When we started quarantine, having a Zoom happy hour was actually pretty fun. Calling friends that live out of state and hanging out with family without needing to travel was convenient and nice.
Now, we're 7+ months into working from home. The novelty of a "virtual happy hour" has worn off. The last thing people want to do is stare at their computer screens and talk to their coworkers after work hours. So how do we at DMC keep people coming to our happy hours? Give the people what they want—beer.
Tasting Across Eight Offices
Before we go any further, I want to note that DMC does not encourage alcohol as a way of coping with the pandemic. What we do encourage is relaxing with friends and trying new things. That is why in October we used our monthly activity fund budget to virtually sample different kinds of beers.
We divided into groups based on different beer styles. Each style of beer was given a night of the week and Teams meeting link. DMCers purchased whichever styles of beer they were interested in discussing. Then, they joined the meeting to taste, compare, and rate their beers while chatting with their coworkers.
This might seem like a simple event to put together. Reading the brief description does make it seem very easy. Yet talk to any corporate events coordinator and they will tell you, it's never as easy as it looks. Below are my steps for planning a virtual event that your employees will actually want to attend.
Planning a Virtual Event
While everyone's industry is different, here are a few steps I used to plan an event that worked very well for DMC.
1. Understand Your Audience: Give the People What They Want
After a long workday, what is a great way to unwind? Having a beer with friends. But just having a beer isn’t enough to make people want to stay on their computers longer. DMC is a company made up of mostly 20 or 30 somethings who love to discuss strong opinions and are wonderfully creative. For example, in the Chicago office kitchen employees made a tree graph explaining the definition of a sandwich. Could a taco, calzone, or hot dog be classified as a sandwich? Although I do not remember the outcome of the debate, I do remember that everyone loved voicing their strong well-rounded opinions.
Combining strong preferences and the company's love of beers, a tasting was the logical event to plan. Our beer enthusiast in Denver, John Sullivan, suggested the beer tasting event and received a lot of upvotes on Slack.
2. Create Your Format: It Doesn't Need to be Complicated
The pandemic limits options on how to meet and presents obstacles for how format a tasting. How do you get everyone to taste the same beers? DMC has eight offices spread across the country. How do we get beer to everyone so they can all participate? After spending some time researching beer delivery services and looking into the legality of shipping beers across state lines, John came up with the idea of "Let everyone buy their own local beers and just describe them to everyone else." It supports local businesses and is way easier to coordinate.
To any event planners reading this, if you take away anything from this blog let it be this. It doesn't need to be complicated. In the times of COVID, people just want something to look forward to. You don't need to make every event perfect with a bow on top.
Having everyone shop for their own beers, actually made the event more fun. Talking about our buying strategy was another experience to share while we're apart. Some people bought a 6 pack they knew they'd enjoy. Others went for variety packs where they could try a few different beers. Some people splurged and bought bombers of specialty beers that they wouldn't normally try.
3. Find the Simplest Way to Connect
DMC is a Microsoft partner, so using Microsoft Teams to virtually connect made the most sense. Teams makes it easy to schedule different rooms at the same time. On Wednesday night of the beer tasting week, we had two different tastings going on for Sour Beers and Seasonal Beers. From my one Outlook account, I was able to schedule two Teams meetings at the same time with a click of the scheduling tool. Our Teams meetings were able to accommodate any number of participants who decided to join.
4. Keep the Conversation Going: Be a Good Host When You’re Not in the Room
Virtual hangouts with people you don't talk to on a regular basis can sometimes be awkward. You either have everyone talking at the same time or even worse, no one talking. To avoid people sitting in silence awkwardly avoiding eye contact with the camera, we wanted to provide something to guide conversations. With multiple Teams meeting happening simultaneously, how do we spark conversations when there is no "host" of the event?
We created a survey. The first part of the survey was more about the technical tasting of beers, rating the color, aroma, etc. Then the survey went into questions like: Why did you choose this beer? What food would this beer pair well with? Finally, the survey ended with more fun questions like: What would be the recommended setting for drinking this beer? If this beer were to give you life advice, what advice would that be?
5. Give Them the Tools: They’ll Make it Fun
Companies are trying to keep their company cultures alive while we're working from home. Your company doesn't have to go to the expense or hassle of shipping tasting kits all over the country. Tastings don't need to be fancy or perfectly orchestrated. Let your employees create their own fun, just make sure they have access to the right tools.
Learn more about DMC's company culture.