Zoom Happy Hours Might Be Coming Back — Here’s Why I Think That’s a Good Thing

published Oct 10, 2021
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If you’d mentioned the phrase “Zoom happy hour” to me a few months ago, I would have shuddered. I would have been transported back to March or April of 2020, in the beginning of this ongoing period of uncertainty that has defined much of the pandemic. I’ve attended my fair share of virtual happy hours, birthday celebrations, going away “parties,” and other gatherings since the pandemic began, and, after a while, I was fed up. Sitting in my bedroom, virtually toasting with friends who were all over the country, I found it hard to connect with people, and often ended up feeling more alone than when the night began. 

But at this stage in the pandemic, I’ve also seen the positives of gathering through a screen. In addition to offering a safer way to catch up with friends and family, virtual celebrations are a great way to connect with people over common interests, and doing so also provides access to loved ones both near and far away. And now, as the colder months are approaching and COVID-19 variants pose new safety concerns, it seems that virtual gatherings and events will be making a comeback this season. 

Before you panic, there are some benefits to gathering virtually, and whether you’re planning to host a book club, hold a happy hour, or celebrate the holidays on-screen this year, there are plenty of ways to make doing so more fun and less awkward. All you need is a little creativity and organization. While Zoom fatigue is a real thing, that doesn’t mean that virtual gatherings have to feel like work; here are five ways to create meaningful virtual gatherings that both hosts and guests will enjoy. 

Your Gatherings Will Be More Accessible

When I think about the virtual ways I connect with my friends and family, I also feel a sense of closeness to my loved ones, both near and far away, especially those whom I don’t typically get to see in person. Typically, you probably wouldn’t be able to attend the birthday party of a friend who lives on the other side of the country, but now that virtual events are more common, there are several easy ways to get online with friends from everywhere.

Hosting gatherings on Zoom or other video conferencing services can open up events to people who might not have been able to attend in person, whether for distance reasons or other obligations that limit their time. And while virtual gatherings can help some disabled people access events from their safe and comfortable spaces, it’s important to note that video conferencing can be tough on people with hearing loss issues. Make sure to use closed captioning features if they are available, as well as utilize the chat function for important announcements.  

You Can Turn an Average Night In Into an Event With Friends

A solo movie night can take on a whole new meaning when you use the “party” feature on streaming services, or a browser extension like Teleparty. Similarly, a themed happy hour on Zoom or Google Hangouts can easily brighten up your week, and you don’t even have to leave your living room to participate. 

Virtual Events are Easy on Guests and the Host Alike

All good events, virtual or IRL, need structure to ensure that everyone has a good time, whether you’re hosting or attending. According to etiquette expert Elaine Swann, the founder of the Swann School of Protocol, structure is key to make virtual gatherings run smoothly. 

“Number one,” she said, “have an agenda.” Planning a loose schedule will not only soothe your stresses as a host, but it will also give guests a sense of how the event will flow. Swann recommends starting off an evening event with a welcome toast and introductions to make sure everyone knows each other to break any initial tension. 

You Can Still Bring the Group Together from Afar With an Activity or Gift

Whether you’re discussing the same book or you decide to send each guest the same bottle of wine for a tasting, creating a common bond between the group will help people feel closer while connecting online. “Especially as we’re getting into the holiday season, if you can send something to folks in advance, everybody can join in,” Swann said. For example, you can send everyone a small care package, a gift certificate to a restaurant in their area, or even a virtual coupon they can redeem later. 

Swann also noted that setting the scene with music and starting with an icebreaker is a good place to start, while online extensions for games such as Heads Up, trivia, and bingo will keep guests engaged throughout the event.

Guests Have an Easy Way Out

It can be awkward to unmute yourself in a large group and attempt to say goodbye as other people are talking, although simply logging off and disappearing from the screen doesn’t feel quite right either. Swann recommends telling guests at the beginning of the event to feel free to leave whenever they need, as well as to simply drop a message in the chat feature to say goodbye to avoid any awkwardness. 

“This way, you’re empowering your guests to feel comfortable slipping out when they have had enough,” she said. Giving guests autonomy will likely put them at ease, and in turn will take pressure off you as the host.