Five ideas for a digital Christmas party

Can it also work digitally? As planning for this year’s Christmas party approached and it became clear that there was no way we would be able to meet “for real,” we were skeptical. Is it possible to get into the festive spirit when you’ve been sitting in front of the screen all day? But a few rounds of brainstorming later it was clear that this could work.

Before we tell you what we got up to, let’s pause for a moment and look back.

What a year it’s been! The coronavirus has turned the world upside down and presented us all with completely new challenges – even in our day-to-day working lives.

If true digital collaboration was previously limited to videoconferencing and otherwise reserved for a few digital nerds, this has changed for the vast majority of us from one day to the next. Virtual collaboration and home offices became commonplace within a few weeks. The crisis really provided us with an opportunity here! Instead of two years, it took us just two months to digitalize the world of work.

“You’re still on mute!”

A phrase that has shaped this year like no other. Video conference participants not wearing pants, children crashing business meetings, or animals walking across the screen were also popularly shared videos this year. We also experienced some memorable virtual meetings. And when it comes to people and technology, there is still room for improvement. Like in this video, which was recorded without our knowledge and then passed on to us:

Taskforce Season's Greetings - Behind the Scenes

Okay… it wasn’t quite that bad for us. Although the scene with the failed attempt to share the screen could well have been me 😉

Like many other companies, we at SMA have tried out and learned a few things in recent weeks and months. One insight is that virtual collaboration can also be quite exhausting. Especially when you have back-to-back meetings. But it has also become clear that team spirit and solidarity also work very well virtually.

Since we have been approached by many people about our digital Christmas party, we would like to give you a little insight here and share our experiences. Perhaps you can draw some inspiration from this for your next digital celebration, be it in a professional or private environment.

Do you know it’s (digital) Christmas time?

First, we asked ourselves what excites us about SMA Christmas parties, and what can we transfer from that into the digital world?

  • Looking back together, such as through a speech by the Managing Board
  • Getting goosebumps when team achievements are honored or fundraising projects are presented
  • The joint toast
  • Receiving greetings from our subsidiaries
  • The SMA bands and the disco
  • Reuniting with colleagues you rarely see during the year
  • The fun (such as karaoke or playing games)

A small, intrepid team then set out to find a worthy, entertaining and well-rounded concept. This was not without difficulty, because there was no blueprint.

The result? Five ingredients for a successful digital party:

1. The analog invitation

Shortly before Christmas, all employees in Germany received a package with a personal invitation and an access code for the digital Christmas party. Since not everyone has a work laptop or mobile phone, it was important to us that everyone had access. Extending the digital event with an analog component was important to us in order to include everyone.

So that we could toast at the Christmas party, all employees received some mulled wine and a beautifully designed cup.

Of course, we could not replace the delicious Christmas buffet, but we asked our employees to send us their favorite recipes. This culminated in a great cookbook, which we sent out alongside the invitation. And of course, the traditional chocolate Santa Claus from the Works Council was not missing either.

2. The virtual platform

For the official program livestream we were looking for a platform that we could also use later for customer events. Since we were not fully convinced by the existing solutions, we had our own online platform built.

The official program was livestreamed on a virtual platform, which took place on-site at SMA in a specially constructed green screen studio. Here, there was a talk with the Managing Board and the speech by the Works Council. Short videos, such as on fundraising projects, were also shown in the livestream. Of course, we made sure to comply with all social distancing and coronavirus regulations on-site.

3. The additional fun features

In addition to the livestream, our digital Christmas platform included:

  • A Spotify playlist with festive music
  • Photos of new employees and the babies born in 2020
  • Videos from the SMA bands (recorded in advance especially for the Christmas party under strict coronavirus safety regulations – even our CEO had a go on the mic!)
  • International video greetings from the subsidiaries
  • A form to donate money, overtime or vacation to support social projects
  • And last but not least, we set up a Kudoboard, a digital bulletin board to say thank you to your favorite colleagues or your team

4. The virtual space

So that our employees could meet virtually, we created various rooms on the online platform Wonder and decorated them for Christmas. With this platform, employees could meet each other at the Elf Station in Cotton Candy Place or at the Chimney in Santa’s House. As little circles, you walk through a room in Wonder and as soon as you meet another “circle” a video conference opens up where you can talk.

A nice side effect was that our international colleagues, who in the past have rarely been able to attend the Christmas parties at headquarters, were also invited.

For those who also want to use Wonder for their parties, here’s a little how-to we created:

An alternative would be of course any video conferencing platform such as MS Teams or Zoom. If you want things to be a bit more elaborate, you can create a whole world in Gather Town.

5. The Games

We didn’t find an online alternative to karaoke, but there was PowerPoint karaoke, Monday Painter and charades in a specially set up game suite. The colleagues played powerpoint karaoke and charades until the curtain fell. Too bad that the Monday Painters whiteboard kept getting hung up and there were delays in sharing the presentations for Karaoke. But the colleagues kept at it and had fun.

There was also a quiz to test SMA knowledge. For this we used the WordPress plugin Quiz and Survey Master. If you are planning a live quiz at an event, there are also ready-made solutions, such as from Slido, Mentimeter or Kahoot, which are easy to fill with your own content.

Conclusion

Even though an on-site celebration would have been even nicer, our virtual event was very well received. We received many enthusiastic comments and the program offered some goosebump moments. At its peak, 2,200 employees were logged into the portal and 1,600 watched the livestream. By comparison, 1,500 came to the Kassel Stadthalle for the last analog celebration.

Of course, there are always things that can be improved. Especially when you have so little experience. For example, we underestimated that Wonder was not always able to cope with the rush of SMA colleagues. With small groups, this free tool is a really great platform – for large events, you should probably rather rely on a solution that you can expand in terms of capacity.

But the exact analysis will follow in the new year. For now, all that remains is to say thank you to the entire team and the external helpers who made this event possible.

The feedback from the staff is for you:

“That was a warm-hearted, inspiring, confidence-giving and cheerful celebration!” Anne

“I can only mention it again: In the time when you have so few social contacts, this is SPITZE! SMA is really TOP!” Saskia

“Great! PPT Karaoke! We will celebrate New Year’s Eve with this!” Svenja

“Chapeau! What a digital Christmas celebration that needs to be done better by someone first!” Steffen

“In any case, it was an event that is second to none. I definitely didn’t find anything even close to this in my networks and circles. Like everyone, I’m looking forward to celebrations on site again, but after yesterday it’s just clear that we not only work together successfully in the virtual, but can also party super!” Marten

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