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12 tips to plan an unforgettable office holiday party

22 Nov 2021 9 MIN READ

Brought to you by TravelPerk, the #1 business travel platform.

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12 tips to plan an unforgettable office holiday party

Yep, it’s almost that time of year again! Mariah Carey is defrosting as we speak, supermarkets are stocking their shelves with panettones, and you’re once again asking yourself whether I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus is really an appropriate song for children. 

What’s more, the office holiday party is just around the corner—and you’re charged with the seemingly insurmountable task of organizing it. Between choosing the right venue, stocking up on enough drinks, finding a DJ that doesn’t suck, and making sure that everything is COVID-safe, it can be quite daunting.

But don’t worry, TravelPerk’s got your back. It’s a merry season after all, and we decided to share our secret recipe for throwing parties everyone will love. 

Why you (and everyone) should be psyched about this party

For fear of stating the obvious, let’s not get into how office parties are great for team building, morale, and bringing employees closer together. They’ve always been one of the perks employees look forward to the most. But this year is a little different, as these bonding experiences become more important than they ever were before.

Over the course of the last year, the way that we work has changed. For the better part of 2020, we had to self-isolate for our safety and that of those around us as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many of us, this was the first time we went to work from home full-time. People started new roles, and can probably count on one hand (if that) how many times they’ve seen their colleagues in person. Those of us who were regulars at after-work drinks at the pub on Tuesdays were suddenly drinking G&Ts at home with colleagues via Zoom. 

Now, companies worldwide are faced with the decision over how they’ll work going forward. Many are opting for hybrid models, whereby they get to combine the best of both worlds. Namely, the convenience and flexibility of remote work with the dynamism and collaborative nature of meeting in person. Given that, an annual holiday party (whether that’s XMAS, end-of-year, or New Year) is just the ticket to immerse your employees in your company culture in a fun, non-professional setting.

It’s also a great way to let off some steam at the end of a year of hard work. Just saying. 

Guys in ugly xmas jumpers

TravelPerk’s secret recipe for company holiday parties everyone loves

One of the first things we hear as newbies at TravelPerk is “you won’t believe what went down at last year’s XMAS party”. And everyone has a different story to tell. A huge part of our company culture is this drive and desire to get together in person, whether that’s for professional meetings, casual drinks with our colleagues, weekly all-hands, or seasonal parties. 

So, what’s our secret recipe? We caught up with Miriam, our Senior Events Specialist, to get the inside scoop on how to make your next company party a roaring success. You won’t even need to hire a party planner! Here are her tips:

1. Party planning is not a last-minute affair 

No, September is not too early to start planning the end-of-year party. In fact, in some cities, it might even be much too late! The holiday season is extremely busy for corporate events, and event spaces tend to get booked up fast (especially the good ones). Getting a jump on all the other companies planning parties is a must. But early planning is about more than just getting the right venue. There are a lot of moving parts when in event planning, and it’s important to have all your ducks in a row well in advance so you can get to everything.

2. Don’t overlook COVID-19 safety measures

It’s easy to get carried away with planning the fun part of the party. But, this year, in particular, make health and safety your top priority, always respecting the measures and restrictions your local government has set. Set clear guidelines on how your employees are expected to behave at the party, including when to wear masks. Choose a spacious venue, or better yet, one that’s outdoors. Remember that you should empower your people to act like owners and take responsibility for their behavior. 

3. There’s no such thing as over-communication

Don’t be shy! Repeat yourself as many times as you need so that your message really sinks in. Employees tend to be extremely busy towards the end of the year, so a lot of the time, the information you share can be overlooked. It’s also really important to have a place where all the details are available for everyone to consult at any time. At TravelPerk, we use Notion as a centralized hub for information of this kind. We also open up relevant Slack channels for each event and have a dedicated email address so people can ask questions when they need to.

4. Involve your community in planning the event

This is one of our key pillars at TravelPerk. You’re building events for your community, so let them be part of the organization and involve them in your decision-making process (where possible, of course). Let them share their holiday party ideas, tell you what activities they want to participate in, when they’d like the party to take place, or even what goodies people might find cool. This time around, we’ll be running a themed party and organized focus groups to determine what that would be. We’re going with… 1920s prohibition! 

pineapple party

5. The way to anyone’s heart is through their stomach

… And that’s not a joke. Finding a good caterer is essential to your party’s success, as food is one of the most important things attendees will remember after the party is over. Seriously. This year, we selected a few people to attend a tasting session and pick the best menu available. It was a really fun, mini-event with people from different teams. It ended up being a great opportunity for them to mingle and get to know each other—not to mention, try some really delicious food. We are based in Spain, after all.

6. Create opportunities for people to interact

Yes, that is just a fancy way of saying organize group activities. The whole point of events like these is for people to step outside of their usual, day-to-day range of interaction. We want them to meet new people, build new relationships, and create positive memories with their colleagues. A surefire way to do that is through a few short icebreaker party games. People will let their guards down and meet people they might not normally have the chance to work with. That’s also why we opted for a standing cocktail party format (featuring appetizers and more substantial meals) rather than a seated potluck or dinner party format. People tend to mingle more when they’re on their feet. 

7. Let your budget guide you 

OK, so it’s really easy to get carried away. Event planners who tell you otherwise are lying. You want to organize the best corporate holiday party for everyone, and it’s very tempting to go crazy and let yourself be carried away by all the incredible options available on the market. But keeping your budget in mind and sticking to it is essential. It’s going to act as your guiding compass to building the right kind of party for your company. It will show you what you can do, and set limits to what you can’t.

8. It’s time to get creative

No matter the size of your budget, use planning this party as an opportunity to get creative. Think outside the box and stay away from overdone or cliché themes like Winter Wonderland or Ugly Christmas Sweaters. Even if you have a small budget, try to find different ways to do things that might reduce the logistical costs so you can invest in what makes the party fun. If you’re one of the lucky ones with a huge holiday party budget, take it to the next level! Go wild and find things you’ve never done before! And yes, we’re talking about more than just installing a photobooth at the party. 

party balloons and confetti

9. Is there a better time to give out holiday gifts?

The answer is no! There’s really no better time to give out company presents than at the end-of-year party. Everyone is indulging in some holiday cheer, getting to know their co-workers, sharing drinks with their team members (who are now becoming their friends)… What better way to top that than with an amazing gift? Whether that’s a Secret Santa gift exchange or a present from the company, bringing it out at the right time can have a major “get-psyched” effect.

10. Be a Monica when it comes to scheduling

Remember Monica Geller’s mental checklist from Friends? Yeah. Do that. Only write it down. Keep a detailed schedule of the party, with everything that will happen clearly outlined at every step of the event. Things can go wrong all the time, so don’t leave any issues open and get ready for unexpected things to crop up. Always have a plan B or some kind of contingency plan for things that can go wrong. 

11. People love pictures and videos

Hire a photographer and/or a videographer, budget permitting. People love to look back on events like these and remember the fun they had! Oftentimes, they’re too busy enjoying themselves to take their own photos, and even if they do, there’s nothing more fun than seeing candid photos of yourself taken by other people! Not to mention this will help further reinforce your company culture. And, as an added bonus, you can print some photos off and stick them around the office for people to look at!

12. Last but not least… rely on your team

Ask for help when you need it! It feels like we’re stating the obvious here, but people don’t always do that. Planning an event is a lot of work with many obstacles on the way, and you do not need to do everything alone. Rely on your team to help you. No one is an island!

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