For the past two years, Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Thanksgiving and more have all looked different. In-person celebrations are often not possible, due to lockdown restrictions coming into place in many different countries.
Company parties, often held before businesses close for a winter break, are likely to take place online rather than in a shared physical space.
Payara is a business with a “remote-first” hiring policy, meaning we assume all employees will be working entirely remotely; connecting via tech rather than in person. Therefore, members of our team are scattered across the world, so getting together for some drinks and dancing was never an option! However, our dedicated Internal Communications and Engagement Lead, Mycah Banks, is well-practiced at maintaining a celebratory spirit across continents and through the computer screen.
It’s a case of the magic of tech meeting with a heavy dose of creative thinking, determination and drive. You have to think outside the box to ensure that people feel just as connected despite never having met; but when you achieve it in a truly engaged online event, the results can be sparkling…
We caught up with Mycah for some top tips on virtual festivity…
Can you summarise your key considerations when planning an online company-wide event as opposed to an in-person one?
Once you can clearly articulate the goal of an event, you can “grow” all planning from there within the confines of your virtual meeting toolbox. Once you establish the event’s purpose and tools, consider what information attendees need before the event, and create an internal wiki, an info sheet, even an engaging video to provide that info.
For the event itself, consider how you can foster small-group interaction in sessions (use those virtual breakout rooms!), which can make information more memorable and build relationships amongst team members. In fact, try to integrate at least one session that’s fully dedicated to fun, casual interaction – a relatively rare opportunity in the virtual workplace. Finally, consider how you can get useful feedback to continue improving these events. Surveys are your friend!
Devil is in the detail – you add touches like personalised Microsoft Teams backgrounds and internal event hubs where people can get all the information, to energise Payara’s online events. What is your single favourite small touch that has enlivened an event?
I think my favourite small touch has been the Payara Week [our yearly bonding and company strategy week for all members of the company] boxes full of swag and crafting supplies which we sent to all Payarans around the globe and used during the week-long virtual event.
This year’s Payara Week was the first ever that wasn’t in-person, so a box full of event-branded goodies allowed all Payarans to create a common physical environment in their home workspaces that was unique to the occasion. This added a more dynamically immersive and communal element to Payara Week, which can be challenging to achieve in a virtual event.
If you could only give one piece of advice to companies organising their first online event, what would it be?
The virtual workplace requires us to foster working relationships proactively, so include fun, small-group interaction where you can. This could be a crafting session or a trivia hour, or it could be light-hearted “pop quizzes” in breakout rooms to check understanding after an information-loaded presentation: it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Driving the interaction of smaller groups (especially of those who don’t typically work together!) creates the opportunity to deepen working relationships; holds attendees more accountable during virtual sessions where distraction is easier than for in-person sessions; and adds a more dynamic quality to any event. Create opportunities for your team to learn new things about each other. This will enliven your culture.