woman in white long sleeve shirt sitting on chair

The holiday season is upon us. Yet, as has been the case for much of 2020, nothing is as it was. And that especially includes the usual December slate of holiday parties at workplaces. For employers resolved to make the most of this new normal, imaginative holiday parties hosted virtually are the answer.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Numerous event planners who have built a brand around their in-person parties have shifted their offerings to the online realm due to the devastating COVID pandemic. Fully aware that for the party to actually be fun and not awkward or another virtual work meeting, they have to step up their game. Virtual holiday events now consist of a range of activities, including foodie-inspired parties, gift baskets of wine, live performances, games and more.

My Cooking Party, which began offering cooking classes online this summer, recently developed What’s in Your Cupboard, a cooking competition that has become its most booked event for corporate holiday parties. “It’s very much like being on the Food Network,” said Lisa Marie Justice, partner and COO of the New York City-based cooking school. “And it’s really custom-built for your guests so all dietary restrictions can be honored.”

Once a list of participating employees is provided, 20-minute video chat consultations with each person are held with a professional chef. Based on what’s in their cupboard and fridge, the chef helps create a cooking game plan for the day of the party. At the party, held over Zoom or any other virtual platform the company prefers, each contestant has 45 minutes to execute their dish, and sell it to their colleagues as the best plate on the screen if they want to be named winner.

Less competitive and turning up the party vibe is the live DJ-featured painting class offered by Paint and Sip LIVE. The startup’s virtual-only business model aims to eliminate the fuss in event prep. Painting kits, including canvas, brushes and paint are shipped directly to participants, who only need to log into Zoom and fill their glasses when the party starts. An instructor guides the class step-by-step through the artwork while the DJ gets folks dancing and their brushes swaying.

Paint and Sip LIVE allows employers to customize their experience to suit the company culture or individual style. Companies have requested portraits that feature the company logo or elements of their community, like a famed bridge or park. And if an employer is open to all the sounds of a hodgepodge of music tastes, their employees can submit song requests in advance for the DJ to play. This December, the virtual painting business is bustling with office party bookings for companies across various sectors, including tech, academia, telecommunications and nonprofits.  

“Some people call, and their concern is that a remote party will be boring. They just want a fun event as close to a fun in-person party as possible,” said Mike Wills, CEO of Paint and Sip LIVE. “That’s exactly what this is. People will leave feeling like they had a good time and that is the goal.”

Gingerbread cookies and ugly sweaters are staples at some parties, so TeamBuilding.com hosts Gingerbread Wars virtually now. Their most popular event for corporate parties this season, it mixes creativity with a sweet tooth as attendees decorate mini-me cookies. They also play trivia, can wear their best ugly sweaters, drink, and integrate a gift exchange such as Secret Santa or White Elephant gift, says CEO Michael Alexis. It’s a safe way to enjoy the season’s greetings atmosphere, from a distance.

TeamBuilding.com mails the gingerbread kits directly to each participant. Everyone loves receiving gifts in the mail during the holidays, Alexis says. Other popular events featuring shipped packages and a host to lead the affair are their smores over a candle set called Tiny Campfire and Tea vs. Coffee package of, obviously, various teas and coffees to taste. 

“People say this is the most fun I’ve had in a Zoom room,” said Alexis about their virtual events. “One woman said, ‘For 90 minutes I just forgot everything going on in the world.’”