A Christmas party? Virtually anything’s possible

As the Prime Minister said when announcing new coronavirus restrictions: “tis the season to be jolly, but it is also the season to be jolly careful”. So where does this leave the annual Christmas party? Laura King offers some options.

Let’s face it, not everyone likes the Christmas party. But, love it or loathe it, the annual celebration is one way of showing appreciation for what staff have done over the year. 2020 has undoubtedly been tough — many have worked above and beyond to keep things going, at the same time as fashioning a desk out of the kitchen table, juggling huge shifts in their personal life and coping with the uncertainty and constant shifting of priorities and outlooks.

Traditional Christmas goodwill can be one way to say thank you and boost morale, but with a Christmas “do” out the question, what other options are out there?

Regardless of whether you have a number of Christmas jumpers to choose from, or you adopt more of a “bah humbug” attitude to festivities, here are some ideas to get you started. There is still time to get something organised.

Virtual games parties

We are all now used to holding meetings, workshops and conferences online, and so an informal Zoom party would be an easy option. However, if everyone is fed up of Zoom and there is not much appetite for an afternoon of Christmas ice-breakers and quizzes, other online games might have more appeal.

Popular for team bonding outings, many immersive experiences have re-invented themselves for the online world. Options include escape rooms, car racing games and virtual murder mystery parties. Team up and solve or race in groups ― the first team to the finish, wins!

Secret Santa

A stalwart of the Christmas party, there is no reason why you cannot still have a Secret Santa. People will need a bit more notice to get gifts in the post, but with last posting dates up until 21 December, there is still time. Consider picking a theme, and set a strict budget. Another option might be to send gifts directly from an online shop, or virtual gifts such as experiences or vouchers.

If a Secret Santa feels like a rush, you could instead have a kind words lucky dip; people could write something positive they would like to share, and the sentiments get randomly distributed among the team. Or people secretly write something positive about one of their colleagues. Everyone gets something to read to spread some feel-good vibes.

Shared experiences

Shared experiences are another way to relax the mood and give everyone something fun to focus on. Carried out as a virtual group exercise from your own home, options can vary from relatively simple workshops (crafting Christmas decorations or chocolate making) to much more involved — how about cooking a gourmet dinner together?

Events that might have previously been more of a team outing ― think cheese and wine tasting or cocktail making — can now also be held virtually with all the ingredients and items needed sent through the post beforehand.

Food deliveries

Christmas just doesn’t seem the same without the office box of chocolates. And while our waistlines may be thanking us, sharing food is a time-honoured way of connecting with people. With many restaurants closed, chefs and caterers have been thinking differently this year offering deliveries of Christmas meal boxes, colourful macarons, a brownie box or other tasty treats.

Simpler options might be sending staff a mini Christmas hamper through the post. These could be sent as a gift, or designed to eat together during an online team meeting or when playing the murder mystery game everyone has just logged onto.

Cheap but just as cheerful

Not everyone will have a budget for a Christmas party, but that does not mean you can’t celebrate; it just means that you can’t outsource the creativity.

For example, you could give everyone some time out to do something a little different — write a poem, decorate a gingerbread man, festoon their home workspace, add a song to a Christmas playlist ― and share these during the last meeting of the year. If people are shy about reciting their latest haiku or limerick, any challenges could be submitted anonymously.

Get outside

It is likely that the rule of six will continue to apply across England, but if people live locally, consider bringing small groups together for outdoor activities, such as a Christmas-themed walk. Groups could be picked by pulling names out of a hat and different routes could be chosen to ensure gatherings are kept within the allowed numbers. You could run a number of walks over December if there is a high demand.

Volunteer

A party is not the only way to get a dose of happiness ― volunteering can also make people feel better, and it has the added benefit of spreading some social good too. Many of the usual Christmas volunteering efforts, such as present-wrapping, will have changed this year, but speak to local charities and see if there is something that staff could get involved in.

If not, then consider donating the Secret Santa money to charity. Alternatively, donations could be collected for a food or present bank.

Consider what is allowed

Whatever you decide to do, it will need to be in keeping with the local rules and regulations about what is allowed. As has been the case throughout the year, these can be subject to change, so keep plans flexible.

Some workplaces will remain open; here, it might be possible to have a socially distanced office party as the rule of six does not currently apply in the workplace. Some caterers and restaurants will be able to offer Covid-19 secure options for food, and events such as workshops can also be socially-distanced. If the workplace is a possible venue for some kind of event, then make sure it is Covid-19 risk-assessed and it is easy for people to keep safe.

When planning, it is worth considering how staff feel about any celebrations. Some may be unwilling to travel even when it is permitted, or there may be a sense that any gathering — even if it is within the rules — is not something people are comfortable with. Everyone will have different tolerances for activities, so make sure that any plans are well-considered and inclusive to anyone who might want to get involved. Remember too that many families will be considering options for their Christmas bubble and so may want to self-isolate as much as possible in the run up to Christmas day.

Conclusion

Christmas is fast approaching, and for those who are still unsure about how to host workplace festivities there are plenty of options to choose from. Many in the entertainment sphere have transferred their skills online, caterers are thinking outside the box by sending dinner in a box, and Secret Santas can still go ahead. For those on a tight budget, spreading the festive spirit does not need to be expensive. Some kind words, a funny limerick or Christmas cupcake competition are all ways to take time out and have some fun, while also showing appreciation for all the hard work of 2020.