How to Run A Virtual Secret Santa in 5 Simple Steps

September 17, 2020

You want to host a Secret Santa in your virtual office, but you know that the process will be slightly more involved than picking names from a hat. No need to fear. Our helper elves here at TeamBuilding have tested and perfected the ultimate Virtual Secret Santa.

Virtual Secret Santas are when you match up partners for a gift exchange. This activity helps promote online team building.

The best time for a remote Secret Santa is probably during your virtual holiday party.

virtual secret santa

Here’s how to host your own remote gift exchange in five straightforward steps.

Step 1. Set a budget and pick a date

Though Secret Santa may function differently in a remote office, the basic rules still apply. Typically, Secret Santa is an optional activity. Since participants buy gifts out of pocket, your employees should still be able to choose to participate. You could also provide a stipend to encourage more participation. Chances are, most of your team will want to join the fun, but any opt-outs can always watch the gift exchange.

The first step to any Secret Santa is to set a budget. A range of $20-$30 is standard, but you can adjust the price higher or lower depending on your team’s preferences. You should decide the budget before you announce the activity, but you can pick a date for the exchange before or after the announcement.

Step 2. Gather participant wish lists

In offices, sneaky Secret Santas can spy by peeking at desks or asking around for gift ideas. Remote reconnaissance is much harder. You can try to snoop on social media, but there is a much better way to determine the perfect gift.

When taking sign-ups for online Secret Santas, you should gather wish lists along with names. Participants can recommend a few broad gift categories such as “chocolate,” “travel accessories,” or “sports merchandise.” Teammates should also specify any other pertinent information such as clothing sizes, food allergies, or team fandom. This approach gives gifters a guide to consider when deciding what to get without eliminating the fun of choosing a present.

Step 3. Draw names with an online tool

There are many apps and websites that can make the digital Secret Santa pairing process a breeze.

Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Elfster: This website or app asks you to input the date, budget, and participants, and also enables guests to add gift preferences. Once all teammates opt in, Elfster will match up partners and email details to the gifters.
  • DrawNames: This site’s generator allows you to reuse lists every year to ensure no repeats in pairings, and also presents an option for every participant to choose two names instead of one.
  • Giftster: You can use Giftster as a website or an app. The site functions like a registry, letting participants add a wishlist with store links and mark items as purchased. Giftster draws names from within your private group.

These tools simplify the process, but if your team prefers not to enter information into a third party site, then you can manage the wishlist and signup process via Google Sheets and match members with this open source match generator.

Step 4. Mail gifts to recipients

Since you cannot slip gifts under a communal tree, your team will have to ship presents to each other. “But Angela,” you may say, “Won’t the return address labels take the secret out of Secret Santa?” The easiest fix for this problem is to instruct all gifters to use the organizer’s address on the return label. This way, the organizer can resend any returned gifts and the mystery remains intact.

Providing a $10 postage stipend to each participant is another nice touch for your remote Secret Santa.

Step 5. Exchange gifts via video call

All participants will wait until the day of your virtual gift exchange to unwrap the packages on a web conferencing platform like Zoom or WebEx. You can make the remote Secret Santa part of your online holiday party and can play other virtual holiday games during the call.

Each recipient should try to guess the identity of the gifter after opening the present. After opening all presents and revealing all Santas, you and your team can take a screenshot of the holiday haul.

A nice post-party activity is to create a shared online album or private social media group where recipients can upload photos of the gifts in use.


Virtual Secret Santa exchanges may seem complicated, but the online gift swaps are actually very easy to execute. All you need to do is set a budget and date, collect recommendations, match participants using a tool, mail gifts, and then enjoy the fruits of your efforts.

These online holiday activities help remote team members connect and learn more about each other’s interests and preferences and enable dispersed teams to enjoy holiday fun from afar.

Speaking of seasonal entertainment, check out our article on how to throw a virtual Christmas party.

Author: Angela Robinson

Team building content expert. Angela has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and worked as a community manager with Yelp to plan events for businesses.

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