Mandatory fun: How to throw a successful company event
When I first decided to apply for the Office Manager role at Hosted Graphite, I was drawn in by a few words in the job description page;
no ninjas, rockstars, or brogrammers, please; just nice, caring humans.
Right off the bat, these words indicated to me that a workplace with this as a value would be one that I would feel comfortable and safe working in. Since then, I’ve found that the same values that make an environment comfortable and safe to work in are the ones that make social events fun and exciting. Once everyone feels comfortable in their workplace, they can relax enough outside of it to play!
The first step to making sure that as many as possible attend an event seems obvious, but it’s easily missed - if people can’t come, they won’t. So, we try to do our best to make events in which everyone can participate. Accessibility is key; not everyone has the same physical, social, dietary or time-based freedoms. Something as simple as beginning a social event during normal working hours doesn’t take much out of a given working day, and ensures that employees who may have pressing family engagements can take part without having to compromise their other engagements. Not everyone can go rock climbing or participate in a 500 metre sprint at the company picnic, and no one has a good time when they’ve been left out of an event. Making the extra effort to choose an event that the most people can partake in is the first step to ensuring that they do.
While I have heavily advocated choosing events that fit the largest majority, I also know it’s not possible to suit absolutely everyone all the time. This is why having multiple options comes in handy - anything from splitting the group into two different activities, or making sure to have food and drink options available for vegetarians or people who may not want to drink alcohol, can make people feel much more welcome at an event.
Speaking of which - if lots of people are up for drinking, it’s just fine to centre an event around drinks. But it’s not cool to assume that everyone’s interested in that, and if you’re not it can often be alienating to be thrust into an environment where drinking is the main event. In the past, we’ve found that our best drinks-based events have been held in pubs where there is something else to do - this creates more participation for drinkers and non-drinkers alike. Lots of our team love board games, and we’ve been known to invent alternative kinds of jenga at the bar!
Another great way to ensure that people will attend your company event is to give them that chance to do something that they’d want to do anyway - again, it seems basic, but listening to your team will give a great feel for what they’re interested in. The most successful events that I’ve run as office manager have either arisen from conversations that were already happening, or were brought to me as suggestions by coworkers. If you’re not sure what would be best, ask everyone!
When we think of corporate events, the standard narrative tends to be some sort of top-down decision where the event is arranged by management and everyone is given the option of going - or else. But when the goal is to create an event that will be attractive to everyone, it makes more sense to find out what that is and go from there.
Lower the Pressure
With all of that said, there will always be a few people who won’t be able, or won’t want, to attend. And this is okay! Event descriptions here frequently include jokes about things like planned spontaneity and supervised merriment, and while we all get a good laugh out of it, the clincher is that many of us have attended corporate events where “have fun!” seems like less of a friendly suggestion and more of a mandatory injunction. We don’t want anyone to be out of their comfort zone, and while we recognize that socialising is a big part of building a successful team, we also believe that family always comes first and know that everyone has their own commitments. This is reflected in the workplace by our flexible work-from-home policy and relaxed working hours, and we think it should apply to the fun stuff too.
I’d say that it really comes down to being nice and caring, but we all know that’s not true; nice and caring doesn’t pay the drinks-on-us bills, or come with an Instagram-ready gimmick. But those things come second, and if your event is flashy but comes at the price of leaving people out, you’re going to create more bad feeling than good. On the other hand, if you can give everyone something they’re genuinely interested in and make them feel welcome, you won’t end up losing numbers and everybody wins!