At the end of the calendar year, workplace Christmas celebrations are an experience that many employees look forward to as a highlight of the season. These celebrations are often a long-standing tradition allowing employees to celebrate with their colleagues—and sometimes family and guests.
However, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many organisations are evaluating how to engage employees safely this festive season. Employers find themselves tasked with deciding whether they should cancel, postpone or offer an amended celebration that prioritises safety—with many choosing to offer a virtual festive season celebration.
Virtual Christmas parties can help increase employee engagement—but also come with a set of challenges. In addition to concerns regarding the coronavirus, festive season events can carry a financial cost and create risks for organisations if employees participate in inappropriate behaviours. This article gives an overview of virtual Christmas parties and offers ideas and considerations for employers planning a virtual celebration.
According to an autumn survey of office workers by communication provider Moneypenny, 26 per cent said that their employer was planning a virtual Christmas party. The survey also found:
These findings show that, while Christmas parties are generally popular, employers are adapting to address current realities. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to offering a festive season celebration during the COVID-19 pandemic, and employers have a variety of options to engage their employees safely.
Christmas parties can impact employees in a variety of ways. Specifically, these events can boost:
Additionally, Christmas parties can give employees a break from the standard workday and even serve as an informal meeting to discuss next year’s goals and reinforce organisational values.
How an organisation chooses to celebrate varies by workplace, but employers considering a virtual event may find that many of the shared experiences of a festive season celebration can take place in a remote environment.
A virtual environment won’t always fully replicate the in-person experience that many employees have come to expect for celebrations. Despite this, with careful planning, employers can still plan a virtual event that satisfies employees. Similar to when planning an in-person celebration, there are steps employers will want to take, which include:
Factors such as a budget and how you intend to engage employees may influence what type of celebration makes sense for your organisation. Christmas celebrations often involve a variety of activities, and the good news is that many of these can be offered virtually via online platforms or video chat. Examples of virtual Christmas celebrations include:
These are some ideas for employers to consider and may require some advance planning. For example, in some cases, employers may choose to provide party supplies for the employee, which would require gathering and shipping those items to each employees’ home before the celebration. Or, employers may need to prepare a list of trivia questions or instructions for guided activities, such as the online escape room.
When it comes to planning for virtual festive season events, employers can consider planning the activity internally or using providers or vendors that specialise in event planning.
Generally, Christmas parties carry a cost, and diverting funds to throwing a celebration may not be an option, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although employees may be disappointed due to not being able to participate in a festive season celebration, employers can lift their spirits in other ways.
Many employees may appreciate a gift or form of recognition as a replacement for their prized Christmas party. Alternative methods for recognising employees can include:
As many organisations encounter financial restraints, Christmas celebrations are not a requirement by any means. However, it’s important to consider showing appreciation for employees in some way to boost engagement and morale.
Workplace Christmas parties can present a host of liabilities for organisations each year. While virtual celebrations won’t take place at a physical venue, employers should still proceed cautiously. Employees joining an event remotely aren’t immune from engaging in inappropriate behaviours. Christmas parties can remain a risk for employers—but employers can mitigate undesirable outcomes by planning effectively. Best practices include:
These best practices help mitigate the risk of employees engaging in inappropriate behaviours and best ensure that employees have a positive experience.
While festive season celebrations can positively impact a workplace culture—there is also a case for forgoing a celebration. In addition to safety concerns, these events may have a financial cost, and Christmas parties can present risks for employers, such as employees engaging in inappropriate behaviours. While virtual events may be able to mitigate common concerns such as excessive alcohol consumption that can lead to inappropriate behaviours, employers should know that poor behaviours can also take place in the virtual environment.
Employers who typically host an annual celebration, but are choosing not to do so this year, should consider explaining to employees why throwing a Christmas party isn’t feasible. While some employees will be disappointed in this decision, they’ll still appreciate the sincerity and transparency.
As the end of the year approaches, employers find themselves torn between postponing, cancelling or hosting a Christmas celebration using safe practices. Employers should consider what type of celebration makes sense for their organisation, even if that means not having one this year.
Whatever you decide to do this year to celebrate Christmas with your company or department, we hope you have a safe and enjoyable time.