The Future of Christmas Parties

We are in National Lockdown #2 – What does that mean for the annual office Christmas party? Are Christmas parties cancelled this year?

Anna Richards – Maymessy

If you’ve ever had to organise the annual Christmas bash, you’ll understand the dilemma – It’s not a task to be undertaken lightly and there are likely some people breathing a sigh of relief that they’ve seemingly been “let off the hook” this year.

In the absence of the traditional face-to-face Christmas party, what are employees expecting? Certainly no kissing under the mistletoe!

There may be a few alternatives to consider, such as:

  • Virtual parties
  • A socially distanced meal
  • Zoom karaoke
  • Long-distance secret Santa
  • Fancy dress conference calls

Christmas parties have been the subject of much debate this month. At Maymessy CIC, the revenue side of our enterprise – the Garlands Barn venue – is sitting empty this year.

We are holding a Zoom gingerbread baking session for families struggling financially in Wantage. So what are you doing for your Christmas party? We asked other B4 members for their ideas…

Wendy Ball

Wendy Ball, Head of Events, The Ashmolean Museum

Getting together in-person to celebrate ‘a job well done’ and to share some festive cheer is just about as traditional and ‘normal’ as it gets. Yuletide 2020 will of course, by necessity, be different BUT different is not always bad… It just takes a little creative thinking.

We know how important it is to engage with colleagues and really listen to what people want (and what they don’t!) and planning the festive social should not be any different…

Whilst some colleagues may be comfortable meeting in-person – a socially distanced festive afternoon tea (guidance permitting) might be just the ticket – or even wrapping up warm for a team walk (bring your own mulled wine and mince pies).

Others may still be feeling anxious about gathering near people from outside their ‘bubble’, so a virtual experience could be fun… with a little planning, food and drink parcels or even materials for wreath making delivered to colleagues to coincide with planned entertainment is possible.

Another option might be to postpone the party rather than cancelling it. Some organisations are moving this year’s festive party back a few months and are planning a ‘new shoots’ or gratitude party in the Spring instead. Many venues have amended hire agreements to enable clients to move the date of their booked event should the original date be impacted further by the pandemic. This means you can book now, safe in the knowledge that venues will work with you should Covid-19 conspire against us (please do check with your chosen venue before committing of course).

Whatever you decide, please remember that connecting socially is meant to be joyful and rewarding so please do not force a fancy dress zoom call on colleagues unless that’s what the team really wants!

Stephen Spencer

Stephen Spencer, Chief Navigation Officer, Stephen Spencer + Associates

Delivering a Christmas party, virtually or otherwise, is probably the most important, if not the most daunting, undertaking for any organisation as we come to the end of the most challenging year in living memory. Before deciding on a quirky, technology-enabled format that sounds great on paper, start by drawing up a set of criteria – what must the event deliver? For example:

  • Thank everyone for their forbearance in challenging times
  • Celebrate success
  • Make everyone feel valued
  • Provide reassurance
  • Deliver enjoyment
  • Create a sense of excitement for the coming year

If that seems too big a list for one event, bear in mind that these boxes need to be ticked, one way or another, before everyone goes their separate ways until 2021. So, make sure that your event does at least some of the above – and just as importantly, that it doesn’t undermine any of these objectives!

Remember that, while for some the pre-pandemic Christmas party was the highlight of the year, for others it was their vision of hell – so here’s a great opportunity to do it differently!

Dominic Hare

Dominic Hare, Chief Executive Officer, Blenheim

Christmas is hugely important to us and is our busiest time and we will be working hard delivering our Light Trail through which more than 120,000 people will safely flow.

For almost everyone, having had a year in which they have been able to do almost nothing that they expected, this will be the first piece of normality they have experienced in nine months. While it will be hard work, I know our amazing team will take great joy in being that taste of joyful normal for so many people. (And I would say this but it is truly the most kick-ass light trail I have ever seen yet:))

Because of that busy-ness, we tend to celebrate Christmas together after the New Year. We’ll be exhausted but proud of each other, what we have achieved and that we are still together. I joined a staff video Q&A last night, stared at all the wonderful people I could see on screen and begged God for us to be able to share one room for just one moment. True human contact! Imagine it!

I want to find a way to create a giant video Christmas card with short bursts of greeting from as many of our wonderful people as possible. It won’t be the same but it will remind me of the precious thing we WILL get back soon. (Cue sound of our innovation and IT teams despairing at more Dom madness landing on them)

Jodie Evans

Jodie Evans, Business Manager, Olivia May Ltd

After a challenging year in retail where teams have worked incredibly hard to keep business moving and spirits high, it is so so important we recognise and reward the efforts of colleagues and keep engagement and motivation going – of course with that added festive sparkle, because let’s face it – for many, this will be one of the few highlights of their entire year!

As a business that prides itself on staying creative, we intend to do just that with our ideas this year ensuring we deliver an exciting and enjoyable event and one that our employees want. Here are a few of the ideas that have been suggested by the team:

  • Virtual Secret Santa
  • Festive filmathon (wine box delivery – optional!)
  • Christmas cocktail masterclass
  • Virtual Party (Zoom / Houseparty)
  • Give back to community day
  • Dinner & Drinks in your ‘bubble’

Whilst we can’t guarantee that there won’t be any high-pitched singing to Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas’ or embarrassing Secret Santa gifts, one thing that is for certain is each individual will feel celebrated, valued, motivated and eager for the year ahead.

Christmas parties were certainly becoming a little predictable until the year 2020 hit, so we have welcomed this new vision to do things differently this year with a little more meaning to our experiences.

Verity Dononvan

Verity Donovan, Conference Business Development Manager, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

Christmas is typically the time of year for reflection and celebration, when the seriousness of business is replaced by conversation and good cheer – the culmination of hard work is recognised through food, drink and entertainment.

Christmas client events are normally the operational staff’s favourite time of year; moving away from the corporate-led event, to delivering a bespoke, client-led event with a little bit of fun and magic.

Future Christmas parties might include hybrid events, something before COVID-19 was only ever thought about, this would be a party accessible for all and with the ongoing advancement in technologies a truly interactive party could be the way of the future – photo booths be gone!

Whatever your business is doing this month, we hope you have a very happy and healthy Christmas and a prosperous 2021.


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