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How To Host a Virtual Happy Hour

5 minute read

“Happy Hours Promote Social Bonding - Proof at Last!” is the provocative heading of a Forbes article on the benefits of the company happy hour. The proof mentioned is a scientifically controlled happy hour study by the University of Pittsburgh, enlisting 720 subjects.

The researchers conclude that moderate amounts of alcohol—consumed in a social setting—can enhance positive emotions and social bonding and relieve negative emotions among those drinking.

A scientific breakthrough? Hardly. The effects of alcohol – the positive as well as the negative – are well known. But, it emphasizes one of the reasons why happy hour is one of the ways to boost bonding and team building. There are more reasons, though.

Maybe the best way to explain the difference between social interaction during work and happy hour is: ‘we are together right now because we are all at work’ transcends into ‘we are together right now because we are all choosing to be.’

Happy hour pros and cons

On the upside, frequently mentioned happy hour benefits include:

  • Helps employees bond and connect
  • Cultivates team spirit
  • Provides an extra incentive for new employees and helps them feel at home
  • Enhances employee retention
  • Supports engagement and performance

But, as argued in Employee Engagement: It’s More Than Free Food, programs like after-work happy hours should be seen in the right context. It is important to always tie engagement efforts back to business cases – even if it is something as simple as camaraderie building; otherwise, you do not have an engagement program, you only have a perk.

A 'negative' happy hour aspect to consider is the risk of alcohol-fueled inappropriate conduct, causing discomfort that spills into the workplace. Another caveat is that non-drinkers may feel left out, or even have strong principal objections.

From bar to mobile: the rise of the virtual happy hour

The corona crisis is reshaping all aspects of work, including the tradition of the after-work happy hour. Companies have discovered that virtual communication technology offers them a means to continue this tradition in a different, but not less engaging way. Bringing remote employees, non-desk and frontline staff virtually together for a drink and a chat offers even more possibilities to subtly structure and direct the gathering and to create a richer experience than a get-together at a bar.

Instead of just drinking together, virtual communication technology makes it easy to set an agenda and introduce a theme, play games, let participants give a peek into their family lives and much more.

Some practical things to keep in mind when hosting a virtual happy hour

  • Keep the gathering relatively small. It is arduous to have a great conversation with more than eight participants on a video call.
  • Set an exact start time and end time.
  • Appoint a moderator so that it does not get unwieldy.
  • Ask participants to keep ambient noise down and see to it that the illumination is sufficient.
  • Use the grid view on video-conferencing platforms so you can see everyone simultaneously while someone is speaking.
  • Enable the visual cues on video-conferencing software to minimize people talking over one another.

Keep it voluntary and fun.

“When some people want this kind of support at work and others feel overwhelmed and stressed by it, the key to balancing those differing needs is to make it all optional. It’s fine to offer virtual happy hours […], as long as there’s no pressure to participate and people can easily opt out without penalty.”

An interesting article from online magazine Slate, known for publishing contrarian pieces arguing against commonly held views, proclaims that while trying to relieve employees’ corona stress and build camaraderie with things like virtual happy hours, some companies actually increase their stress rather than easing it.

And, there is some truth in this.

All virtual communication with employees should be supportive rather than intrusive. For employers and managers, it is crucial to find the right balance. Some employees may want more connection, while others will feel overwhelmed and stressed by all this well-intended support. That is why participation in activities like virtual happy hours should always be voluntary.

Conclusion

There is a lot to say in favor of the after-work happy hour. And, although a virtual get-together will never be the same as blowing off steam and bonding at the bar, it also adds new possibilities. Many companies have adopted this alternative, virtual way of get-togethers in an informal setting, as a result of the corona crisis. For organizations with a dispersed workforce, it is the only way to celebrate happy hour. By making use of the options of virtual communication technology, while at the same time avoiding pitfalls, employers and managers can turn the virtual happy hour into a much-appreciated tool to boost employee well-being and team spirit.

Interested to know how workplace culture strengthens employee loyalty and relationships? Download our latest infographic here!

Rob is a content writer, copywriter and novelist. His work for Apple, WWF, Mercedes-Benz and many other brands has been awarded with prestigious creative awards.

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