Employee Engagement

What to do instead of a work holiday party in 2020

Now that you’ve skipped your annual office Thanksgiving potluck, or moved everything to Zoom, the time has come to decide how to mark the December holidays amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously, the typical work holiday party is off the table this year (unless you’re wholly unconcerned about endangering your employees and their families). With so many hallmarks of the season in high-risk territory due to potential virus exposure, it may seem easier to just push things off until next year. As employees continue to struggle with anxiety and burnout though, the need for employee initiatives and engagement efforts has never been higher. How do you safely celebrate with your employees this year in a way that’s authentic, fun, and effective?

We know it’s been a difficult year and many are facing budget cuts in addition to the ongoing restrictions. You may be burnt out yourself and the prospect of planning something for employees on top of all the end of year tasks may feel like too much to shoulder. We hear you. Knowing how crucial connection and camaraderie are to the employee experience though, even for HR professionals, we’ve assembled a short list of ways to honor your traditions, acknowledge employees for their hard work, and still keep everyone safe and healthy, including yourself.

Set yourself up for success with strong planning & follow-up

As with many things, a great deal of event success hinges upon having a strong plan in the lead-up, and a strong follow-up game in the aftermath. Start your planning by consulting employees. Unless you’ve conducted surveys after your work holiday party in years past, you likely only have guesses as to what employees did and didn’t like about previous events. Perhaps they weren’t wowed by the entertainment you brought in and just enjoyed spending time with their coworkers. More importantly, a lot of what was relevant to employees last year may be different now after the year we’ve all had. Accordingly, start by asking your employees how they would prefer to acknowledge the holidays this year in a company context. Get their input first to ensure that whatever you plan hits the mark.

Don’t stop after the initial outreach, either. If you have follow-up questions after the first employee survey, don’t hesitate to ask people for their thoughts. Just as consultants may check in frequently with clients to ensure the project is proceeding to their liking, whoever is in charge of events for your company should regularly solicit employee input. Similarly, feedback after the fact is crucial, too. Make your follow-up plan before the event, so you can deploy it in a timely fashion. Employees need to feel engaged in the process in order to remain bought in to the event and interested in attending, so ensure you’re giving your team what they need through polls and conversations.

Ideas for COVID-safe holiday celebrations

While asking your employees how they would like to mark the holidays this year is one of the most important steps you can take, we’ve assembled a few ideas to help inform your process:

  • Organize a virtual team activity. In response to the urgent need for social distancing brought on by the pandemic, many event and activity providers have transitioned their offerings to a virtual format. This includes everything from murder mysteries and escape rooms to tasting parties and cooking classes. If bringing in the professionals isn’t in your budget, you could instead host a virtual game night, talent show, or other event that gets everyone involved and having fun.
  • Send out some DIY cheer. Consider sending employees activity kits to work on either together or alone. This could include decoration boxes (ideally non-denominational) where everyone decorates their workspace or other area and comes together on Zoom to compare (or even compete!). Alternatively, cooking or painting kits that everyone can use while on video chat can be a fun way to get your people engaging with each other in a non-work way. Even if you just send some treats to say thank you for their hard work, such as snacks, sweets, relaxation boxes, etc., it will help to at least acknowledge that you’re thinking of them and their wellbeing at this difficult time of year.
  • Give back to your community. Volunteers and donations are needed more than ever this year, as so many individuals and families have experienced dramatic losses in income and stability in recent months. Bringing your team together for some virtual volunteering, running a charity drive, and/or matching donations can help your team reconnect with what’s important, and feel good about the fact that they work for a company that prioritizes more than just the bottom line.
  • Create a ‘choose your own adventure’ day. The authenticity and flexibility of employee-led events might be just what the doctor ordered this year (besides social distancing, mask-wearing, and hand-washing). Empowering employees with the tools and budgets to run events for their colleagues gives you the ability to offer a variety of options for people to engage with their coworkers without the stress and overhead of one person or team trying to manage everything. Ask for employee suggestions, and enable them to lead activities, learning sessions, or other events for their fellow team members.

Planning for the holidays this year is undoubtedly more difficult and complicated than usual, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything. Ask your employees what would be meaningful to them; it may be the case that staff would prefer to just have a bit of extra pay rather than any sort of event or work holiday party as some may have seen reductions in household income. If your team does express interest in events and other ways to bond with colleagues, Workrowd can help. Visit us at to learn more about our employee empowerment model, or drop us a note at We’d love to hear from you.