Company events are a crucial element of building culture and creating an opportunity to build a connection across teams that don’t usually work together. In addition, events add to the overall company experience, which is especially important in an employment market where employees are looking towards work to provide both amenities and a sense of belonging and community.
Max Goldsmith, the founder of SpeciaLListed, agrees. “The more an office can give back to their team in terms of experience, fun, and team-building, the more employees are engaged, happy, and want to stick around,” he says.
Goldsmith launched SpeciaLListed in 2016 after working in corporate catering and the office pantry service industry for over ten years. He noticed more tech-focused companies and startups regularly bringing services like massages and manicures into their offices for employees, and this inspired him to create a hub that makes it easy for office managers to discover specialists who can bring unique experiences to their offices.
Putting together unique, engaging events that please a wide range of people on a regular cadence that also are within budget can be challenging for office managers who are also juggling a slew of administrative and operational responsibilities, a challenge Goldsmith understands deeply. He shared his advice that will enable you to create memorable events that won’t stress you out or max out your budget so that you can focus on the fun part—creating a memorable, enjoyable experience for your team.
You don’t have to leave the office to have a stellar event
A key factor in keeping event costs low is to host an event in your office. Goldsmith points out a restaurant rental can easily cost over $10,000, so you may be better off using the space you already have. You can still make it fresh, unique, and exciting for your team. Ask your building manager if there’s a space you can use like an empty office, floor, or roof top. If not, consider moving furniture around or bringing in unique decor pieces to create a different vibe.
Look into alternative event spaces
If you need more space than your office has or crave a change of scenery, there are venue options that cost less than renting out an entire restaurant or bar. Companies like Peerspace, Splacer, or Breather have an inventory of affordable, flexible, out-of-office spaces for small team meetings or larger events. You might also consider unique spaces such as community gardens, local museums or art galleries, movie theatres, or public buildings. They may offer event rentals at a lower cost and will provide a unique experience for your guests.
Choose an activity that fits your event
For internal events, it’s easy to default to a generic happy hour, but not everyone drinks alcohol and without a focus, they can get repetitive. Goldsmith advised booking an activity that de-emphasizes drinking and encourages participants to engage with each other. Popular choices he has seen lately include instructional painting (with or without wine) and trivia. Activities like these provide something for everyone, bring people from different departments together, and encourage a healthy dose of competition.
Goldsmith also recommended events with an educational component, such as cooking demonstrations, a presentation from a nutritionist about meal planning for work, or a public speaking course. You might even bring in an herbalist or a tarot card reader to give consultations.
For events that are focused on your clients and leads, wine and scotch tastings and bartending classes are popular options Goldsmith has observed. He recently helped plan an 80-person wine tasting event for a company where the instructor took care of the entire set up, enabling the office manager to enjoy the event. For larger-scale events, Goldsmith has seen theme parties have great success when companies dedicate themselves to the theme and take it as far as they can. For example, he worked on an event with a winter wonderland ski theme that included giant snowflakes, a ski-themed photo booth, arcade games, and a winter-themed menu.
When choosing an activity, focus on creative activities that represent a departure from your day-to-day work and take steps to ensure it is inclusive for all. Avoid anything that requires extensive travel and ensure there’s space at the venue for those who don’t want to participate to relax and connect.
A guide to logistics and timing
While event planning can feel overwhelming, approaching logistics systematically and creating a standardized event playbook that you adapt for each event can ensure you are not starting from scratch each time you start planning.
In your playbook include:
- A workback timeline
- Preferred vendors and their contact information
- Food and beverage requirements
- An event budget template
As you develop your playbook keep in mind:
Booking venues: When planning a holiday party or summer event, Goldsmith advises to plan three to six months in advance. Come summer, outdoor venues like boats and rooftops are in high demand and during the holiday season, venues like bars and restaurants are extremely busy. However, outside of these seasons, booking a month is plenty of advance notice.
Working with vendors: While you may be tempted to plan your event around when your preferred vendors have availability, Goldsmith advises it’s easier to choose a date and then coordinate your activities and vendors it. That way you will know quickly who is and is not available and will save on back-and-forth communications.
Get a realistic headcount: Account for absenteeism, especially when planning a free event. Goldsmith notes that on average meetups or events with an educational component have a 45% drop off rate from RSVPs, while socially focused events and parties have fewer no shows, usually around 25%.
Structure team involvement: When getting your team involved in event planning, there’s a fine line between being inclusive and having too many opinions. Goldsmith recommends forming a culture committee—a small group of people that represent each department at your company. That way you can collect input without slowing down your planning process.
Event planning doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. Having a playbook and clear event goals before you start planning can help smooth the process. Before you get started, create a checklist that includes all components of your event including:
- Date and time
- Expected attendance
- Food and beverage menu
- Swag and giveaways
- Logistics for staff and volunteers
Assign dates to your checklist to hold yourself accountable and put follow up reminders in your calendar.
For a more detailed event planning calendar, download The Complete Guide to Office Management from Managed by Q. Events are an excellent way to bring your team together outside the context of day-to-day business and bring a sense of fun and levity to your workplace. From team bonding to enhancing workplace culture, a well planned event can have a positive impact on your company and mission beyond the event itself. Taking time to systematize your event logistics and details will enable you to let your creativity shine through when you are event planning and make sure everyone has a great time, including you.