Hosting a Virtual Happy Hour for Your Company? Read This First.
With the pandemic closing down offices worldwide, we’ve all had to adjust our current systems. But that doesn’t mean team bonding should be pushed to the side. In fact, now more than ever, connecting with employees and coworkers is essential; and what better way to do just that than by hosting a virtual happy hour?
Experts say that happy hours develop positive relationships and encourage employee engagement and productivity. Connecting with your staff outside of a traditional work environment allows you to form close bonds, thus encouraging teamwork and instilling confidence in your employees. As a result, they will be more likely to share their ideas or take initiative in projects, but to ensure your virtual happy hour is a success, there are a few things you need to consider first.
Picking the Platform
There are plenty of platforms you can choose to host your virtual happy hour including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangout, and House Party. Each offers its own set of benefits. So, make sure to pick a platform that is best suited for your team.
Along with live video chats, Zoom also allows you to access meeting analytics, screen-share during a call, record and document your meetings, and use an on-screen whiteboard feature. However, if you choose to use the free version, there is a 40-minute limit per call. No need to worry though, you can embrace the full happy hour experience by making it a bar crawl and switching to different hosts when your time runs out.
If your company is already using Office 365, Microsoft Teams might be the platform for you. The app gives you a central hub for chats, video meetings, audio calling, and Office apps. If you have Office 365, Teams is already available to you, if not there’s a free version you can download here.
House party is perfect if you’re looking for a less conventional meeting style. The app combines video chatting with access to popular games like trivia and Heads Up. You can download versions for iOS, Android, MacOS, and Chrome here.
Skype is great if you’re a global corporation, as its IM and video chats can be made international. Similar to Zoom, Skype also has screen-sharing and whiteboard tools. You can also use Skype to post polls and host a Q&A session. Skype For Business will soon be merging with Microsoft Teams, so you will have access through your Office 365 account.
Keeping it Casual
Despite common associations with happy hour, hosting it in a professional and virtual environment may cause some uncomfortable feelings within your team. To make this virtual happy hour a success, keep it casual and light-hearted.
Be Mindful of Restrictions
In some ways, virtual happy hours offer a more intimate bonding setting. Just through their background, you may be able to tell if your employee is into crime novels or has a spin bike set up in their living room. However, this intimacy also offers more room for distractions. Their kids may interrupt the meeting to ask what’s for dinner or their screen may go black because their cat stepped on the keyboard…again. Instead of letting this take away from your happy hour, embrace it. You can even have a bring your pets to happy hour edition!
Given the circumstances, it’s important to be conscious of your employee’s situations. Make sure to ask what time works for everyone; some employees may have families and other obligations. To keep the environment light-hearted let people know they can show up late or leave early.
Keeping the group to a small number will help it feel less chaotic and ensure that people aren’t talking over each other. If you have to have a larger group, have an agenda to guide the happy hour. You can even appoint a small number of employees for each event to help lead and plan the happy hour events. Not only will it limit the chaos, but it will also help to increase levels of involvement.
Limit the happy hour time to around 45 minutes, with a max time of an hour. Regardless of how long your previous in-person happy hours have been, virtual happy hours have a different feeling. People can feel more uncomfortable. By setting a time limit you ensure that people aren’t bored by the end. This way, everyone will be excited when you send out the invite for the next happy hour.
Even if conversation normally flows naturally, the added technological barrier may present some awkward pauses. You already have all the tools needed for removing some of this added pressure but having conversation starters in your back pocket is always a good idea. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting an icebreaker where you go around the room and everyone nervously comes up with a fun fact to share about themselves.
In the Invitation
Ensure good conversation from the beginning. When you share your virtual happy hour invitation, share your favorite cocktail recipe/brand of beer, and ask others to send back their own recommendations. This way everyone shows up ready to discuss their new favorites. Who knows, failed recipe attempts might even bring a few laughs!
Some good ole fashion Pub Trivia is always a fun idea. You can use the ones available on House Party or create your own. They can even be company-themed!
Have a Theme
Setting a theme is automatically a great conversation starter. You can go full out and have a Trip to Hawaii theme, complete with Hawaiian shirts and umbrellas in your drinks, or you can keep it simple; encourage everyone to show up sporting the gear of their favorite sports team.
If you choose to use a platform like Zoom, you can use virtual backgrounds to enhance the theme. Bummed about all the trips that got canceled? Encourage everyone to set a picture from their favorite vacation or their next dream destination as their background. Sure, you’ll have great scenery, but you’ll also get everyone talking about their favorite memories. Or, even better, take a trip to Treasure Mountain with Offsite’s virtual escape room.
*Pro tip: if you have virtual backgrounds make sure to uncheck mirror background box, especially if the background has text*
Send Out the Invite Early
Sending out the invite ahead of time will help to avoid last-minute complications. In your invite include when, how, and where to join your virtual happy hour. If there’s an agenda also be sure to include it.
Use Grid View
Switch to grid view so that you can see everyone. Also, make sure to enable visual cues. This will minimize the amount of people talking over each other.
Take a Company Photo
Whether you want to use it to up your Instagram game or just as fun memory to hang in the office, taking a photo a great way to enjoy the positive moments with employees.
If you’re an international company, maybe a virtual happy hour isn’t the right fit for your company. Consider alternatives that are less restricted by time limitations. There are plenty of other ways to recreate the benefits of virtual happy hours. Host a book club; this can be sent through emails or create a chat in your communication program. Start a fitness challenge, have everyone send their step counts in at the end of the day; whoever has the most by the end of the challenge gets a paid day off. Or if you’re really up for a side of embarrassment- I mean a good laugh- have everyone in the office learn a tic tok dance and send in a video.
Whether you decide to host a virtual happy hour or opt for an alternative, have fun, and enjoy bonding with your employees. And don’t forget to let us know in the comments what your favorite virtual happy hour activity was!