Hands up who hates office parties? Pretty much everyone. Not only can socialising with your co-workers be cringeworthy, the lack of fun office party ideas can also a problem.
Most office parties tend to be stuffy and formal affairs. There might be some music, maybe bowls of snacks and definitely beer. But the atmosphere often isn’t very relaxing.
Working with your team is one thing, but now socialising with them is quite another. This makes your job as the planner harder.
I’ve run many of these parties in my work life so have put together a few office party ideas and tips to help you create something awesome.
Key tips to using any office party ideas well
Most of the time, when we attend these parties, we go as work people and we’re still in work mode as well. People will automatically want to talk about work because that’s the only connection they have with each other. But after a while, talking about work can get boring.
And transitioning the conversation to talking about ordinary life can be difficult.
But your job as office party planner doesn’t have to be difficult when you consider these 3 tips.
Tell everyone in advance to leave work at the door
This is the wisest thing you can do for your teammates and your own sanity. No one is allowed to talk about work, while at the party.
Everyone needs to be briefed on this, before the party begins. You could even add a few game to it – anyone who says anything about their job, it’s a dollar or Euro in the pot. Hanging a sign at the door before anyone enters is also another practical way.
Okay, there might be some work topics that can’t be off limits. This is for you and your team to discuss. Anything such as the business meeting next week, something financial or strategic, should be off the table.
No one is allowed to gossip about other teammates
This is highly forbidden and everyone needs to know this. Gossiping about teammates, absent teammates, teams in other departments and even clients is just bad faith and unprofessional. If anyone’s got a problem with someone, that’s a conversation for their manager or HR.
Don’t use office parties as bonding sessions
Sitting together as a team in an office doesn’t always mean people are going to be friends. Everyone is there to do their job, for the sake of company goals. People may or may not always be comfortable with each other.
Office party ideas shouldn’t be used as a way of getting teammates to bond. Save the “getting people to bond” for a company away day or training session. Forcing people to socialise will just make people hate your party plans even more.
Use conversation starter cards
So if your teammates can’t gossip, talk about work or complain about the company, what can they talk about? There’s plenty they can talk about, they just need the right nudge. One of the best ways I’ve found is to have a box of conversation starter cards at the food and drink table.
You want these card games to ask basic questions, little icebreakers to get people relaxing. You can also scatter these cards around the party room, such as on chairs. After a while, when people have had a few drinks, you’ll find they’re much open to using these cards and opening up about themselves.
Give people time to relax
Depending on what your office party is for, you want to give everyone the time and space they need to adjust to the socialising. So if you’ve scheduled something for 4pm, don’t start announcing things or trying to get everyone to mingle at 4.10pm. Let everyone have their time.
Remember: most people will still be in business mode when they attend. Some of your colleagues might be shy in a social setting than an office one. Some of your colleagues may not know others socially, so giving them time let’s them find someone they can small talk with.
How to turn office party ideas into great events
In my opinion, the reason office parties suck is because the focus of the party is on your teammates.
Since such parties often feel artificial, if everyone’s arriving still buttoned up in their suit and dressed like they’re in a business meeting, it’s because they think that’s what’s expected. Why else would anyone have a party at work with work people?
The best way is to give people a real reason to come, and to focus on the party on something else not your teammates. When you’re doing this, you give your team the chance to unwind and forget they’re at work (for a while), to just people.
Here are some office party ideas I’ve used successfully in the past.
Mixing office chores with pleasure
When you’re working in a busy office, chances are the office space can get crowded, with boxes, filing and other inconvenient mess. So why not plan your party around an office-related activity such as a file-clearing day? You can shut the office, put all your phones onto voicemail, have your team turn up in casual clothes, and serve up beer and food at the same time.
If you’ve got some serious Spring cleaning to do, take a look at these Spring party theme ideas for adults.
Anniversaries and birthdays
This office party idea’s a great way of acknowledging your teammates. Everytime someone in your team has either a work anniversary or a birthday, organise something for them, even if you’re asking everyone to stop working for half an hour for some cake and drink. Given that people are busy, try and lump together the different dates you’re celebrating, this is also helpful for your budgeting. So if there are two birthdays in the same week or a work anniversary and a birthday, hold just one event to cover both dates.
You can also use this idea as an opportunity to celebrate the longest serving teammate, a promotion, a teammate retirement, or some positive team/company PR.
An unusual team lunch
Tired of everyone dashing out at lunch for a quick sandwich? Then why not schedule a monthly Team Potluck and invite everyone to bring in a dish of their own. What people bring is up to them (preferably home cooked but leave it up to them), but make sure to keep track of who is bringing what. That way, you as the organiser can fill in any nutrition gaps, e.g. if there’s not enough vegetarian or meat options or you’re lacking a dessert.
If you work in a team from different states or countries, you could also host a cultural potluck lunch, with food from everyone’s cultures. If they’re from the same city or country, ask them to bring in regional dishes.
A new teammate welcome
First days for new colleagues joining your team can be nerve-wracking experiences for the people in question. So why not schedule in a team lunch where you all eat out somewhere nice, the goal of the lunch to help that person settle in?
This lunch is an opportunity for the new teammate to relax, so try to keep your focus on that, don’t use it to discuss team goals or a team orientation.
Rewarding effort during pressured times
This office party idea’s all about rewarding your team if they’re feeling under the gun. Perhaps they’ve been told to hit a certain sales target or are in the process of closing a new contract. The office will probably be tense for a while, as everyone keeps their head down to achieve these goals. But once there’s a win – make sure you celebrate it. I think it’s important people feel seen and be acknowledged for their hard work and sacrifices.
Everyone has to work longer hours than normal
Sometimes your team will be expected to work longer hours than expected, meaning people will still be working after 6pm. If you know the reason for it and the timeframe this will run for, you can plan a mini party to help people relax.
For sure, order in some dinner and make sure you’ve got snacks and drinks around for people to tap into. You could also set up a weekly mini movie marathon using a projector, portable screen and a laptop and screen some comedies; a great way for people to cool off and destress.
Having an office move
This is yet another excuse to plan some office party ideas. Moving offices are sometimes a necessity, whether you’re moving somewhere in the same building or different premises altogether.
The packing up can be stressful, then the move itself and the unpacking a whole bunch of effort. But once everyone has moved, why not throw a small party, before any unpacking begins? The goal of this is to reward everyone’s efforts and hard work.
Like the first idea on this list, you could also turn your unpacking chores into a fun office party.
Want to relax without socialising
Given that people usually dread office parties, why not forget the whole ‘office party’ thing and call it an office movie party? You can set up your mini cinema in another office using a projector, white screen and laptop. Come up with a list of 10 movies and send them to your team for voting; the film with the most votes is the movie of the day
The best day for holding these parties I’ve found tends to be a Thursday afternoon; people start hunkering down into work on a Wednesday and Friday they’re ready for the weekend. This office party idea’s another great way to reward your team.
Having a Dress Down Friday
Unless you work some place where casual clothing is allowed, most companies offer a Dress Down Friday or Where What You Like Day. This is the day teammates can dress in their normal clothes when they’re not at work.
One idea I love is to ask everyone to dress in their Saturday look. That means their weekend clothes, especially the sloppy, lazy kind. Keep the weekend feel going, with pizza for team lunch and newspapers lying all over the place. You can set a theme for your Dress Down event, such as asking people to wear only black and white clothes or something with red. You can accessorise your office with similar colours.
Someone leaving the company
Leaving parties can be bittersweet affairs. You’re excited to hear your teammate is moving on and doing something new. But at the same time, you’re sad to see them go. Organizing a leaving event at work can also be hard to plan but it can be done. Check out my post on going away party ideas for work.
Got an office Christmas party
Most people dread the annual Christmas party even more than regular office parties. Watching your managers do embarrassing things (like dancing on the dancefloor) can be cringeworthy stuff. But a Christmas party can be SO much more than that. The venue, time of day, who you invite, size of team can offer you lots of creative possibilities.
If you’re looking for advice, check out my post on Christmas office party ideas.
When it comes to partying at work, you need office party ideas that make your teammates feel comfortable and relaxed. You want to get everyone out of their work frame of mind as well as encourage some socialising, both of which are really challenging to do. I hope some of the ideas in this list will help you organise your next work event with less stress.