Drinks with your pals from the office is a staple activity for millions of people around the world, but the recent increase in remote working has meant that this trend for happy hour bonding in bars has been put on hold.
Thankfully you can reignite the spark of fun and camaraderie by replacing face-to-face meet-ups with virtual ones. Welcome to the age of the virtual happy hour, which brings with it lots of exciting opportunities to stay connected with colleagues even if you are geographically separated.
That is not to say that every online post-work Zoom session is guaranteed to be free from awkward pauses and unbalanced conversations. Because of this, it’s best to plan happy hours carefully, so here are a few tips to make your virtual efforts a roaring success.
One of the best complementary ideas for your virtual party, that you can find here, is to integrate games into proceedings, which helps to provide structure to the event and also makes sure everyone is engaged and interested, rather than a handful of participants dominating the direction throughout.
A quiz is always a great option in this context, but it is also sensible to try and elevate this above the usual level of trivia-tackling that people will be used to by this point in time. Try adding a theme that is either relevant to the interests of the majority of the group, or perhaps even oriented around questions about the team members themselves, which their colleagues will have a good chance of getting.
Invest in activities
If you are willing to splash out a little of the social fund on your virtual happy hours, then you could also up the ante with intriguing activities, boosting morale in the process.
You could arrange for an online cocktail making class, complete with an appearance from a professional mixologist. This will involve sending out supplies to participants so that they have all the ingredients they need to make the drinks in question, but it will definitely be worthwhile.
You could even book an entertainer, whether a comedian or musician, to join the call and bring smiles to the faces of colleagues while also taking the pressure off in terms of everyone always needing to be responsible for keeping the conversation flowing. Even a Netflix watch alone could achieve the same impact.
Get people involved
There are plenty of challenges to overcome when hosting any kind of virtual event, and most of these still apply to virtual happy hours. So do not just assume that because the people on the call all know each other from the office that this will instantly lead to a smooth, balanced, enjoyable experience.
We have already touched on how problems can arise if there is a lack of structure, or if some participants take the lead while others sit back and feel excluded. While you may not want to go all-out with games and activities every week, it is definitely sensible to be proactive as the host and kick things off with a quick catch-up session.
Checking in with attendees, finding out what they have been up to in the past few days outside of their working hours, and making sure that everyone gets a chance to share their stories, is sensible.
This is also a great way to break the ice, rather than having to sit through sticky silences when a call is just getting started. You can then use the breathing room this provides you with while people are responding to make sure that everything is set up correctly, no one is stuck in limbo in the meeting waiting room, and that all of the tech aspects are running as they should be.
While not everyone will want to linger on the topic of work during the virtual happy hour, it is definitely an opportunity to get teams together in a social context while still being able to recognize the achievements that have been made individually or as a group.
As a manager, this will boost employee morale and also generate a culture of positive reinforcement, encouraging other participants to speak out when their colleagues have done something worth shouting about.
Set a time limit
This is something that is easy to overlook but will help to avoid a lot of potential consternation if you do implement it. Scheduling virtual happy hours with a fixed start and end time not only avoids ambiguity but means that these events will not drag on too long and leave people feeling obligated to stick around even when they have other responsibilities to be seeing too.
Also vital to this is the timing of the happy hour itself. Make sure it sits at a point in the week when participants are able to unwind without having to worry about what they are going to do the next day. A Thursday or Friday evening is preferable for obvious reasons but aims to be flexible and attempt to include as many people as possible when figuring this out.
Equally, it is best to avoid making it a mandatory event; do not put people under pressure to attend, and those that do show up will be eager to get involved, rather than feeling forced into it.
Delegate organizational requirements
If you feel like you are the only one who is helping the whole process of arranging virtual happy hours week after week, it can become a chore rather than a pleasure. This is why it is a good idea to get the ball rolling, then set up a rota to share the burden with other team members.
Obviously, you should avoid forcing anyone to take the reins if they do not feel comfortable shouldering this responsibility, but it still makes sense to seek volunteers to help out with the administration and planning. It is definitely hard to be spontaneous with virtual get-togethers, so the more planning you put in, the more fun you will have.