Make Your Virtual Happy Hour Memorable
So… does anyone have any good plans for the weekend?
If your virtual happy hour goes something like this, you’re not alone. Sadly, our attempts at Zoom socializing have gotten weaker and weaker as remote work has extended from a temporary measure to more of a permanent fixture in our lives. As much as I love the flexibility of working from home, connecting with coworkers over Slack and Zoom has its flaws. But your social events don’t have to be boring. Whether you’re hosting a virtual holiday party or a weekly team meeting, let’s take your virtual happy hour up a notch!
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What is a Virtual Happy Hour?
Before we dive into the steps of throwing a great virtual happy hour, you’ll need to know the basics. Basically, virtual happy hours are any gathering you hold via videoconferencing software like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, or Cisco WebEx. Although the name implies the party will last an hour, it can be as long or as short as you want. Consider that the longer your happy hour is, the more activities or conversation points you’ll need to fill the time. Virtual happy hours are meant to take the place of in-person social events you’d typically have with your work colleagues or friends. They tend to take place at the end of the work day, around the same time bars would be hosting happy hour if you were meeting in-person. However, since you’re not depending on discounted drinks and appetizers, your virtual happy hour can be held whenever you want!
Here’s how to throw a virtual happy hour that your coworkers will actually enjoy.
Make a Plan for the Happy Hour
Don’t just send an Outlook invite and log on to Teams or Zoom at 4PM on Friday expecting a fun end to the work week. Look, you don’t want to treat this like another meeting, but an agenda for your happy hour—however informal—can do wonders. Decide how much time you want to allot for chit chatting in the beginning, plan on having at least one activity, and figure out how much time that should take. Leave some time for more informal talk at the end, but make sure your plan doesn’t extend beyond the hour. Even if you’re having fun, no one wants to feel obligated to stay on a work call past 5PM on a Friday night.
I know, I know. Themes can be corny. But this is a work party. Sometimes corny is just what you need to lighten the mood. When choosing a theme, make sure it’s appropriate and inclusive. You don’t want to choose a sports-themed party if you know some of your coworkers haven’t watched a game since their mom signed them up for tee-ball in kindergarten.
Once you choose a theme, let your coworkers know! Include the theme prominently in the party invite and ask everyone to choose a Zoom background that fits. Theme-appropriate food and drinks aren’t mandatory, but can make the party more fun! Send out some easy-to-follow recipes and an ingredient list a few days before the party. If you have a budget for the happy hour, send everyone a gift card for food delivery or grocery shopping.
You don’t *have* to dress up to fit the theme, but why not? Who wouldn’t want to break out their bangles and neon for an 80s-themed party? I pulled out an animal-print dress and let my pre-cut quarantine hair down to dress as Carole Baskin for a happy hour at the beginning of lockdown, and my coworkers laughed for five minutes straight. (Hey, it was a weird time. We all needed an excuse to let go.) At the very least, you might get the chance to wear the Halloween costume you bought on clearance last November.
Plan an Activity
Count on needing at least one activity to fill the time. Change it up each week and you’ll never worry about a boring happy hour again. Here are some ideas:
Drinking on the clock may not exactly be encouraged, but that doesn’t mean you can’t practice your bartending! Mocktails taste great and can be a lot of fun to make. Choose one drink to start off every happy hour with a mocktail mixology lesson, or dedicate an entire hour to booze-less beverages and ask every team member to share their favorite recipe. Bonus: you won’t need to worry about “accidentally” outing your pregnant coworker by questioning why her sparkling wine looks suspiciously like seltzer.
If making your mocktails seems like a bit too much work, consider Curious Elixirs. These pre-made drinks can be sent right to your—and your team members’ homes for a work-appropriate happy hour beverage. And they taste great! I love them for occasions that typically call for alcohol (like happy hours) when I just don’t feel like drinking. They’re just as satisfying as a real cocktail, without the negative effects.
If your office culture is a bit more relaxed and drinking is accepted (if not encouraged), send some cocktail kits and recipe cards and make some drinks! I recommend doing this activity at the beginning of your happy hour. By the end, everyone will be a little tipsy and much more likely to participate in silly games. The best part about virtual happy hours is no one has to worry about driving home, so feel free to indulge a little!
So your intern is too young to remember the classic MTV show. It’s your job to show why it was so entertaining. Have everyone tour their work-from-home office and give a glimpse of where they’ve been filling in their spreadsheets all these months—even if your office is half your bedroom closet or just the kitchen table. If you’re comfortable letting your coworkers into your life a little more, you can give a tour of your whole place. Maybe avoid showing your team where the magic happens, though. But extra points if you pull out your copy of Scarface!
Show and Tell
Take a cue from your kid’s kindergarten class and play show and tell. Coworkers can show off what they’re cooking for dinner, the paint-by-number they just finished, or that dress they bought right before lockdown that they never got to wear to the office. For more awkward-yet-hilarious fun, make everyone choose the most embarrassing book or shirt they own and share it with the group. We’re all friends here, right?
Of course, the easiest and most fun way to kill time is to play a game. You can play Pictionary using the Zoom whiteboard, Name that Tune, or even charades. Classic bridal and baby shower games can also be a lot of fun to play with coworkers. We’ve made some specifically for work parties. You won’t have to worry about awkwardly inappropriate questions that will earn you a call from HR on Monday morning. Download and send to each member of your team, or use our digital Powerpoint bundle designed specifically for virtual happy hours. Simply share on your Zoom or Teams call!
It may come as a surprise, but many people wonder what to say on a virtual happy hour. Without typical body language and context cues, conversation can be a lot more challenging on a video call. Use our virtual conversation starters game as a guide to get the conversation started. Depending on the amount of time you have, you can go through the entire deck, or ask one question to begin or end the party. Conversation cards can be a great way to break the ice and avoid dreaded awkward silence on the call.
Be prepared for downtime
Even if you plan ahead with games and drinks, you might struggle to fill the full hour. Keep some tools in your back pocket to pull out and get the party started again. Cue up that awesome new song you just heard the other day and play it for your team. Ask everyone to go around and share what they’re watching or reading. Share that hilarious TikTok you were just watching. Or keep a list of conversation starters handy in case everyone’s feeling particularly shy that day.
Virtual parties can never replace real human interaction. But if staying home means we can stay safe and healthy, I think it’s a worthwhile tradeoff for now. Plus, how many real-life parties have you attended in sweats? With a little preparation and some tricks up your sleeve, your next virtual happy hour or Zoom birthday party can be a lot of fun—well, as fun as any work event can be, at least.
Will Virtual Happy Hours Still Exist When Everyone Goes Back to Work?
When most of us were introduced to virtual happy hours for the first time, it was because we were forced to work remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic. Millions of people who had never worked from home were forced to adjust to a completely new way of life within days. Companies didn’t have a plan for connecting their employees, and parents were struggling with homeschooling their children and dealing with the realities of a pandemic. We needed something to help us relax and maybe make us smile—even if it was for just a few minutes.
Enter the virtual happy hour. At the beginning of quarantine, virtual happy hours gave us the human interaction we craved. But they soon became stale. With every meeting taking place via Zoom, even fun events began to seem like a chore. With Zoom fatigue still prevalent, it’s important to vary your virtual happy hours and have a concrete plan for each one.
It’s likely that virtual happy hours will still play a role in our lives for years to come, even if we return to work in a physical office. Many companies have announced that they’ll be more flexible with work arrangements when things get back to normal, and some plan to stay fully remote. It’s likely that companies that require all employees to be in the office from 9-5 every day will be the minority. Even if you return to the office, it may be for only 2-3 days out of the week, and there’s a good chance you may have coworkers that remain fully remote.
With flexible work arrangements, you may rarely be in the office at the same time as all of your coworkers at once. Virtual happy hours can be a great way to connect everyone, even once you start seeing some of your coworkers on a regular basis. Only hosting physical parties will keep remote workers removed from the company culture, so virtual parties will play a key role in integrating them into the larger office community. While your company may host retreats or require the entire company to be present for larger meetings, virtual happy hours can help to keep everyone connected throughout the year.
Now that we know we can host virtual happy hours that are actually fun and entertaining, they’ll also likely continue to be a feature in our personal lives. They’re a great way to connect with friends who live hundreds of miles away, or to bring together colleagues who have moved on to other companies. While you’ll probably attend more real-life happy hours than virtual ones in the future, I’ll bet you’ll still be throwing virtual happy hours for years to come!