Virtual Thanksgiving Ideas

September 20, 2020

Thanksgiving is the ultimate teamwork holiday. Though the story of the first Thanksgiving is not quite as rosy as the history books might have us believe, no pilgrim survived that harsh first winter without help. 

This November, you can take time to gather with your group to build bonds and express gratitude.

This article covers:

  • Why is gratitude important in the virtual workplace?
  • Virtual Thanksgiving celebration ideas
  • Virtual Thanksgiving celebration tips

And more.

Here is everything you need to know to celebrate virtual Thanksgiving seasons with your remote team.

Why is gratitude important in the virtual workplace?

Gratitude fosters a culture of recognition that fuels further teamwork, and thus is essential to any workplace. In physical offices, colleagues can grab each other coffee or snacks, tack “thank you!” sticky notes on each other’s monitors, and exchange a “great job!” when passing in the hallway.

However,virtual offices provide fewer chances for these casual gestures. The savvy team leader cultivates opportunities for remote peers to express appreciation, knowing that gratitude leads to increased employee satisfaction, higher self-esteem, and deeper relationships among teammates. Gratitude can effectively battle the feelings of loneliness and doubt that often plague remote employees.

Virtual Thanksgiving celebration ideas

From online community service projects to recipe swaps to seasonal arts and crafts, here are a few ways to celebrate the Thanksgiving season with your distributed team.

1. Virtual volunteering

Thanksgiving is not only about giving thanks, but also about giving back to those who may have fewer reasons to rejoice. Many companies and individuals participate in community service projects throughout November. You and your remote crew can donate your time and efforts through an online volunteering option like the ones below.

Virtual volunteering opportunities:

Hire Heroes USA: This service provides career counseling and interview practice to military families. Your team can use field and interview expertise to help veterans.

UN Volunteers: The United Nations Volunteers program matches participants with a cause in need. Because projects are skills-based, this program is a good fit for professionals.

Career Village: Another professional-centric service project, Career Village solicits industry answers to questions from interested students.

Be My Eyes: This nonprofit pairs low-sighted people with volunteers to assist with everyday tasks via a smartphone app.

Many other organizations offer remote volunteer opportunities. You may even be able to find online volunteer options through a local company or a company-affiliated charity. Your team may even decide to launch a new project, like reading or writing to senior citizens, or creating a free tool for a community organization. If nothing else, then you and your team can make an online group donation to a cause of choice.

2. Gratitude wall

virtual gratitude wall

Virtual workplaces often miss out on the many informal thank you’s that bounce around the hallways of offices. Your online team can display appreciation for colleagues by using a gratitude wall.

To create a gratitude wall, simply designate a place online where all group members can post, such as a social media group, a Slack channel, or an online whiteboard application like Miro. You can kick the activity off by posting kind anonymous comments about your coworkers. Then, invite the rest of the team to do the same. You could even play “compliment tag,” and challenge teammates to write a kind comment in turn upon receiving a compliment.

For best results, ensure that all team members receive at least one sincere note of gratitude. Your online gratitude wall will add a public and visual element to the thanks, and will spread warm fuzzies quickly amongst the team. This activity is a great way to circulate positivity and appreciation throughout your virtual office.

3. Recipe swap

Though certain dishes are widely accepted as Thanksgiving foods, acceptable sides vary from dinner table to dinner table, and families also have different ways of preparing dishes. By hosting an online recipe swap, you can expose your crew to new experiences. Because dispersed teams are often spread throughout different regions, your online teammates may enjoy various distinct cuisines. Or, coworkers may spill a secret ingredient.

To host an online recipe swap, you can instruct teammates to post on a special chat channel or online page, or invite teammates to exchange recipes and real time tips during a trial-run cooking video call. You could even compile a team cookbook in a PDF or Google Doc that your colleagues can consult yearlong.

4. Remote dinner

Though many holidays involve food, few celebrations center around food as much as Thanksgiving. Hosting a remote dinner is one of the most obvious virtual Thanksgiving celebration ideas. To host your online family meal, invite your teammates to a video call and provide a food stipend. The meal does not need to be Thanksgiving-specific or turkey-centric; the important part is to gather your employees and spend quality online time together. Between bites, you and your teams can answer icebreaker questions:

Here are a few virtual Thanksgiving icebreakers to add to the list:

  • What was the best dish you ever ate on Thanksgiving?
  • Have you ever had a Thanksgiving fiasco?
  • If you could eliminate one Thanksgiving dish forever, which would it be?
  • If you could invite any famous figure, living or dead, to your Thanksgiving, who would you choose?
  • What are you most thankful for this year?
  • What do you hope to be most thankful for on a future Thanksgiving?

Food has mighty uniting powers, and hosting a special dinner via Skype or Zoom can help your remote team develop familiarity and rapport. While your meals might nourish you physically, the conversation will nourish socially and emotionally.

5. Hand turkeys

virtual Thanksgiving hand turkey

I once epically failed at drawing a hand turkey by sketching the face in the middle of the palm instead of on the finger. Embarrassed as I was at the time, laughing about my goof helped me bond with my new college friends.

Remote work can be just as lonely as the first few months of college, and virtual teammates can enjoy childish fun just as much as bored eighteen year-olds. Sometimes, teams benefit most from virtual team building exercises on the silly side.

You can add a dash of nostalgia to your remote Thanksgiving activities by hosting a hand turkey contest. Teammates can submit entries for a chance to win a prize like an online restaurant gift card (because who wants to cook after Thanksgiving?) You could either draw masterpieces and vote via poll during a video call, or create a social media group and invite colleagues to vote with likes. 

6. Celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving

Canadian Thanksgiving is on a different day than American Thanksgiving, so you can double down on the gratitude this year. Not to mention, Canadian Thanksgiving occurs on Monday instead of Thursday, meaning you can start the week with appreciation. Beyond the date, the holiday is largely the same: full of feasts and thanks. You and your team can count blessings, share a virtual meal, and enjoy all the other activities on this list while paying tribute to our neighbors up north. Since Canadian Thanksgiving occurs in October, this celebration is like a trial run for American virtual Thanksgiving, meaning you can find the perfect laptop angle to hide that second helping of pumpkin pie.

Virtual Thanksgiving celebration tips

Here is a list of online Thanksgiving celebration tips to ensure your team observes the spirit of the season.

1. Respect family time

Thanksgiving can be a stressful time. As the end of the quarter approaches, employees are in the midst of holiday arrangements, preparing large meals and coordinating plans with relatives. The end of Thanksgiving brings no relief, as many dive immediately into planning December’s events. While you want to take time to reflect on workplace accomplishments and blessings and refocus for the end of the year, you do not want to encroach on family time or cause employees extra stress. You should keep in mind your employee’s other obligations this time of year, and schedule events accordingly. Consider taking time out of the workday for your exercises, or invite family members to join in social activities like your remote dinner. You can also plan ongoing bonding exercises like hand turkeys and gratitude walls that employees can complete on their own schedule.

2. Focus on gratitude

There is no better time of year to express gratitude; the holiday literally tells us to give thanks. This season provides the perfect backdrop to highlight the importance of gratitude and teamwork in the workplace. As employees cherish bonds with family members, you can seize the opportunity to strengthen bonds within your teams. You can encourage employees to take stock of good fortune and express thankfulness to teammates. We often focus on improvement and growth in our teams, but dwelling on gratitude can also boost productivity and workplace well-being.

3. Give back to the wider community

Thanksgiving is a season of charity, and thus a prime time to start an online philanthropy effort. You and your virtual team can engage in one of the virtual volunteering measures mentioned above, or your remote company can launch a virtual fundraising campaign. This is a great time of year to highlight social responsibility and take actions that benefit a wider audience. Plus, volunteering can increase self-esteem and mental health. Often, remote workers experience loneliness, but dedicating time to a cause with coworkers can cultivate a sense of community. 

4. Extend the appreciation beyond November

Gratitude is important throughout the year, not just at Thanksgiving. If you limit your practice of gratitude to November, you risk losing the sincerity and the power of those expressions. While you can certainly highlight thankfulness during this time of year, you should incorporate a habit of gratitude into your virtual office year round. 

Final Thoughts

Thanksgiving might not initially seem like a holiday to celebrate with a remote team, but the season’s emphasis on appreciation makes Thanksgiving a prime opportunity to spotlight gratitude. Gratitude is especially important for virtual teams because the practice can strengthen trust and relationships and stave off feelings of isolation and restlessness.

For more information on celebrating holidays remotely, check out our list of virtual holiday party ideas.

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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