Happy hour meetings might seem unnecessary and ineffective at first but their long-term benefits make company get-togethers worthwhile. Getting the team together for a game night or a watch party will help team leaders discover different sides to their reports’ personalities and improve relationships with them. Although more challenging to set up, a virtual happy hour can be as helpful for remote teams as it would be in person. In this post, we will offer a step-by-step process for hosting an engaging team event and share ideas for teams to explore and best practices.
Why host happy hours?
A successful happy hour calls for commitment – it needs to be planned in advance and funded. That’s why team leaders might be tempted to cut corners and host no employee get-togethers. However, there’s strong evidence that shows that, by ignoring engaging experiences like happy hours, you can hurt your team in the long term.
Here are a few data points that show the importance of regular happy hours for engagement and strong culture:
- Employee experiences like a happy hour help improve employee engagement by 66% (Inc.com)
- Workplace happiness improves productivity by 12% (FastCompany)
- An INSEAD survey of 500 employees shows that teams that thrive in a remote environment schedule regular after-work activities to connect and get to know each other outside of their roles.
So, the time and effort managers put into happy hours is outweighed by the gains in productivity, retention, and engagement.
A step-by-step guide to hosting a virtual happy hour
Remote team leaders might be struggling to adapt traditional engagement strategies to remote teams. When there’s no way to gather teams together for a game night, happy hour hosts have to be more intentional and creative in planning.
At oVice, we helped remote teams of all sizes host happy hour events, game nights, and networking sessions. We have seen that intentionality and open-mindedness help leaders improve engagement and create networking opportunities even when they have no way to connect in person.
After years of helping our clients set up engaging virtual events, we created a step-by-step framework for remote team leaders.
Step #1. Set the date and decide on the number of participants
Usually, companies hold Happy Hours at 5 pm each Friday. In our experience, asking your team to choose the day and time in a survey is a better approach since it offers more flexibility and shows consideration for everyone’s preferences.
As for the number of participants, if you want to help teammates build 1-on-1 connections and have enough time to talk to each othe, we recommend keeping the number of attendees who get the virtual happy hour invitation down to 15-20 people. Otherwise, there might not be enough time to talk to everyone, and what was supposed to be a relaxing event turns into a rushed speed networking session.
Step #2. Choose a virtual happy hour theme
Setting a theme for a happy hour helps set the mood and create a unique atmosphere at the event. There are different ways to go about it:
- Time-based theme (a 1990s party, a 60s-themed chat, and so on).
- Culture-based themes: punk, rock, and others.
- Fiction characters: create a venue inspired by Disney characters, the Marvel universe, or video game lore.
- Food-themed: beer tasting or cocktail-mixing using a virtual hour cocktail kit can be at the center of the happy hour.
Step #3. Choose the right technology
Traditional video conferencing platforms are not the best solution for a virtual happy hour because of limited customization, few types of interactions available, and the pressure of having to sit in front of the camera for an hour.
Hosting events in oVice, a customizable virtual space gave our clients more flexibility and helped take off the pressure by enabling engaging avatar-based interactions that don’t require video calls and creating room for all kinds of games and activities.
In a virtual space, teammates can move around comfortably and talk one-on-one. Team leaders can also create custom venues to improve the immersion of the virtual happy hour.
Step #4. Plan virtual happy hour activities
Free flow and spontaneity contribute a lot to the success of a happy hour. At the same time, if you want to avoid moments of confusion, it’s better to come in with an agenda for virtual happy hour games
Have a list of activities, break the event into sections (“Introduction, “Trivia quiz, “Games, “Small talk”), and prepare a few ice-breakers to get the conversation started.
Step #5. Order food and drinks
Getting together every week for a delicious meal will help your employees feel appreciated by the company and enjoy Friday evenings to the fullest. Before you make the order, there are a few things to consider:
- Survey your team on dietary preferences to make sure everyone’s needs are met and respected
- If you include drinks, make sure to offer alcohol-free beverages so that your teammates are not constrained to social drinking.
- Order meals in advance to make sure people who live in different locations get their deliveries on time for the event.
Step #6. Run regular surveys to learn how you can improve the experience of a virtual happy hour
Understanding the ins and outs of an engaging virtual event is a learning process specific to your team.
Asking teammates for feedback on the happy hour and having them suggest improvements is the fastest and most effective way to improve the outcome of the event and increase attendance.
Top 5 virtual happy hour ideas
At oVice, we encourage team leaders to be creative when planning virtual events. By putting more thought into the event, you will be able to engage participants more and help them enjoy the evening.
Here are the most successful virtual happy hours ideas our clients have explored:
A food tasting party
Food tasting is an all-time favorite for virtual happy hours events. Teammates love it because bonding over a meal is easy and enjoying a delicious dinner is enjoyable in and of itself. There are different ways to set up a food-tasting party:
- A “talent competition” where employees have to “judge” different dishes and choose the “winner”.
- A DIY event where teammates are cooking their meals using the ingredient packages provided by the company and discussing the results. A lot of spontaneous fun can come out of these events.
- A “rare cuisine” happy hour where everyone can taste delicacies from different countries or time periods.
Happy hour trivia
Happy hour is an excellent opportunity to build collaboration and foster a sense of healthy competition.
Dividing participants into teams and asking them themed virtual happy hour questions is great because it encourages people to speak up, think, and try to guess answers even if they don’t know for sure.
Having a small prize will help incentive participation and create an enjoyable experience for employees.
Charades are a classic at any event because they are funny and are all about leaving the comfort zone. Also, it’s one of the most flexible types of entertainment that easily adapts to the virtual environment.
We recommend using platforms like Heads Up for virtual charades so that there’s a clear and straightforward flow.
Feeling valued and fulfilled is crucial for employee retention – however, teammates don’t always have a practice of praising each other’s work. Leaders can use happy hours to foster kindness, positivity, and mutual respect.
A compliment train is an easy to set up and very touching activity for a company get-together. The idea is simple – every team member compliments the attendee next to them.
Virtual scavenger hunt
Setting up a scavenger hunt is hard on a traditional video conference call – however, customizable spaces created in platforms like oVice open up the world of opportunities.
Team leaders can plan the venue creatively and scatter clues all around to help teammates find a hidden object. You can add puzzles and riddles to your space and watch people collaborate to creatively solve these problems.
5 Tips for a successful virtual happy hour
Keep it short
The name suggests that a virtual happy hour should be exactly one hour long but that’s not a necessity. In fact, some teams cut their weekly get-togethers to 30 minutes to give teams more time to spend with their families.
Our recommended happy hour duration would be 40-60 minutes: just enough time to connect and have fun while leaving employees enough time for house parties.
Explain the benefits of happy hours to motivate teammates to attend
While team leaders likely see the need for and the benefits of a happy hour clearly, teammates might not be on the same page. Keep in mind that a mandatory get-together on a Friday night might not be the highlight of everyone’s day – not until a leader clearly shows the benefits of networking making people want to come.
In setting up virtual happy hours, our tip is “encourage, don’t mandate”.
Prepare ice-breakers that help teammates start conversations
If you didn’t organize happy hours in your team before, once you do, there might be friction at the start. Keep in mind that discarding their down-to-business professional identities and showing other sides of themselves – funny, quirky, opinionated, or whatever – might be a difficult leap to make.
That’s why team leaders should have strategies that help people loosen up, like a list of casual, low-effort icebreaker questions.
Encourage active participation
During the happy hour, make sure to read the room and involve everyone in discussions. A virtual happy hour is a great way to shine the spotlight on people who don’t network proactively and help the rest of the team get to know them.
Ask questions, encourage discussions, and praise people for insightful opinions to make sure everyone enjoys and feels comfortable speaking up.
Leverage unpredictability and surprise
Make sure that your happy hours are different every time and keep teammates curious and on the edge of their seats. We recommend to avoid sticking to a standard week-to-week playbook and coming up with new activities every time.
If you struggle to keep sourcing creative ideas, ask your team for contributions through regular surveys.
Frequently asked questions
What is a happy hour at work?
A happy hour is a weekly informal gathering where teammates can connect with each other by playing virtual happy hour games with coworkers, sharing a meal, or participating in team-building activities.
How many people can participate in a virtual happy hour?
Although there are few technology limitations (oVice, for example, can welcome thousands of concurrent participants), we recommend keeping the attendee list small: 15-20 teammates.
What are some virtual work happy hour ideas?
Here are a few creative, easy-to-setup online happy hours ideas:
- Trivia quiz
- Virtual charades
- Food tasting party
- Compliment train
How to host a virtual happy hour?
To host engaging virtual happy hours, follow these simple steps:
- Create a schedule and decide on the number of participants
- Set a theme
- Choose the right technology
- Plan activities
- Order food and drinks
- Run feedback surveys
At oVice, we help team leaders and talent managers improve workplace engagement by offering a virtual space for team-building events and happy hours.
Unlike traditional video conferencing platforms that have limited flexibility and interactivity, oVice brings the best of physical offices to a remote workplace – the ability to interact casually and spontaneously, move around the space, and seamlessly engage with everyone on the team.
Take a look at our case studies to see how remote and hybrid teams use oVice to improve engagement and create networking opportunities. Visit our virtual office to explore the platform and ask our staff about specific ways the platform can help your organization.