Some people love the thought of breaking away from their desks and spending an exciting afternoon socialising with colleagues; others dread the idea of embarrassing team-building games and boozy lunches. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, the annual office party is an important item on the business calendar and, if planned correctly with adequate foresight, can turn out to be a fun, memorable and stress-free event.

So here's a guide to kick off the build-up to your workplace shindig.

Make a plan

Start as early as possible – some end-of-year parties are planned as much as six months in advance, but even two months will give you enough time to get everything ready.

Work out what your budget is and use it as the starting point for brainstorming ideas. Try to find ideas that fall well under your budget, as event costs tend to creep upward as the plan evolves – it’s definitely better to overestimate costs and underspend than vice versa. If you happen to have any cash left over at the end, you can always spend it on extra treats like gifts and added entertainment (for example, hiring a singer to perform during supper).

Theme

It’s always good to choose a theme to give your party character and structure, but make sure you opt for something simple and appropriate. Think about the positive things that have happened over the year to focus your theme around if you can’t find inspiration elsewhere.

Remember that not everyone in your office will want to dress up in a silly costume, so make the requirements minimal and optional. A good option for livening up smart-casual attire is to ask everyone to wear a hat, a colourful scarf or anything else that can easily be removed later on.

There’s no harm in choosing a fun theme like “pirates” or “outer space” if that suits the character of your company and employees, but make sure that you keep costuming to a minimum and rather opt to express the theme through décor, venue choice and other elements.

Venue

Make sure that you host your party outside the office to give your colleagues a welcome change of scenery. This doesn’t mean that you need to spend a fortune on an expensive dinner or venue reservation – there are many affordable venue options if you think creatively.

Booking well in advance can also entitle you to discounts or added bonuses – be sure to ask.

Naturally, make sure the venue is big enough to house everyone who will be attending and that it suits the style of event you are hosting – the local sports club is perfectly adequate for a relaxed bring-and-braai, but inappropriate for a black-tie dinner.

Activities

Choosing a suitable event or activity for the whole office to take part in can be very challenging. A lunch or dinner out is generally a safe (though expensive) option, and the staff members will generally expect to be served some sort of food and drink. It’s a good idea to send around a questionnaire where people can input their dietary requirements.

On top of this, you might want to organise some entertainment, physical activities and games. Most people are divided on these sorts of games – some find them enjoyable and worthwhile, while others consider them embarrassing and unprofessional. Gauge the mood in your office and plan accordingly; senior executives might enjoy a light supper and jazz performance, while younger colleagues might want to play a soccer match or sing karaoke.

If you are catering to many people, consider an activity that has many possible ways of participation so that everyone can find something they are comfortable doing. For example, an interdepartmental table tennis game could have players, cheerleaders, an announcer, a scorekeeper, banner-makers, a photographer and spectators – everyone is involved, but nobody needs to step outside their comfort zone.

Anna Malczyk is the Academic Officer at GetSmarter, an online education company that offers a number of financial and business related short courses. To see their extensive array of courses, please visit www.getsmarter.co.za