Virtual Workplace Christmas Parties

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.

The State of Christmas Parties During the Coronavirus

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:

  • 30% of respondents said that they did not think their employer was planning a Christmas party this year.
  • 14% said that, at the time of the survey, Christmas party plans had not yet been made.

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.

Considerations for Offering a Virtual Christmas Party

Christmas parties can impact employees in a variety of ways. Specifically, these events can boost:

  • Team chemistry and camaraderie
  • Employee motivation
  • Employee engagement

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.

Planning a Virtual Christmas Party

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:

  • Establishing a budget for the event
  • Creating the event’s guest list, which may include:
    • All employees
    • A specific team, department or location
    • In some cases, family members or guests
  • Establishing and communicating expectations for employees, including appropriate behaviours and other related policies
  • Planning, promoting and hosting the event

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:

  • Smaller video chats designed for multiple conversations to take place at once, rather than one big video conference
  • Ugly Christmas jumper contest
  • Christmas karaoke
  • Gingerbread house building and decorating
  • Wine and cheese party
  • Online escape room
  • Trivia contest
  • Virtual gift exchange

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.

Alternative Methods for Recognising Employees

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:

  • Giving employees a Christmas gift
  • Sponsoring employees to make a charitable gift
  • Recognising each employee for their individual contributions

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.

Virtual Christmas Party Best Practices

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:

  • Evaluating your policies—With an increased number of employees working remotely—and the Christmas event taking place virtually as well—ensure your employee handbook addresses remote behaviours to help mitigate risks. Employees should have easy access to an employee handbook and all policies, and be aware that a festive season celebration is considered a workplace event, meaning that all behaviours are expected to comply with organisational policies.
  • Keeping Christmas celebrations optional—Depending on an employee’s exemption status, they may need to be compensated for their time, leading to challenges for mandating their attendance at a virtual event. Additionally, while many employees will be excited about a celebration, others may feel differently. With this in mind, it may be easier to make attendance optional.
  • Setting expectations for behaviours—Unfortunately, many Christmas parties can lead to inappropriate behaviours by attendees. Despite being remote, employers should be aware that consequential employee behaviours can also take place virtually. Employers can mitigate undesired behaviours by setting expectations for attendees. Be sure to include these expectations in the employee handbook and communicate them to employees.

These best practices help mitigate the risk of employees engaging in inappropriate behaviours and best ensure that employees have a positive experience.

Christmas Celebrations in Your Workplace

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.