Company Holiday Celebration 2020: Pandemic Possibilities

With people urged to avoid indoor gatherings with those outside their households, and to stay at least six feet apart, even while outdoors, what can a company do to mark this holiday season amid surging COVID-19 cases?

I assumed the answer to that question was “Nothing.” But I was wrong. An article by Nicole Pajer, which I came across in The New York Times last week, shares a few approaches companies are taking to celebrate the holidays, despite an ongoing and worsening pandemic.

For example, Pajer describes an upcoming event hosted by Consultancy Media in which a double-decker party bus will pick up a small number of employees. “A masked bartender will serve a ‘Very Consultancy cocktail,’ which guests will occasionally lower their masks to sip. They will pass around a karaoke microphone with gloved hands and—somewhat muffled—belt out everything from Frank Sinatra to heavy-metal Christmas tunes as the bus travels past several light shows. Since no non-employee guests are allowed, the event will meet Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 cap of 10 people at a New York gathering,” Pajer writes.

Sometimes events that already were pandemic-proofed had to go even further—with the in-person component scrapped. A party-planning company called Lavish Lifestyles Concierge had planned a drive-in “winter wonderland experience” for a law firm, which recently was cancelled in favor of a home-delivery holiday experience. “Servers dressed in Santa costumes were going to deliver hot cocoa on roller skates to guests in cars as carolers, jazz musicians, and a pianist performed…But on November 13, local virus protocols tightened and the party is being revamped. The new plan, said Lavish Lifestyles Concierge President Cynika Drake, ‘will likely include Santa delivering warm brownies, hot chocolate, and a link to a playlist of holiday tunes’ to employees’ homes.”

I have mixed feelings about holiday celebrations. To be honest, in previous, non-pandemic years, my feelings were clear: I hated them. In fact, my company used to have a yearly holiday happy hour at a bar, which I dreaded all year. I dreaded the forced small talk with people I was uncomfortable with in an environment that was so loud I had to yell to be heard. As a person who typically doesn’t over-indulge in alcoholic beverages, I was always at a disadvantage. While my colleagues loosened up over the course of the evening, becoming increasingly relaxed, I was still sipping my first glass of wine. With the pandemic, my feelings have changed in that I see greater possibilities for marking the holidays.

Does it have it have to be a happy hour or cocktail party environment? What about an outdoor event in parts of the country where it doesn’t get too cold? In parts of the country near ski resorts (that haven’t been shuttered yet due to the pandemic), what about a ski outing? As long as you spend little time inside the lodge, and wear a mask when you do go inside, skiing would seem a safe option from a viral spread perspective. You could choose a place that has outdoor activities other than skiing for those who don’t ski, such as ice skating and sledding.

Another outdoor idea is miniature golf. Last I heard, many, if not most, miniature golf courses were outdoors. Or what about a wintertime barbecue outside with heat lamps? In New York City, we have been enjoying outdoor dining in weather as cold as the 40s and even the 30s. It’s amazing how comfortable you can be in a sweater, coat, and warm shoes or boots with strong heat lamps nearby.

For companies that want to keep the celebration entirely virtual, you could arrange for everyone to play an online game together, such as a virtual treasure hunt or a large-scale game of Trivial Pursuit.

Yet another option is a virtual Christmas tree, which everyone from your company can decorate together online. Each person could be given the ability to design their own ornament to add to the digital tree. I’m not a tech-savvy person, so I have no idea how easy it is to find a virtual tree with ornament design functionality, but there’s a good chance someone else has had the same, or a similar, idea. It’s worth seeing what you can find online to accommodate virtual tree-trimming and decorating.

If all else, fails, you can take the money you would have spent on a holiday party, and do one, or both, of two things: Ask each employee the kind of gift they would most appreciate (edible treats—salty or sweet—or non-edible creature comforts—modest household and home office items) and what charity they want you to send a small donation to in their name.

The last and easiest option is to send a holiday card to each employee with a modest Visa gift card.

It’s important that, in a dreary, difficult year, you do something—anything—to mark the season and show employees you care about them, and want to boost their spirits.

Are you doing anything to celebrate the holidays with your employees, even if you can’t gather indoors in-person, as you usually would?


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