The past year has been…different. So many compromises made, plans changed, and events canceled. I know I’m not alone when I say I feel a huge need to share or create normalcy for our teams on a daily basis, but what does that look like these days? Especially for special events.
In winter 2020 we needed to do something totally different than anything Fresh had done before – or even I had done before as a corporate event planner: host a fully virtual employee party that captured the same in-person collaborative culture that makes Fresh, fresh. Fresh parties have three key ingredients: recognition, camaraderie, and live music.
My job: convert all of those into one virtual experience that could win against Zoom fatigue. Let’s be honest, most days employees are counting down the minutes until they can close their laptops and give their eyes and brains a much-needed break.
How do you add yet another calendar event to someone’s schedules that they’ll actually be excited to attend?
Ingredient 1: Virtual Camaraderie
From the minute I started planning, my motto was always “lean into the awkwardness.” Acknowledge and embrace that this party and experience are different. It’s quirky. So we won’t take ourselves too seriously, and it’s more than ok to laugh.
To rally excitement for the party we started by sending our team “Party Boxes.” These included:
- VIP ticket to the party
- DoorDash gift card for dinner on Fresh
- Sparkling cider and toasting glasses
- Photo booth props
- Snacks! Movie-theater style popcorn and candy.
(A couple of our employees were so busy packing these boxes we missed taking a photo – but rest assured, they were awesome!)
On the evening of the event our night’s MCs kicked off the party with some ground rules encouraging all guests to leave their mics and cameras on and take over the text chat.
One key part of making this event exciting in an age of Zoom fatigue was to keep it shorter than our previous in-person parties, and to ensure our team felt comfortable signing out on their own time. And unlike past parties, we extended the invite to our team’s families and kids.
Committed to embracing the awkwardness, I set up breakout rooms that randomly placed a handful of team members in a Zoom chat for fifteen minutes to experience some of the informal conversations we were used to having.
Ingredient 2: Recognition
Fresh is all about recognizing our people. We do it monthly at our all-hands meetings, privately in one-on-one meetings, and through our “Praise” function in our review tool, Small Improvements.
In a year where we hardly have seen one another, and recognition seems harder to come by, I knew we needed to go big that night.
We recognized nine individuals for their unique contributions to Fresh projects and to company culture, along with three honorable mentions in each category.
This is where it really started to get fun. Buckle up. I kept a secret from our employees: instead of our MCs or executive team presenting awards, we “scheduled” celebrity presenters via Cameo.com. Turns out this wasn’t awkward! It was hilarious and surprising for everyone. Take a peek.
Shout out to all of our winners:
- Most Improved Performer, Electronic Technician Hunter Fite
- Best Customer Centricity, Electrical Engineer Lead Nissa van Meter
- The Office Bestie, Front-End Development Director Anita Gandhi
- The Mountain Mover, Sr. Project Manager & PM Lead Ella Dorband
- The Moral Hero, Digital Solutions Lead Teage Christensen
- Stand-Out Performer, Industrial Designer Scotty Paton
- Best Team Player, Controls System Engineer Michelle Tolfa
- The Ultimate Contributor, Software Development Director Sean Patterson
- The Heart Award, Director of Robotics Mitch Tolson
Ingredient 3: Live Music
I know from talking to team members, many of us miss live music. Since it’s always been a large part of our year-end parties at Fresh, live streaming LA band Soulicious a big part of our night.
Soulicious opened and closed out the evening with hits that we could dance to in our living rooms with our partners, kids, and housemates.
Soulicious brought us one of the most, if not the most, amazing effects of the party: the ability to spend time with each other in a way we hadn’t been able to in nearly a year. And that alone is something to celebrate.