How to host a virtual happy hour

Are you looking to help your hybrid or fully remote team stay connected, despite the physical distance between them? A virtual happy hour could be just what you need.

The traditional happy hour, where coworkers get together at a local bar after work is virtually impossible (see what we did there?) when bars are closed and employees are geographically dispersed. But you can still capture the camaraderie associated with this in-person tradition by hosting your own happy hour online.

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Virtual happy hours are typically held on video calls through a tool like Zoom. Participants bring their own drinks, socialize, and discuss a mix of work and non-work topics — much like a traditional, in-person happy hour. For larger groups, people often use breakout rooms to keep conversations going.

If you’re planning a virtual happy hour for your team, consider the advice of Cherina Sellens, general manager of guest experience at Straightaway, a maker and seller of bottled cocktails in Portland, Oregon. She lays outs three easy steps to get your team started.

1. Brainstorm topics and a theme

Many people haven’t attended a virtual happy hour before, so they may find it a bit awkward. In person, you have a lot of situational context to pull from — other patrons, bar noise, menus, etc. On a video call, it’s just your team and the small amount of background imagery you can see, such as a person’s bookshelf.

You can make up for this by adding your own context, which takes some brainstorming. “A virtual happy hour can benefit from structure, so come up with a few topics to discuss to help people connect and avoid awkward silences. Each person can contribute their own ideas so everyone feels involved. Thinking of a theme for the call can add to the fun as well,” says Sellens.

The important takeaway here is that it’s important to add a sharing or learning element to the event to make it an engaging experience.

2. Choose your drinks

What’s a happy hour without drinks? Whether it’s a beer, a glass of wine, or a cocktail, people should choose their preferred drink and have it with them when they log on to the call.

The drinks themselves can be a discussion topic — participants can share why they chose their particular drink. Perhaps it’s their favorite. Maybe someone makes their own “famous” margarita and wants to walk everyone through how they create it. This could naturally inspire a follow-up topic for the next virtual happy hour, as coworkers may create their own versions after the call.

3. Drink, talk, and enjoy!

With people logged on and drinks in hand, the host can get things started by bringing up the first topic. Then it’s just a matter of talking and enjoying the conversation.

Keep in mind — you can always use features like breakout rooms if the verbal traffic becomes overwhelming or people are starting to disengage because only one person can talk at a time.

“Engagement is the main goal here. When done right, virtual happy hours can really help teams socialize and bond,” says Sellens.

Virtual happy hour examples

Sellens has hosted numerous virtual happy hours and shares two examples of successful ones. The first was one she held for a law firm with team members spread across the country. Her company made cocktails and shipped them to the distributed team members in anticipation of the call. During the happy hour, she told the story behind the drinks they sent to each team member. Teammates also got to talk among themselves afterward.

“The team had a lot of fun being introduced to new beverages and being able to talk about topics not related to work. They found it to be a great bonding experience,” Sellens recalls.

Sellens also hosted a virtual happy hour for an apartment community. Partnering with the leasing manager, she created virtual happy hour kits that she delivered to the community. She instructed residents to pick up their kits in the lobby and then join a Zoom call later that day.

Sellens led the call much like she did for the law firm, but she added more structure since residents weren’t as familiar with one another. She shared the origin stories for the drinks and their logos, and provided details about the snack pairings. “People find it interesting to learn about what they’re drinking,” she says.

The leasing manager said that the residents thoroughly enjoyed the experience and scheduled a follow-up virtual happy hour a few months later.Ready to coordinate a virtual happy hour of your own? If you’re hosting more than a few people, try using a prebuilt virtual happy hour registration form. The form captures people’s names, availability, theme choices, and even game ideas so you can seamlessly set up the event.

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