Is the corporate festive social still “on”?
December has arrived, and in the traditional sense, businesses look to celebrate with their employees the successes of another year, or just to enjoy a sense of cheer in a business environment.
The ups and downs of COVID-19, isolation, working from home, social distancing and regulations placed a huge dampener on seasonal festivities in 2020; not least because many businesses were struggling to trade and couldn’t see the justification to celebrate, and the uncertainties of whether gatherings were permitted, achievable or even desirable saw many intended parties and corporate social gatherings either postponed or cancelled altogether.
2021 would be better, right? Everything will be back to normal, we thought.
Maybe not. And maybe time to consider other options.
Working from Home
Working from home (WFH) was directed as part of the protective strategy, wherever it was feasible, to limit transmission. It meant that many offices, where jobs that could be carried out remotely could be relocated, remained closed and people adapted to a different approach. In fact many people actually liked WFH, to the extent that there’s been a noticeable reluctance to return full time into offices.
Of course, those jobs where hands-on skill is required, or security is a concern, WFH hasn’t been possible, so these personnel continued to turn up at their place of work.
This has had a serious effect on the social attitude within businesses. Whilst contact was maintained by video link and phone, the social connection with workmates has taken a knock, and interoffice relationships became less cohesive for lack of physical proximity. A number of businesses evolved to incorporate a hybrid approach, once return to office was announced, to include those who are less keen to travel to an office on a frequent basis, but it results in a distributed team.
In 2020, the response for many office-based businesses to social gatherings was to hold a social event online. The results were often a tired business meeting with banter and some enforced games and jollity. No need for the company to splash out on a venue, food, drink and entertainment, as most individuals had to provide their own. But we were in the middle of a pandemic, weren’t we, and it was a one-off.
Move to 2021, and there are a surprising number of businesses still contemplating the online social again.
The annual festive social was usually the opportunity to find out the more personal aspects of your colleagues and develop more human relationships with them (some a little too far!). However WFH has delivered a certain amount of this from a private setting through online chats, so maybe we’ve become more familiar with our colleagues after all without the embarrassing dancing and drinking?
It’s been a gruelling 18 months for hospitality venues and one of the periods they cherish is December corporate gatherings, because they provide a reliable income in a short period of time.
Availability of venues was tight because many were booked well in advance, and some even had to manage multiple simultaneous events, and if you’ve ever been to one of those, if you found your social uninspiring, there was always the opportunity to gatecrash another, and during the later stages of the evening, no-one would notice!
As hospitality has gradually been allowed to emerge from restrictions, we are still left with multiple challenges:
To allow for social distancing, venues need more space per person, so that reduces the number of attendees
Between each event, the venues have to clean thoroughly and take precautions as people arrive and depart, so two events back-to-back is less likely and reduces the number of slots
Sharing a venue with a different group? Unlikely at the moment, especially since shared facilities are a problem.
An extra problem is the availability of staff. Hospitality is experiencing a staff shortage, so that limits the number of attendees too.
With regular testing for COVID, a last-minute surge in infections could mean that a large number of attendees may need to self-isolate, resulting in a memorable occasion for the wrong reasons, or that the venue has to close due to staff infection rates, at short notice.
That’s a risk.
Do we want to?
There are mixed feelings about whether staff actually want the type of social event that they’ve become familiar with, or even whether they want to socialise at all. Some are or are linked to vulnerable people, so wouldn’t risk it. Others feel that the combination of indoor spaces, alcohol and close proximity is not something they feel comfortable with, even if they are up to date with vaccinations.
So, what is a business to do, if festivities are curtailed or undesirable?
There are quite a few options that can be considered:
Recognise employees for the effort (and disruption) over the past year or two in some way. This could be a small token gift which says “Thank You”. Gift vouchers or bottles are fairly indifferent, so something with a bit of thought often goes down well.
Plan to move a social event into better weather, later in the year, so it can be held outdoors, in more light and more inclusive. This can include something “active” that would appeal to many who wouldn’t normally do something physical, but don’t make that a physical “challenge”. There are often hidden talents that come out here!
Organise smaller and less-informal gatherings that can help to gel team spirit. In large organisations, the likelihood that different teams will mix is quite small anyway. A bi-monthly pizza evening in the office can actually improve team relations better than an annual hit.
Persuade employees to join in with a charity event. This gives the opportunity for people to take part at a level they feel comfortable with, and it’s not seen as self-indulgent, as well as being good team-building and great PR.
MAT Ltd takes the headache out of making changes or process improvements. We help businesses to define the change clearly, to bring them in within budget and with the buy-in of their workforce and specialise in processes that involve transformation or movement.
By ensuring that your people are at the centre and encouraging leadership principles you get the best out of the inherent assets you already have to hand.