If you’re feeling stumped about how to celebrate your team in the midst of a global pandemic, it’s not too late to follow our blueprint for morale-boosting end-of-the-year activities.

Keeping employees motivated and productive despite the uncertainty and stress many are facing has been difficult for companies large and small. In fact, two in three employers say maintaining employee morale during the pandemic is a challenge, according to a recent report by the Society for Human Resource Management.

“I wanted to make sure the team feels connected despite working remotely for so long,” says Leigh Yanocha, head of people strategy at Knopman Marks. “This became a special focus end-of-year. It’s felt really good to dream up fun, remote activities during which everyone can share a laugh.”

Your Blueprint for Team-Building Holiday Fun 

Known for her creative and popular team-building activities, such as goat yoga last year, Yanocha pulled out all the stops to bring the team together virtually this year. She created a team-building blueprint, which kicked off after Thanksgiving with a “random acts of kindness” challenge.

  1. Pay It Forward. Invite employees to post a picture showing something kind or helpful they did for a stranger. The term “random act of kindness” comes from writer Anne Herbert, who scribbled, “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty,” on a restaurant place mat. “The more we give, the better we feel,” Yanocha says. “Everybody wins.”

  1. Run a Gingerbread House Contest. Mail gingerbread kits to your team at home, and let the games begin. Encourage everyone to post pictures as they complete their creations. “Seeing what everyone else is coming up with motivates those who may be reluctant to join in,” Yanocha says. Offer a deadline. Announce winners in a team meeting. The Knopman Marks team jumped in with gusto, posting images of their fortresses on group chats. Upon winning the fiercely competitive contest, Michael Verdi, student enrollment and onboarding specialist with Knopman Marks, noted, only half-jokingly, “This is the proudest I’ve been of anything.”

  1. Share Your Holiday Decorations. Help everyone lift their collective holiday spirit by sharing photos of how they celebrate this time of year in group chats in the weeks leading to the holiday break.

  1. Host a Virtual Holiday Party. Put down your work and pick up a glass! Any virtual festivities will be more successful if you send out party favors, such as emoji props or festive holiday hats. Group activities might include launching an ugly sweater contest or playing bingo virtually. Send treats, food delivery, or a meal kit in advance to be enjoyed during the party. Beforehand, share recipes to mix up holiday cocktails. “Create an agenda,” Yanocha says. “All meetings—and parties—need to have a nice flow!”

  1. Make Music. Join in a virtual sing-a-long, harmonize holiday carols, or create a playlist. “Nothing can shift energy faster than upbeat tunes,” Yanocha says.
  2. Create a Team Holiday Card. Invite the team to send hilarious or heartfelt holiday cards to one another with free services like jibjab or American Greetings.Cards can feature the children or pets of people on your team to help everyone feel like an extended family,” Yanocha says.

  1. Enjoy a Secret Santa Gift Exchange. Send out a link, one to two weeks ahead, to a free gift-exchange website, like Elfster. Set a modest price limit.

Share the Joy

Yanocha has already shared her team-building and morale-boosting blueprint with several HR colleagues who requested it. As far as she’s concerned, it’s up for grabs. “These events have been so much fun for my team,” Yanocha says. “I’d love to see others enjoy them too.”

The activities have made the tight-knit Knopman Marks team even more cohesive, even though they haven’t worked together in their New York offices since March. Acutely aware of the toll isolation and social distancing can take, Yanocha makes it a point to remind the team to take mental breaks.

“There’s no way around it: COVID-19 has created challenges for many,” Yanocha says. “Helping the team cope with stress in healthy ways makes all of us stronger.”

Plan to try our ideas? We’d love to hear how it goes! Send a brief description and a photo to [email protected].

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Written by Suzanne Riss
Suzanne Riss is an author and Director of Communications at Knopman Marks Financial Training. Previously the award-winning Editor-in-Chief of Working Mother magazine, she is a fierce advocate for issues facing working moms and an authority on work/life trends. Her expertise has been tapped in interviews by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Good Morning America, the Today Show, and CNN. Suzanne's third book, Work Disrupted, published by Wiley, was released in January 2021.