Remote Working

The future of remote work: office parties

Lydia Watson

This time last year, workplaces across the UK already had firm plans for their annual Christmas party. Tables has been booked at restaurants, bar tabs had been allocated, and any number of quirky team-building activities had been paid for – from axe-throwing and adult ball pits, to escape rooms and murder mysteries.

This year? Not an option. And while some are overjoyed at the excuse to avoid this mandatory social occasion, it’s worth asking: what are office parties even for? And how important are they, especially when fears about company connectivity are stronger than ever?

Work holiday parties in recent years

In 2019, 76% of companies surveyed planned some kind of holiday party – and with Eventbrite estimates that UK organisations spent nearly £1billion on parties in 2016, it’s clear there are some big expectations when it comes to holding a wintertime social event.

But with other reports seeing a reduced appetite for office parties in the last few years, will their absence really be felt this year?

Do people even like office parties?

What’s not to like about an evening of free food, free drinks, and general festive frivolity? A lot, apparently. A 2014 survey saw 19% of employees confessing to “hating” Christmas parties, with just 25% actually looking forward to them. With reasons spanning from dodgy food options to forced fun with people you’re not all that keen on, it could give you pause for thought.

Mid-pandemic, it seems like that partying is even lower on the agenda for some. Just 24% were found to want a party this year – with 90% preferring to get a £50 end-of-year bonus instead. It’s worth noting, though, that these findings vary by industry – with the legal, marketing, media, and sales sectors still in the mood for a shindig.

And in a difficult, isolated year, that social outlet might be one people are crying out for. We have a fundamental need for connection – and social events can, for some, be a good way to forge those bonds that encourage a general atmosphere of collaboration and communication.

Connectivity and social interaction: why it’s so important

In our recent customer survey, we found out that, for a high percentage of organisations, understanding how remote working is affecting their team’s connectivity is key:

62% strongly agree that they need to know whether their people feel connected, and communicated with

Qlearsite Marketing Survey

November 2020

That’s a worthy concern to have. Social interactions are important to our wellbeing – with studies suggesting they help protect us against stress, and help “cardiovascular, immune, and neuroendocrine systems through immediate and enduring decreases in cardiovascular reactivity, strengthened immune responses, and healthier hormonal patterns”.

In the workplace, it pays to remember that. We’ve touched on the link between wellbeing and employee engagement before, not to mention the link between employee engagement and high-performing organisations – but beyond that, research shows other benefits:

  • That employees with workplace friendships being more tied to their company
  • That social contact and collaboration creates more productive, knowledge-sharing teams
  • Strong social ties encourages innovation, increased trust, and altruistic behaviour

In fact, 77% say good workplace relationships are a priority – so creating opportunities to encourage those social ties is something you should consider.

Office Christmas parties: how they connect your teams

Like them or loathe them, office parties are a chance to build shared experiences outside of deadlines, deals, and day-to-day tasks. ‘Forced fun’ isn’t anyone’s favourite, but finding time and an excuse to be social can’t hurt. It could even help reinforce your culture.

It’s not just about it being a social event, though. Having an end-of-year party is a chance to nod to the value your people add, and celebrate their accomplishments and contributions. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge that they are people first and foremost: not employees, not assets, but individuals who deserve to let off some steam. So while there’s a get-out-of-jail-free card this year, don’t ignore the occasion altogether.

5 things you can do instead this year

1. Consider a gift, or bonus

It’s been a tough year all round, so your options may be limited. But with workers saying they’d prefer a cash gift this year, it’s worth considering how you can make their value shown. Don’t forget though: your aim is to create a team bonding experience, so couple this with one of the next ideas.

2. Look into innovative virtual options

There’s no doubt that many of us are Zoom’d out – especially when it comes to the old faithfuls, like ‘pub’ quizzes. But if you get digging, there are fresher ideas out there – from digital party maps to explore, to online murder mysteries and more.

3. Have a shared experience on Zoom

If you want to make the video call the facilitator, and not the main event, of your bonding time then consider some kind of group activity. Cookalong tutorials, mixology classes, wine tasting – all things that companies are offering to your teams. Comes with the added bonus of giving them a tasty treat or tipple, too.

4. Facilitate a secret Santa gift swap

Multi-team group calls can be challenging: but a company-wide secret santa gives everyone the chance to have the spotlight (if they want to take part, that is) without too much precious. Make the brief to include joke presents only, for a less stressful, funnier experience.

5. Hold an ‘awards ceremony’

Budget-friendly, praising accomplishments, and a bit of fun – this idea involves a series of nominations for awards (for anything from ‘best moral support’ to ‘biggest deal closed’), everyone donning their glad rags, and having a night of fun and thanks. Get leaders and managers to plan interactive presentations, and bonus points for acknowledging every team in some ways.

It’s time to start the conversation

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