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How to Plan an Office Party

Whether it’s something you’ve volunteered for or a responsibility that’s been handed to you, organizing a social gathering for coworkers is not a simple feat. You may have hosted countless birthday parties before, but a group of screaming children is nothing compared to dealing with the politics of the workplace. We’re here to help with some essential guidance and planning stages to create a memorable event.

Part 1: Planning

Form a party committee

A few extra pairs of hands are always welcome. You should make this open to anyone, but also handpick a few specific people you’d like input from, either because they’re natural party planners or true party animals. When you do put out the call, let people know this won’t distract them too much from their day job.

Budget

You may think that it's easier to spend someone else's money, but the reality is quite the opposite! Because company entertaining can be tax deductible, every dollar needs to be accounted for. Be sure to keep every receipt, no matter how small. The big elements that will affect overall costs are:

  • Office or hired venue - A separate location comes with benefits, but will eat up a large portion of your available budget.
  • Day or night - A party during working hours will come at a lower cost, but it also means productivity for that day can be significantly impacted.
  • DIY or party planner - You likely have the necessary skills in your company, but if you can’t convince people to help, external assistance may be necessary.

Type of event

Is it going to be a formal or informal event? Are you putting the paperwork to one side and having some much-needed team building and bonding? The general tone of the party needs to be communicated all the way from the initial invites to the type of food served so the sooner you can decide this (and confirm it’s what your manager wants) the better.

Who to invite

The invite list for office parties will generally be the internal address book, but there may also be families and clients to factor in too. And don’t forget any remote coworkers - are they expected to attend, and if so will their travel and accommodation be covered?

Picking a date

With so many people to consider, a poll suggesting a few options might be the simplest way to pinpoint a date. You won't be able to please everyone, but at least you'll have attempted to find the most amicable day possible.

Part 2: Preparation

  1. Invites
    Digital invites sent around 8-12 weeks in advance make it easy to log attendee numbers. Get your company design team involved in creating something appropriate.
  2. Venue
    Create a rough floor plan of your venue to help you visualize the event. This is especially useful if it’s being held somewhere that isn’t usually designed for a party.
  3. Entertainment
    Competitive group games are good to break down usual workplace barriers. If your event is more formal, a magician mingling with guests provides a nice feature.
  4. Food
    If it’s in the budget, you should look to outsource to caterers. Communicate any allergies and get them to construct menu options based on the type of event that you can agree with the committee.
  5. Drink
    It’s rare at office parties that people are asked to pay for drinks, however, if you are at a venue, make sure attendees know whether it’s an open bar. Distributing drink tickets at the door can be an easy way to provide drinks while controlling costs.
  6. Music
    Playlists are often adequate for office parties but consider a professional DJ if you’re concerned that your coworkers may be interested in greater variety beyond your preferred genres.

Part 3: Buildup

Get access to money

Ask your accounting team for a prepaid card with a set budget so you’re not waiting on your boss’s signature for every item that needs to be purchased.

Don’t let it take over

Put aside time in your calendar specifically for party organizing. Keeping a growing list of FAQs you can point people towards will save you answering the same questions over and over.

Consider providing the list to the attendees in advance of the party. If one person has a question, chances are several others do too. This will also help eliminate dissemination of inaccurate party details.

Drip-feed marketing

Change posters in the office every few weeks revealing a few more details to build up a buzz over time. Get everyone excited about the prospect of putting the VP in a dunk tank!

Committee meetings and reports

Treat planning a party like any other part of your job. Report back with key updates covering budget status and any major milestones to the management team so they know you have everything handled. This could actually help you in other areas of your career, demonstrating you’re capable of running detailed and complicated projects.

Give receptionists the guest list

It can forever to get into some buildings, especially if strict security measures are in place. If your office has a communal entrance, make sure the reception team is prepared and appropriately staffed to welcome both party suppliers and guests.

Share an itinerary

Go through this in advance with a core group of people so they know how things are due to pan out. If your manager wants to give a speech, show them where it fits into the overall schedule and how much time is available. They may totally ignore this on the night, so build in a bit of a contingency as well.

Expect a last-minute curveball

Bosses are traditionally bad at giving briefs, thinking that everyone is automatically tuned into what they're thinking. Keep a bit of budget in reserve so you’re prepared for the essential item that was left off the original party request.

Part 4: On the day

  1. Check the weather
    This is important even if you’re not outside. Providing a few umbrellas to get people from their car to the door could protect an expensive hairdo.
  2. Book some taxis
    It may not be your responsibility to get people home, but having transportation available could help people out as the night draws to an end.
  3. Check in with suppliers
    Triple check with your caterers, and anyone else due to deliver items, to be certain they know when to arrive and the best entrance to use.
  4. Send a final reminder
    This is partly to share any last minute info, but also to prompt any cancellations so you know the true expected numbers.
  5. Transform the space
    Not all offices naturally convert into a party venue. Elements such as lighting can make a huge difference to the ambiance of a room.
  6. Hide sensitive info
    Your party could get awkward if someone’s HR record or salary package is left lying around on a desk.
  7. Enjoy the party too!
    The toughest part of any party is for the host to remember that it’s their reward too. Let the event look after itself and have fun.

Part 5: After the event

Put things back to how they were

If you’re hosting the party at your office, arrange for your cleaning team to do an extra few hours on top of their normal shift. There may be a few drink stains to get out of the carpets and traces of the party lying around.

If it’s a party at a venue, try and spend some time at the end of the party checking you have everything you brought with you. You might need to make a trip to pick up some lost property, but it’s always good to avoid a return to the scene of the party if you can help it.

Close the accounts

Ensure everyone’s been paid, and the final budget includes every item purchased. Make life easy for your accounting team by giving them a neat package of all the various receipts rather than sending them over piecemeal.

Ask for feedback

This is especially useful if you want the opportunity to put on another party for your company in the future. You may have received some during the party, but put out a specific call for any thoughts from coworkers. It’s best to do this anonymously so it’s not sugar-coated. There might be some words you don't want to hear, but take it all constructively and look to make the next one even better.

Committee debrief

Get your group together for a final review of the event. Did everything go as planned? Even if there’s some room for improvement, it’s important to thank everyone for their efforts in putting on the event. They’re much more likely to want to help out again next time if you show some gratitude!

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