Virtual holiday party do's and don'ts

You don’t want to be the person who becomes part of company lore.

Virtual holiday party do's and don'ts

Spread the cheer, not the gossip. 

The 2020 holiday season is upon us, and so are the work holiday parties. Though a recent Monster.com poll revealed that nearly 70 percent of workers would prefer a cash bonus to celebrate the season (a mere 13 percent preferred a Zoom virtual event), the challenge is clear: How to celebrate and thank your co-workers in a pandemic? Virtual is the only safe way to go. Here are some tips for party hosts and guests on how to get through a professional holiday bash without turning into a Grinch. 

Plan carefully and with great manners

Per expert Jodi RR Smith, Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Marblehead, Massachusetts, virtual holiday events must be orchestrated very carefully—much more so than a party during a “normal” year. 

“Because of the pandemic, people are juggling so much. It’s too much to expect people to take time after work for an hours-long event,” explains Smith. “Food and drinks, along with a few festive decorations, should be provided—make arrangements to have it delivered to each employee’s home pre-party—so that guests are not getting dressed up, spending extra time with work folks, and having to provide their own treats.” Taking this step will eliminate the disappointment of the one-third of people surveyed by Monster who say they will miss the food and drink of the holiday bash the most.

“If you’re planning a holiday party for, say, 2,000 people, you don’t want them to have to sit through hours in a massive Zoom call,” says Smith. “In that case, do a 25-minute webinar where one of the company leaders thanks everyone, and perhaps a team does a funny skit, and you call it a night.”

If your company has about 30 employees, Smith advises switching up the Zoom “rooms” so that different groups have the opportunity to talk to different folks through cocktails, the main course, and dessert. Smith adds, “However, be very specific about timing—don’t do anything over an hour. It’s not like people are mingling in a ballroom and have the freedom and the privacy to chat with whomever they like.” This can be a challenge when almost 50 percent of the respondents to our poll said they’d most like an informal event. Task one person per room with getting the guests relaxed and talking about appropriately fun things.

Remember your etiquette rules

The good news is that employees want to come to a virtual party. Our poll tells us that close to 60 percent of respondents say about a potential bash, “I would feel cared about by my employer and it would be a nice way to connect with co-workers.”

Hosts and guests should always remember that this is still a work event. Know what the expectation is and what your role is. If it’s 25 people, it’s a lot different from a group of 2,000. The invitation should clearly express what’s expected of the guests. “Please come for the toast, and stay if you can for the music,” suggests Smith.

Within Zoom, it’s possible to have a “private” chat during a group session, but guests should know, says Smith, “That whomever set up the digital event can see all chats, even private ones—thus, your boss can—so beware. Don’t type anything you wouldn’t want the whole company to see.”

Finally, guests should have some very basic questions and answers prepared. “Think of things to say if you’re asked how you’re going to spend New Year’s Eve, for example, even if it’s just organizing your sock drawer and watching Groundhog Day for the twentieth time! You don’t want to be a conversation-killer,” says Smith.

Don’t overindulge

Whether you are in a pandemic or not, getting drunk never improves someone’s professional standing. As important as it is to relax, have a good time, and share the more social side of yourself at the virtual holiday party, you’re still in a professional environment, so keep your decorum intact. Translation: Have one drink, at most, during the organized festivities. “After the event is over, go and have a few more drinks if you like,” says Smith, “You’re not driving anywhere!”

Dress appropriately

One pro about the era of the virtual party is that you won’t have to go out and buy a whole new outfit for it. For women: Slick on a bright lip color, brush your hair, and perhaps pop on some festive earrings. Any top or sweater with a festive feel—perhaps with a sequin or two—is perfect with dark jeans or black slacks. Fellows can get by with combed hair, a collared shirt, sweater, dark jeans or slacks, and a fresh shave.

The good news for organizers is that guests want the ease that comes with a virtual party. Our recent poll reveals that 31 percent appreciate “Not having to commute to/from the party,” and that 27 percent of respondents say that “Leaving a Zoom call is much easier than saying bye to every co-worker in-person.”

Zooming out and signing off

Speaking of ease of departure, a virtual party is superior to real life. Jodi Smith says, “If you’re a guest in a small group event, make sure you put in a little note in a chat when you leave, otherwise people may think your camera is disconnected or you’ve lost your wifi.”

Sending everyone a simple note saying something like, ¨Happy holidays, all! The party was great fun, I look forward to seeing you all in 2021,” would be appropriate. Or you could create a PowerPoint slide beforehand that says something like “Happy Holidays,” put that up as a graphic and turn your computer’s speaker off when you “leave.”

Give thanks

Before you leave your holiday office party—or the next day, if doing it at the virtual event is a challenge—be sure to show gratitude for your employer’s generosity. Planning a party, regardless of size, is no easy feat. Find your boss and the party organizers, and thank them for the festivities. This tiny gesture can go a long way in helping you stand out from the crowd.

The next day

If the person who is planning the party has money left over, please donate to a charity, even do a survey of the employees which charity—give a choice of three or so—they would like the money to go to. A lot of people are in need right now.

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