailing out care packages go a long way toward making your people feel thought of and appreciated. Even if your party slush fund isn't huge, a small gift box coupled with a virtual event that's mostly free will go far toward boosting employee happiness and connection.  

Things to consider: 

  • Virtual event. Be sure you send out your favors with a big buffer to make sure that everything arrives on time. Especially around the holidays, you have to assume there will be delivery delays. 
  • Socially distanced in-person event. Make sure that any favors, swag or prizes are wrapped individually and handed out one at a time. Having guests reach into a basket to grab their gifts is so last year. 

[Related: 9 Ways to Level-Up Employee Recognition In the Remote Workplace]

Food and beverage

Like party favors, food and beverage is an easy thing to skip in a virtual party format if your budget is tight. But the bonding element of sharing a meal or a drink together cannot be underestimated. If your company had a caterer pre-COVID, having them take charge of your partyfare is also a great way to bring them much-needed business, and employees will get to break bread together like back in the old days. 

Things to consider: 

  • Virtual event. If you want to ship food or beverage to your dispersed employees for a holiday party, you've got lots of options. A simple idea is sending out a box of candy or chocolates in a custom box along with a favor or two. A more complex and costly idea is to send out a cocktail or hors 'd'oeuvres / meal kit (or both!) scheduled to arrive a day before the event. That way, even if they live and work in separate time zones, every employee would have everything they needed on hand for the celebration when the clock strikes party-o'clock. An extra special touch would be allowing people to RSVP for a certain number of people so their nuclear family can join in the fun. 
  • Socially distanced in-person event. Same goes for food as for favors: everything should be pre-packaged and served at a distance - or delivered directly to each guest's 6-foot safety bubble. 

[Related: The Shocking Link Between Your Bottom Line and Improving Employee Engagement]

Who to invite

When you're hosting a party in an indoor venue with a cost-per-head pricing structure, it can be challenging to offer employees the option of bringing a plus-one. But in a virtual world - or even a socially distanced outdoor party - it's pretty budget friendly to cast a wide net in terms of invitations. Then again, sometimes smaller is better. 

What to consider: 

  • Go big. This is a great opportunity to invite +1s, spouses, partners, kids and friends to the festivities. Encourage partygoers to project the event on their large-screen television at home so a room full of people can enjoy the entertainment. You could even consider shipping an external webcam - doubling as a party favor - that can easily be hooked up to the TV for interactive portions of the party. 
  • Keep it intimate. Instead of trying to get the entire company - especially if your organization is large - to partake in a single party, consider funding smaller parties for individual teams or departments. Depending on the type of activity you're planning, sometimes connecting is easier with fewer people. 

Your people will remember how you supported them - and celebrated with them - during COVID-19. To get involved in the conversation on Glassdoor and start managing and promoting your employer brand reputation, unlock your Free Employer Profile today.