How to Organize a Secret Santa Gift Exchange in a Remote Team

The end of the year and upcoming Christmas holidays are good opportunities to summarize the year for your team and to have some fun team building activities. A teambuilding activity that is quite relevant for this time is a Secret Santa game. The rules are pretty simple –  you gather your colleagues and they draw random names of their teammates, so that everyone becomes a Secret Santa for another team member that he should keep in a secret. After that every Secret Santa prepares some present for his ward (giftee), but he doesn`t give it directly. Instead, he signs the present with the name of his giftee and either puts it in the particular place or passes through some third person. The purpose of the giftee is to guess who his Secret Santa is. For this you may organize a special team party with unpacking the presents and having fun.

The tradition itself is very old and I know a lot of happy teams that keep it every year. But what to do if you have a team distributed between several locations? How to make pairs? How to deliver presents if the Secret Santa and his giftee are located in different cities or even countries? How to organize the party?

Well, if you and your remote team members are obsessed with the idea of playing Secret Santa, you may definitely find some workarounds. You may use some online tools for organizational matters, you may send presents using some delivery service. You may also gather the team in one and the same location for an unpacking party or (if gathering is not possible) just host a remote meeting. But these all are half-measures that present a lot of risks.

As far as I`ve been working mainly with distributed teams for the last years, the idea of having a clear technique of organizing Secret Santa in remote teams troubled me not just once. And this year I have eventually found a tool that allows to do this smoothly. Let me share it with you.

The tool is called Elfster. After registering on this resource you may go ahead and start a gift exchange event following a very simple step by step procedure.

The first step is to set the date of gift exchange and the deadline date for RSVP. In this step you as an organizer may choose whether you will participate in the event or not, how the gifts will be exchanged (individually or on a party) and definitely set the budget limit.

In the next step you may send an invitation to the potential participants of Secret Santa gift exchange. You may do this via email or via a direct link.


The people to whom you send the invitation will get a simple registration form so that they can either confirm or deny their participation in Secret Santa gift exchange.

A very important moment is that the participants should type in their physical addresses in this form correctly. This should be clearly explained to all the participants before the start of the exchange.

After all the invitations have been sent, you as an organizer may draw the names manually pushing the button “Draw the names” on the your gift exchange page or it can be done automatically on the next day after RSVP deadline.

After drawing the names has been done, all the participants get an email notification about it. Thus, every Secret Santa may see the name of his giftee in his Elfster account.

The next step the participants have to do is to buy presents for their giftees and send them to the indicated physical addresses. But how to do this if you live in different countries? In this case the magic of Elfster comes to our rescue.

Elfster has an option of a wishlist. Every person on Elfster can specify what kind of presents he or she would like to receive. You can indicate not only the name of the present, but also give a link to an online store where this present may be bought.

Let’s say, you live in South Africa and your peer lives in Paris. There is no need to pay money to delivery services and then to wait for a century until your present is delivered. You can just follow the link to a local French online store that your colleague indicated in his wish-list, buy this product paying with your credit card and indicate his mailing address as the delivery address. Voila!

After you purchased something from your colleague`s wish-list, you may mark it as purchased in Elfster, just to let other people who may see this wish-list know about this fact. However, your giftee won`t see any changes in his account.

Take into account that you should clearly ask people who participate to fill in their wish-lists because if some Secret Santa comes to the Elfster page of his giftee and doesn`t find any wishes there, it will be a big confusion for this poor Santa.

You may also agree with the team that everyone who has received a present should not unpack it until a special remote unpacking meeting. But here comes another thing – you should make sure that all the participants get their presents before this event. If some people don`t, you may shift this event until they get it.

Frankly speaking, I haven’t organized a Secret Santa gift exchange on Elfster yet, but I`ve tested the main functionality and it works pretty good. I`ve been looking for such a tool for quite a long time and now I`m looking forward to try it. The good thing about it is that it is completely free and another good thing is that you may use it not only for Secret Santa, but also for your colleagues` birthday celebration.

See this also the picture with online Secret Santa rules from Elfster.

Have you known about this tool? Have you tried it? Maybe you have any other ideas or experience of organizing Secret Santa in remote teams. Please, share your experience in comments to this article.

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