The holiday season is fast approaching and the new era of remote work is bringing new challenges in how to promote the festive spirit across teams working remotely. Some of the get together festivities, including Secret Santa, seem to be a part of the past when the current status of remote work does not allow for in-person meetings.

But what is Secret Santa exactly? It is an office tradition, where a group of colleagues exchange Christmas gifts anonymously, by allocating each participant to get a present for another one.

Technology and collaboration tools in particular, once again bring the solution to create a festive atmosphere across teams! Interested to find out how? Just check the below easy steps to organize your hybrid Secret Santa with a little help from Microsoft Teams!

Step 1 - Confirm the event logistics

The first thing you need to do is to decide whether you are hosting α physical, digital or hybrid event. It would be best, if circumstances allow, to find some locations where most of the people could make it for a physical gathering. At the same time you need to also cater for online access for those who cannot make it.

Step 2 - Set a date and a budget

Once location and event type have been decided, you need to choose a date and time that everyone can make it. Good timing is close to the holidays.

Another important information to consider is to set a budget for the Secret Santa presents so they are affordable for those participating. Remember the value is in giving and not in the price tag!

Step 3 - Create a new channel in Microsoft Teams called ‘Secret Santa 2021’

Once you have decided on the type of your event, when and where it takes place, it is time to get organized to communicate the event efficiently across the different teams. If you already have an organization-wide team in Microsoft Teams, you can create a special channel, named ‘Secret Santa 2021’. You can find out more information about creating teams and channels in the post An introduction on how to use Microsoft Teams for HR professionals.

If you don't have an organization-wide team, then you can either create a public channel within an existing team and add the participants (you can only add participants who are part of the team within a team's channel) or you can create a new team with the participants and create within that team a public channel. If you need more information on teams and channels, check the post How teams and channels in Microsoft Teams work like folders.

This channel will be used to send information to everyone about the Secret Santa festivities taking place within your organization. This will include details on the time and location of the events, details on Secret Santa allocation, explanation on the processes on how and where to send the presents, a set budget per present and anything else you deem necessary.

Step 4 - Allocate a Secret Santa to each employee

The fun of Secret Santa is that no one knows who their Secret Santa is until the day everything is revealed! Each participant is allocated with the task to purchase a gift for a recipient, randomly. Since the event is hybrid, meaning that the traditional way of choosing names is no longer an option, you can use an online Secret Santa generator.

There are many free apps and tools available online, like Elfster or Secret Santa Generator.

Alternatively, and if you don’t want to share information through a third party site, you can create your own generator in Microsoft Excel by using the ‘RAND’, ‘RANK’ and ‘VLOOKUP’ functions:

  1. Create a numbered list in column A, counting the number of participants
  2. Add the names of participants in column B
  3. Add the ‘RAND’ function in column C in order to generate a random number next to each name
  4. Copy and paste as values the numbers generated in column D
  5. Create a ‘RANK’ function in column E to rank the numbers in column D
  6. Use the ‘VLOOKUP’ function to match the number in column E with the one in column A, which will create the giftee name in column F

Your spreadsheet will look like this.

You can also download the spreadsheet for ease (click File and then Save as) and add the list of names in column B. Remember to also copy the content of column C and paste as 'values' to column D.

With this method, a person from HR would need to email participants to notify them on who they have to get a gift for, or send a personal message through Teams.

Step 5 - Organize the gift exchange

If you are running a hybrid event, which means that there will be both physical gatherings in different locations, as well as an online attendance option, you will need to ensure that each participant will know where and how to send the gift to their Secret Santa allocation.

An easy way to get organized and minimize administrative efforts is to create a SharePoint list within the Secret Santa team you have created.

Go to the General channel of the Secret Santa team you have created, click on the + sign to add a new tab and choose ‘Lists’

Name this tab ‘Attendance’ and include all participants.

Add a column with the list of participants and then one with information about the location of each participant and another column indicating how each participant will attend. So your list will look like this:

Within your Secret Santa channel post information about this new list and ask participants to confirm the location of attendance by selecting one of the physical options or remote.

Each participant will be able to then see where they should send their gift to. Arrange for pick up points to collect all presents within a specific deadline. So if you are having the physical event in two different offices, participants will be asked to add their present within a labeled box for the specific office - the name of the recipient should be of course hidden! You will then be able to arrange to pack the presents and send them in batches to specific locations.

For those attending online, the Secret Santa will need to send the present to the organizer to arrange for the dispatch to a specific location. Ensure you allow enough time for dispatching the presents on time.

Step 6 - The Secret Santa day

In addition to any arrangements for the physical get together, ensure that you have set up a Teams meeting through your Secret Santa channel to provide coverage from the different locations, as well as for those who will attend virtually.

Each participant will be asked to unwrap their present in front of the camera and will try to guess who their Secret Santa is.

Remember to get some pictures to remember the day!

Have a fantastic Secret Santa party!