Just like everything else, the holiday office party is going to look a lot different this year.

Despite the drudgery that was 2020, employers still want to show their appreciation to their workers.

But let’s be honest: Scheduling a video meeting and calling it a “Holiday Party” isn’t going to cut it, so some companies are getting creative.

An all-day celebration

Why limit an office party to just a few hours? Paypal is hosting a global 29-hour virtual party where employees can drop in whenever they want.

The schedule is broken into eight different “destinations” during which site leaders from different offices across the globe are responsible for arranging virtual entertainment during their designated time.

Life pre-Covid: PayPal's 2017 San Jose site holiday party at San Francisco's City Hall

The online party will get started with circus performers, cultural art and performance workshops and a surprise headliner.

Other events throughout the day include: a magic show, a singing competition, cooking classes, illusionist performances and a dance off.

Planning for the event, called “All Together Gathering: A PayPal December to Remember” started back in April. “Virtual on camera and audio is our lives right now, we wanted to make sure [the party] is not just that. We want more connection, and an in-depth and more immersive environment,” said Genessa Nannini, PayPal’s director of people engagement.

Group activity

Last year, accounts payable software provider Tipalti threw a holiday party complete with a buffet dinner for employees and their spouses, followed by bowling.

“Everyone was celebratory,” recalled Todd McGuire, the company’s chief of staff.

That’s not going to work this year, but the company still wants to show its appreciation. “In a mess of a year, they have executed extraordinarily well,” said McGuire.

Company leaders considered paying for everyone to order dinner and eat together virtually, but decided it wouldn’t offer enough interaction between teams.

Instead, they are doing a virtual mixology event for employees.

“Making it active makes it feel more festive, but it has specific break points – you can push people into Zoom rooms where they can chat in a cross-functional way,” said McGuire.

Secret Santa and trivia

The marketing team at digital media and promotions company Quotient is trying to add a more personal touch to its holiday celebrations.

Members of the 37-person team can choose to participate in a Secret Santa gift exchange that has a $25 limit and gifts are sent directly to co-workers’ homes. To avoid generic candles and bath soaps and inspire more original gift ideas, teammates can list their hobbies and interests on a shared spreadsheet.

Quotient's marketing team will get  DIY cocktail kits for its holiday party.

The department will also send a customized DIY cocktail kit to prepare drinks during their virtual party on Kumospace, an online platform that allows for multiple conversations in the same place at the same time.

The virtual party will include a trivia contest that includes team members’ personal stories, like any hidden talents, quirky stories or fun facts they want to share.

“The goal of that is to have fun, and also to bring in the personal side between teammates who don’t know that side of their team members,” said Pola Zen, senior director of corporate marketing.

Spreading out the joy

The daily meetings at Natalist are about to become much more festive.

The fertility and pregnancy products startup will do “12 days of Chrismahanukwanzakah” during their daily virtual meeting that will involve a brief game – like a puzzle or riddle – and the winner gets a small gadget.

On the last day, employees will be able to expense their lunches to eat together virtually while playing games and doing a “mocktail” show-and-tell that involves colleagues making their favorite holiday beverage and sharing the recipe.

“We prioritize these moments of celebration. Those moments create a sense of belonging, and when employees feel they really belong somewhere, they are a lot more likely to make significant contributions, enjoy their work and are more likely to engage in a high accountability culture,” said Chief Operating Officer Vernita Brown.