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Creating Virtual Celebrations with Purpose

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 40 seconds 

 

As we approach the 2020 holiday season, many of us will not be celebrating in our traditional ways or locations. The realities of our current distributed working situations are forcing us to rethink our previous ways of gathering, like coming together in one physical location for holiday parties, and adjusting our plans to a virtual environment.

Our Networkplaceless community came together in November to share ideas about celebrating virtually. Thanks to everyone who attended, we walked away bursting with new ideas for connecting with our colleagues. The framework for this conversation came from Priya Parker’s book The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters (you can also watch her excellent Ted Talk here.)  

In the process of considering what makes a gathering meaningful and impactful, attendees shared ideas related to three topics highlighted in Parker's work: purpose, environment, and preparation. 

 

What is the purpose for gathering? 

Parker implores us to dig deep into the purpose of our gatherings and specifically define why you are coming together. This definition will serve as the foundation for what happens during your event and can help to guide the format and activities. 

Our participants shared examples of reasons their teams gather together:

  • Live into core company values. One attendee works at a company with a core value of “having fun.” They’ve recognized that being fully distributed and relying on asynchronous communication sometimes means that you don’t get to see the casual and silly side of your colleagues. They specifically create spaces and gatherings with the purpose of living into their “fun” core value. That means by encouraging ridiculous costumes (funny sunglasses and hats) and activities like a virtual white elephant gift exchange, they can forget about work for a moment and relax.
  • Celebrate transitions. In remote environments, it’s easy for transition periods to come and go without recognition. Welcoming a new team member or recognizing a colleague’s promotion are worthy of gathering. Creating the time to purposefully celebrate these transitions helps teams have a mental milestone or mark an occasion together as a team. One team shared that they like to come back together to reconnect after a long vacation break and remind themselves of the joint mission and goals that unite them.
  • Connect outside of one’s immediate sphere. Connectivity was a central theme among the gathering purposes shared. Holiday parties can often serve as an opportunity to forge new connections with people outside of your typical working relationships or deepen personal relationships with colleagues. Both of these serve valuable purposes in any company, but especially in remote and hybrid companies, for developing organizational networks. Interacting with teammates and exploring team talents in a way you don’t typically see in everyday work environments is beneficial for all. (One idea: host a “Teach me something new” activity and learn from your colleagues.)
  • Create space for recognition. One business owner shared how her company supports virtual assistants who are contractors for different companies. Since these individuals don’t have a full-time organization, this company noted the importance of recognizing and validating individuals for their achievements by celebrating their efforts from the past year. A lack of regular recognition can lead to burnout, so it’s important to offer moments and tokens of support. 

Whether you are living into your company’s core values, creating a space for recognition, or connecting with employees from different teams, every event must have a purpose. However, if you’re hosting a holiday party just because “it’s always been done” reconsider the purpose of your party or as Parker says, simply “give people their time back.”

 

How can environment positively influence our gathering? 

Where you gather matters. But in current times, "where" is often limited in format and space to virtual environments. Often, this means a Zoom or Teams meeting, which for many of us at this stage can seem, well… exhausting. 

Participants shared clever ways that build connections via virtual activities to create a lighthearted atmosphere (useful when ballrooms and restaurants are not currently on the table!) Here are some ideas:

  • Hire an event facilitator or producer to keep your gathering running smoothly 
  • Transform your video call into an artist studio and paint together
  • Host a virtual murder mystery party for some intrigue and excitement
  • Help your team experience the company’s local area by mailing snacks or selecting drink ingredients specific to the area
  • Participate in improv team building games with an actor who leads the team in fun exercises

The importance of a host came up organically during our conversations and is a point that Parker highlights throughout her book. She dedicates a chapter to “Don’t Be a Chill Host,” where she makes the case that the host of your gathering, no matter the purpose, must take charge. Otherwise, your event can spiral into unintended directions where your guests are unprotected. “When you abdicate leadership, you don’t eradicate power. You just hand the opportunity to take charge to someone else.”

If your company has the budget to hire outside experts to serve in the host role this can create a perfect balance, breathing new life into virtual gatherings but also maintaining authority for the sake of all participants. However, if your host is a fellow colleague, be sure to empower them with the ability to lead and enforce the “rules” established.

 

How can you prepare attendees for an impactful gathering? 

Adding some structure isn’t a bad thing. In her Ted Talk, Parker suggests developing a "temporary, alternative world" with new "pop up rules" as an alternative to formal etiquette, which is best suited for gatherings of homogenous groups. “Pop up rules” are about “trying stuff out” and “democratiz[ing] who gets to gather.” The idea being to create new standards for interacting, so we don’t rely on the same conversation or inadvertently exclude others due to unspoken norms.

Our attendees brainstormed delightful ideas such as wearing a specific outfit or color or using code words to add structure to gatherings without weighing down the mood. Important: share these rules and expectations before your celebration, so individuals have time to prepare and can arrive at your gathering with aligned expectations.

  • Travel by requiring virtual backgrounds of a favorite place or a place you want to visit
  • Wear a specific color or outfit
  • Talk about anything but work
  • Change your Zoom screen name to your favorite book or movie character
  • Pick an animal noise you have to make before you talk
  • Make a mask or hat out of anything on your desk
  • Assign attendees to code words that they need to weave into conversations. Fellow guests try to guess codewords at the end.
  • Connect from a place/device you don't normally connect from (e.g. phone) 
  • Pick a common word (like “remote” or “work”) that you can’t say

 

Are you planning a holiday gathering with your teams? If you know your purpose you, it’s important to get this on the calendar.

And if you plan to or do try any of these ideas this holiday season, let us know!

If your team wants additional support with building culture and connections, our Joinplaceless workshop would be a good place to start.

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