How To Celebrate From A Distance

Yesterday, I celebrated my birthday with my family from a distance.

Families sang happy birthday to me via FaceTime or sent unique greetings like the JibJab Happy Quarantine Birthday with my face and my children’s faces imposed on dancing animations. 

All the families surprised me in the evening with a Zoom video conference get together and playing 3 rounds of the smartphone app game called Psych. Highly recommend this if you haven’t played it with a group of people yet.

My one granddaughter had made cookies and her Mom put a single birthday candle on the cookie and I virtually blew it out as she blew it out. However, she ate the cookie!

Now that’s what happened for me to celebrate a birthday. 

What can you do to celebrate your employees’ career milestones virtually? How do you celebrate employees who make a difference or for significant achievements from a distance because of the COVID-19 pandemic?

The act of celebrating reinvigorates organizations and inspires people. Experts have described this human energy as being fueled by ritual and ceremony. Terrence E. Deal and M.K. Key in their book, Corporate Celebration, say that “the human spirit is summoned most majestically in ritual and ceremony, the celebratory side of life at work.”

The following is a list of things you need to keep top of mind to make your celebrations from a distance a success.

Create Celebration Memory Triggers

Look for ways in which to create triggers that will make a lasting memory for the recognition recipients you are celebrating. Think across the different senses and how you can replicate them in people’s remote work from home situations or for other locations.


  • Celebrate the person using graphic signage or backgrounds during your video conferencing.
  • Display unifying symbols of the corporate or organizational logo and name.
  • Organize as much connection with others to make the person feel valued and appreciated, even remotely.
  • For the brave and fun at heart, dress up in costumes and bring in an element of play.
  • Send eCards with photos from the past and play pre-recorded video messages throughout the video conferencing app and send to the employee afterward.
  • Take some screen capture photo shots at various points of the video conference recognition presentation.


  • Classic storytelling skills to use when honoring the individual being recognized.
  • Be specific with your recognition and how the person lives the organizational values.
  • Select some meaningful and invigorating music and great songs that fit the occasion or use at different times of the presentation.
  • Invite all attendees to have noise makers available , whether musical percussion instruments or party horn blowers.


  • Have a personalized certificate, plaque, or gift item to present to the person.
  • Use different smartphone apps for interactive games while video conferencing such as Jeopardy or Psych if time permits for some fun.
  • Even if working remotely and at home build in opportunities to clap hands and bond together as a group of supportive employees.
  • Have a unifying item designed such as a badge, a poster, or a mascot, something that you can all have on hand and present to the individual.


  • If the employee likes flowers, then send them their favorite flowers or a plant or shrub they can plant in their garden.
  • These days one has to be more aware of allergies to scents so something that smells might not work.
  • Send some of their favorite baked goods you have made or ordered from a local bakery and let the aroma of those items bring a smile to the recipient.
  • One group all made cupcakes ahead of time to have one on hand, while they sent a cupcake mix ahead of time to the recognition recipient to have one already made up too.


  • Moving behavior such as parades, dancing, or marching is much better in person. Video record these same actions individually from home and have someone who knows how to edit videos compile them into a composite video like you’ve seen of Facebook or YouTube with singers and musicians.
  • Take part as a community or team of employees using whatever video conferencing tool is best for your organization.
  • Cue everyone to wave hands and arms or to shout out and raise your hands in the air to celebrate. 

Have Fun With Your Celebrations 

What I want to emphasize here is the fact that while celebrations have rituals and ceremonies, you must always have fun. Make it happen!


  • For every celebration from a distance you must have a common purpose.
  • What is the reason and theme you want to have to express the recognition?
  • Think about what you want to have happen for the individual being recognized.
  • What do you want to have occur for the organization and for participating employees?
  • Use time markers like past, present and future, or the seasons, or other ways of generating a theme.
  • Planning a remote work from home, distance celebration, takes lots of time so start early.


  • You must plan a lot of details with celebrations and orchestrate them so they come off without a hitch, but leave room for some spontaneity.
  • Invite the award recipient, whether milestone celebration or achievement, to share a few words with the group if they are comfortable in doing so.
  • Allow for expression of feelings from other employees as time permits.
  • Bring in some surprise guests on the presentation like a former manager now retired or family members from various locations in the world.


  • Change delivery of career milestone gifts and tangible awards to a person’s home and ensure they do earlier timelines as deliveries are taking longer these days.
  • Empower managers to represent their organization and hold them accountable for reaching out on each employee’s anniversary day and express appreciation for their loyalty and contributions.
  • If the employee has a partner, spouse, or family member living with them, invite them to act as a confidential confederate to assist with all on-site celebration details.
  • You need ample advanced planning to pull off celebrations from a distance. Enlist a small team to help you and make sure someone is a superb project manager.
  • Find out from external providers of gifts and awards what challenges they are facing with the pandemic and start much earlier in arranging for purchasing items you need.

There are many more factors to take into account when celebrating an employee achievement, going above and beyond the call of duty, or reaching a career milestone. Do whatever you can to make celebrations from a distance a special experience they will always remember.

Recognition Reflection: What are you doing differently to make your celebrations from a distance a success?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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