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Graphic illustration of a map of Canada with headshots of remote workers overlaid across different regions.

How to celebrate the holiday season with your team despite the pandemic

From happy hours to organized group activities, online party options abound

Graphic illustration of a map of Canada with headshots of remote workers overlaid across different regions.Encourage participants to use video—even if it means showing their backgrounds—to promote a sense of unity with the rest of the team

In most organizations, the end of the year is the time to celebrate and recognize employees’ hard work during the year. But, for 2020, it will take ingenuity to show your employees, colleagues and collaborators you care.

Forget the idea of celebrating in person. With various restrictions in place due to the pandemic, now is not the time for office parties, especially since the number of people allowed to gather together varies from province to province.

So, what can you do to make your team feel appreciated while also celebrating the holiday season this year? Here are some suggestions.


Regardless of how you choose to celebrate with your team, be sure to give participants advance notice so they can make sure they’re available and free from family commitments. Just because team members work remotely, it doesn't mean they’re necessarily available, especially in the evenings. 

Encourage participants to use video–even if it means showing their backgrounds—to promote a sense of unity with the rest of the team.

Also, remember that although people have overwhelmingly embraced video conferencing, only one person can speak at a time. Everyone else just listens, which can make the exercise feel long. To counter this, you could kick off your virtual celebration with a speech to all of the participants, then let people have conversations in smaller groups. Some platforms, such as Zoom, allow you to divide your audience into up to 50 separate sessions, called breakout rooms, which can be renewed every 15 minutes.


If you want to keep it simple, organize a happy hour with the team. The formula is certainly not new, but it tends to appeal to the majority of people. Do keep in mind, however, that not everyone drinks alcohol or celebrates Christmas, so be sure to make everyone feel included.

If you opt for having a meal together online, plan to include preparation time (something simple!) to take some of the pressure off. More than anything else, people just want to spend time together.

You could also ask your team to order in a meal of their choice and reimburse them for it, as CPA Shali Virdi, director, consulting and deals at PwC in Toronto, did with her team. 

“We didn’t focus on drinking, because not everyone drinks alcohol,” she says. “What we wanted was for people to feel like they were doing something together from home and not just the ‘bring your own drink’ formula. So, we sent out gift cards valid that day only so that people could order something from UberEats to eat during a video call starting at 5 p.m.”


To show employees your appreciation, you can send them a gift (let them choose from a list) or a gift card of their choice. Often, all you have to do is choose the amount on the card and they will receive it directly via email.

“It’s a small gesture to make people feel connected, while not physically being together,” says Virdi.

Other options include offering employees a day off (especially for those who, for religious reasons, do not celebrate Christmas) or making a donation to a charitable organization.

Some sites (Draw Names, Giftster or Elfster) allow you to organize gift exchanges between colleagues. At Cook Ross, a U.S.-based consulting firm, employees all receive a $20 Visa corporate gift card they can use to purchase a gift for a colleague. Those who want to participate register on a site and receive the name of a colleague and a list of things that might appeal to that person.

That said, employees should not be forced to buy gifts for their colleagues or celebrate Christmas, the Society for Human Resource Management says.   


Some team-building activities and games can be a great way to break the ice and create a relaxed atmosphere. Here are a few examples:

  • Virtual bingo. You can get pre-made game boards and blank templates you can customize for your colleagues.
  • The lie detector game. “We asked employees to send in two truths and a lie—participants had to guess which statement was the lie among the three,” says Virdi. “That way, you’re also getting to know the team a bit better at a time when you’re not physically seeing each other or having those impromptu chats.”   
  • A guest host. For a fee, you can hire someone to host your party for 90 minutes. Comedian, magician, chef … anything is possible.
  • Icebreaker questions. The Museumhack website has hundreds of questions you can ask to help you get to know your peers better. What’s the strangest Christmas present you’ve ever received? What question would you like to ask Santa Claus? What’s your favourite Christmas dish? What’s your favourite Christmas movie?
  • An online group photo booth. Take advantage of being together virtually to take a team photo. Play with backgrounds, props and accessories, and post the photos on your intranet or your company website. Software, such as Canva, will allow you to easily enhance your images. 
  • “You could also ask participants to send in a picture of themselves doing something during lockdown, taking people a bit out of their work and helping to see who they are as a person,” says Virdi. “Even if it wasn’t a face-to-face social activity, people appreciate the more personal aspect.”
  • Karaoke. Thanks to free platforms like Watch2Gether, you can synchronize your video stream with your colleagues to easily share a playlist.

There is no limit to what you can do in a group, even from a distance: cook, sing, dance, visit a museum, solve a puzzle, watch a movie, play a game (including an escape game) or indulge in friendly competitions (who has the ugliest Christmas sweater?). After the year we’ve been through, it's time to decompress together.


Are office spaces destined to become a thing of the past? Probably not, but the corporate world is changing as businesses shift toward remote work. Learn to recognize burnout—and how to avoid it. Plus, keep your work-life boundaries intact and carve out a productive daily schedule.