There’s a unique frisson to office Christmas parties; a feeling akin to a translation error as you move from professional to personal with people you usually see only at work. Who is going to drink too much? Will someone say something inappropriate in front of the boss?
Alas, that unpredictable energy might be absent this year as we head towards what our prime minister describes as a “very different” Christmas. Even if this second lockdown does end on December 2nd as planned (and there are no guarantees it will) it’s hard to imagine many workplaces will commit to gathering all employees together in a big office party setting.
Thankfully there is an answer: virtual Christmas parties.
These operate somewhat similarly to the all the other virtual meetings, and quizzes we’ve all become used to since March, albeit with Christmas jumpers worn, and a festive mood encouraged.
Anyone who has ever been on a video call with more than a handful of people knows that they’re not the most conducive environment to socialising, so many of the virtual Christmas party offerings are designed around an activity: a baking class, a wine tasting, or even a murder mystery complete with props and costumes.
But can a a 30-way Zoom call even begin to evoke the revelry and debauchery of a classic office Christmas party? To find out, I asked my colleagues to join me for a virtual Christmas party experience from Hereford’s Chase Distillery.
Normally, there would be 30 attendees at the minimum, but office managers be warned: it’s harder to get a big turn-out for a virtual Christmas party than a ‘live’ one. So at the appointed hour on a Friday evening I ended up with a paltry six attendees. But nothing was enough to dampen my festive spirit!
For a price of £30 per person, Chase’s party guests experience a virtual distillery tour and a drinks tasting, with a box of five of the brand’s spirits; vodkas and gins; as well as some mixers dispatched in advance to attendees; a lethal combination for any party guests who lack a bit of self-control.
We started with a Bramble cocktail focused on the brand’s Sloe gin, then it was off for a factory tour, hosted by Dale Haase and James Scurfield, the brand’s two Christmas jumper-clad representatives. The pair zoomed around the factory at a frenetic pace while someone behind the camera chased after them.
Haase did an admirable job of capturing the experience of a distillery tour, complete with their story and the obligatory history of gin lecture. Then it was time for the tasting and here’s where it started to feel like a proper party. Scurfield and Haase guided us through each of our tasting bottles, offering opinions and tasting notes on each and asking us our thoughts.
We were instructed to keep our microphones muted, but the chat box soon became quite raucous after a few drinks. And it all ended up with a competition to find out who had been paying attention closely to the talk rather than just sipping their cocktail (none of us, it turned out!).
The whole experience only took us about an hour and a half, at which point we decamped for an online debrief. The consensus was that, while short, the virtual session was a handy way to skip the awkward early stages of the office Christmas party, offering a neat distraction while we warmed up for properly socialising with colleagues. The alcohol probably helped with that too. The evidence for this feeling was that our ‘debrief’ turned into a proper virtual party, with more drinks, snacks brought out of cupboards, and the key ingredient of any good Christmas party: office gossip.
I don’t know that our virtual event was ever really going to evoke the heady memories of last year’s office party, but it was a surprising amount of fun and a good chance to catch up with colleagues who I’ve mostly only communicated with either via email since March. And the best part of all? The ability to just log off and go to bed at the end of the night and avoid the awkward small talk as you stand outside waiting for a taxi next to your boss…
Other virtual Christmas party ideas…
While we had great fun with our spirits tasting and cocktail masterclass, there are dozens of different options for virtual Christmas parties. Here are a few of the most interesting experiences I found…
If The Great British Bake Off dominates watercooler conversations in your office then this one might be worth considering. You join a Zoom call with a former Great British Bake Off star (including Howard from Series 4, Jane from Series 7, and Rosie from Series 10) and they teach you how to create your own showstopper; crowning a star baker at the end. Ingredient lists are sent out in advance so you can get everything you need or tailor recipes to your dietary requirements. £595 for 20, and £20 for every additional person up to a maximum of 50.
If you’re looking for something outside the realms of food and drink, Digital Wonder Emporium might have something for you. Specialising in virtual events, the company hosts escape rooms, magic shows, virtual carol singing parties, and murder mysteries all from the comfort of your home. In advance guests are sent everything they need, from bespoke invites to breakdowns of characters they’ll be playing. On the video-call you’ll meet their performers who guide you through these immersive experiences. Prices and group sizes vary based on event.
Sacred Distillery Cocktail masterclasses
While London’s Sacred Distillery does do a spirits tasting like Chase, it also offers several virtual cocktail-making classes themed around classes such as the Negroni or Martini or a general cocktail class. Each participant will receive a branded Sacred glass, 5x double measure (50ml) samples. The expert-led tasting/cocktail masterclass will include a brief history of gin and explanation of vacuum distillation, Sacred’s innovative distillation process. Personal requests such as quizzes or themed events can be catered to as well. Negroni and Martini masterclasses are £29.95pp while the general cocktail class is £30.95pp, with a maximum of 30 guests attending.
Columbia Creative wreath-making
Choose a time and a date and Columbia’s floral experts will source all the things you need to make a beautiful Christmas wreath and have them sent to participants' homes in advance. At the allotted time you’ll jump on a private Zoom call with one of Columbia Creative’s experts who’ll guide you through the relaxing experience of crafting your very own Christmas wreath. £100, plus £50pp with a minimum of 10 guests.