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Still Remote? Responsible Ways to Celebrate the Year’s End with Your Team

Just because we’re all working from home doesn’t mean that leaders should forgo the annual office holiday party. Here’s how you can still make it a memorable one.

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Typically, the end of the year would be marked by holiday parties and events to celebrate the season, but—thanks to 2020—a majority of companies still have employees working remotely. Given the astronomical rise in COVID-19 cases all over the country, that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. That means the usual in-person holiday party, is off—or at least needs an update for 2020.

The pandemic is no reason to shortchange your hardworking and likely highly stressed-out workforce from a little year-end celebration. In fact, it could do a world of good to put together a safe, virtual event to help boost morale, allow people to connect, and talk about future plans as we look toward a better 2021.

So as the year ends, how can we celebrate our teams in a safe, enjoyable, and memorable way? Read on for a few ideas.

Why You Shouldn’t Just Let the End of the Year Pass Without Celebrating Your Team

While we, as leaders, may be tempted to pass on the year-end holiday party, it’s probably not the best idea, particularly in the current environment. Employees are already under a massive amount of pressure and stress thanks to the pandemic, and while a vaccine is on the horizon, it’s far enough away that it’s hard to see the light at the end of the 2020 tunnel. Don’t let your employees’ hard work and contributions, especially this year, go unnoticed.

Sure, you might be tempted to save a bit of money and just pass on the holiday events, but doing so can significantly negatively impact your employees and your business’s future success. A study commissioned by Gallup back in 2017 shows that a majority of employees feel their hard work goes unnoticed and unrecognized—and that, in turn, makes them nearly twice as likely to quit in the next year. Suffice it to say that these sentiments are likely to be even more pronounced in the current and strange environment brought on by the global pandemic.

The truth is that even though the holiday celebrations are going to have to be different than they have been in the past, they are still really vital to boosting employee morale, keeping great employees engaged, and ensuring that you are connecting with your workforce in a meaningful way. As I have written before, it’s vital to engage with your employees, as a leader and as a cheerleader in chief, in order to ensure that you’re retaining a diverse, talented, and engaged workforce. Simple celebrations and acknowledgments of success are key ways to empower employees, which is vital in today’s tenuous business environment. After all, your employees are your most valuable asset and your brand ambassadors, and if you are interested in keeping them, you should do your best to support and celebrate them during this challenging period.

Get a Handle on the Basics: Tone and Budget

Before we dive in, it’s essential to get a grip on some party-throwing basics in the new pandemic world. Even though this year is different than any other we’ve experienced, some guidelines remain the same.

First, consider your company culture and just how buttoned-up or toned-down you want to be with your celebration. The pandemic has changed a lot about how we work and interact with one another, which means that our company culture may have shifted. It’s essential to take this into consideration when planning your holiday soiree this year. Do something that goes with the current tone of your workplace. Your employees will know if you are forcing it, so stick to what works for your company’s style.

Second, don’t skimp on spending. If you set aside a certain amount of money for the holiday party this year, don’t just think you can shrink the budget if no one can get together in person. For one, your employees will see right through it, and in a year when maintaining employee morale is increasingly difficult, cheaping out on the planned holiday party won’t do wonders for their mental health and resilience. Don’t opt for a more affordable budget unless you absolutely have to because of income shortfalls.

Finally, consider sending a gift this year in addition to hosting something online and safe. The best way to figure out just how much you should spend on each employee is to take your total holiday party budget and divide it by the number of people who would have been invited. You can then use that budget to purchase a gift that employees might like or use and tie it into your party theme this year.

Take the Office Holiday Celebration Online and Add Some Creativity

Sure, it seems like the obvious answer, but in a time when COVID-19 cases are rising at an astonishing rate, business leaders cannot risk the health and well-being of their workforce in service of having an in-person get-together. Your compliance and HR team will thank you for not risking everyone’s lives to toss back a few drinks and talk shop in the company cafeteria. Besides, it’s against many state and local laws, so don’t even think about it.

Instead, take the celebration online—and yes, I am talking about a Zoom or Skype holiday celebration to allow people to connect. Don’t stop there, though. I’m not talking about just creating one massive Zoom meeting for 100 people. Why not get a bit creative? Just because the event is online doesn’t mean employees can’t do something in real time and space to celebrate the end of the year. Here are a few ideas to shake up an online holiday party this year.

  • Send Make-It-Yourself Kits: There are plenty of local and national options to choose from when it comes to sending employees memorable DIY kits that they can make or create at home while tuning in for the annual party. Cocktail kits (make sure to include nonalcoholic options), cookie kits, or various chocolate and coffee tasting kits can be hand-delivered to employees in time for the holiday Zoom party.
  • Play Break-Out Zoom-Room Round-Robin: Rather than having everyone talking over each other in one giant Zoom room, why not create breakout rooms where people can connect and chat about things as they would at the holiday party. Assign one member of the executive team to each room so that everyone gets a chance to spend a little one-on-one time with your top management team members and break the ice with a brief round-robin game or introductions. It pays to get creative in these times, so go with it.
  • Do a Remote Gift Exchange: Sure, we can’t sneakily leave a gift on a coworker’s desk, but we can still do secret gift exchanges in today’s virtual world. You can leverage sites like Elfster or DrawNames to help organize it (and keep everyone’s private information private) and ensure that everyone gets a gift to celebrate the year.
  • Have that Ugly Holiday Sweater Contest: We’re all working from home in our sweats anyway—why not have a little fun and bust out those old holiday sweaters and have a contest to see whose is the worst?
  • Gift Wellness: This year has been a trial, full stop. We’re all feeling a little ragged around the edges, which is why a gift of a meditation membership (try Calm or  Headspace) or a membership to an online wellness platform that offers a bevy of options for everyone can be a real blessing. You could kick off the first event or class by doing it together on Zoom as part of your online celebration.

There are tons of great ideas and options to spice up your online holiday party this year. By no means is this a comprehensive list of ideas, but it should give you a good jumping-off point for other creative plans that could work for your employees and help boost morale.

It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to plan a holiday party these days—and you don’t even have to deal with caterers or book a location. While the pandemic has made things a bit more challenging and a bit stranger for both employees and leaders, it’s vitally important that we continue to celebrate the wins of the year, support each other, connect, and engage with one another in ways that help boost employee morale. Not only will your employees thank you for it, but in the long run, your bottom line will improve, too.

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