Maintaining team morale and building strong working relationships is challenging in a world where sharing the same physical space is no longer a straightforward prospect.
Thankfully by harnessing the digital tools that are widely used for practical, work-related purposes, it is also possible to stick to the same social routines as you would in normal circumstances.
Here is a look at how the traditional office happy hour can be comprehensively and appealingly replaced with a virtual equivalent, and the advantages that come with taking the plunge.
Introduction to virtual happy hours
Whether you run one with friends or play host to your colleagues on a scheduled day each week, a virtual happy hour is designed as a perfect substitute to face-to-face meet-ups.
Modern video conferencing platforms have made it simple to get everyone connected whether they are on different sides of the country or on different parts of the planet. It is the ideal antidote to the ennui that can develop when working from home or simply being a long distance from the people who usually occupy your life.
In essence, it serves the same function as meeting up with co-workers for drinks on a Friday evening or hanging out with friends and family in your free time.
Tips for organizers
Virtual happy hours will not just happen by magic; you have to take the initiative and set one up if there is not already a plan in place.
There are of course a few challenges to overcome in this context, as well as a handful of helpful pieces of advice to take into account as you are organizing the event. Here are some of the key aspects to keep in mind.
A theme can improve engagement
While some people thrive in a virtual meeting environment, others find it far more intense and stressful than meeting in the flesh, and even the best conversationalists will struggle if there is a lull in proceedings.
For these reasons, setting a theme for the happy hour ahead of time should be a priority. There are lots of routes to take with this, whether you decide to host an online murder mystery game or opt for something simple like a Netflix watch-along or a book club.
If you are struggling to think of a theme, you can get more fun ideas from SnackNation and plot out a whole year’s worth of virtual get-togethers in a jiffy.
Your software choice is significant
There are a number of competing video conferencing and virtual meeting solutions available today, each of which has its own perks and pitfalls to take into account.
While established options like Skype may have ruled the roost for years, Zoom is an emerging app that has gained traction recently and continues to be a boundary-pusher both in terms of its features and its popularity.
One of the benefits of Zoom is its ease of use; there is no need for lengthy account creation or complex login procedures for all parties, so it is perfect for attracting the maximum number of attendees. Of course, your circumstances may dictate a different approach, so there is no harm in using a different platform or even experimenting with several ahead of time to see which works best.
Manage your invites to avoid over-subscription
If you have ever joined a video call with lots of other people in attendance, you will realize that if there are too many participants, the experience can be less than ideal. Either there will be an issue with everyone talking over one another, or a few key figures may dominate the discussion while most remain passive.
The best way to avoid such a scenario is to host virtual happy hours with a manageable number of invitees. In general, it is a good idea to set a maximum of 20 on the number of potential participants, and even this may be too great a limit depending on the personalities of the people involved.
With the right balance of people on the call, you should be able to keep the discussion moving and ensure everyone is engaged without some feeling excluded.
Provide detailed instructions
Taking a structured approach to hosting virtual happy hours, such as setting a theme as mentioned earlier, is definitely worthwhile, but in doing so you also need to ensure that everyone is up to speed before you proceed.
You should not only send out information about your proposed theme or talking points at least 24 hours in advance but should also give instructions on how participants can join the meeting and download the necessary software to do so. You could do this by organizing info in a document that is accessible to others, creating a mailing list so that prospective participants are up to speed, or using social media to collectively contact attendees.
Keep a firm hand on the tiller
Presuming that you are the host of the happy hour, you should make sure that you are active in your role, taking responsibility for everything from giving attendees access when they log in to steering the conversation if required and giving all participants an opportunity to contribute.
Once you have got the first few get-togethers under your belt, you may want to designate the role of host to someone else for subsequent virtual happy hours. This is particularly important if you are intending to make it a regular event, as hosting duties can be tiring and you will want to take a break at some point.
Make sure it feels fresh every time
Following the same old virtual happy hour structure, every time is a surefire way to see attendance levels dip over time. While changes to the theme can help with this, sometimes it is also important to realize when you need to take a break. Spacing out happy hours will allow you to generate eagerness for them amongst invitees, rather than it feeling like a chore or an obligation when it rolls around. Think of it a little like marketing to customers via email; you do not want to put them off by going overboard early on, and instead should aim to grab their attention with a pristine plan executed at the ideal moment.