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The dancefloor may be swapped for the kitchen, and the buffet for a box of breadsticks and some mini bottles of booze, but the office Christmas party is set to go ahead this year – and there may even be some star guests.
With the latest restrictions and working-from-home making the traditional Christmas staff get-together a no-no, companies are turning to virtual celebrations for this year’s festive season.
One tech firm is sending out virtual-reality headsets to staff, so they can “see” each other while they celebrate. Elsewhere, online games and karaoke are on the cards, along with classes in crafts and cooking – with some firms sending ingredients round in a box and bringing in household names to host.
HSBC is treating its UK staff to a festive fish cook-along with Michelin-starred chef Nathan Outlaw next week. Staff will get a shopping list for a two-course meal and then follow along virtually as Outlaw puts together a festive family feast for workers.
Digital bank Monzo is organising two live-streamed magic shows with the Bafta award-winning magician Fergus Flanagan, as well as a company-wide – but voluntary – secret santa.
Alex Hewitt, whose business, AOK Events, organises parties for large corporate clients, said 150 face-to-face Christmas parties had been cancelled, but many had been replaced by this kind of virtual event.
“We’re organising a lot of cocktail making, wine tasting, wreath-making, canape making,” said Hewitt. In the summer, the company organised a party with Mr Motivator running a workout, and Hewitt said his Christmas events included workers having their gingerbread houses judged by contestants from the Great British Bake Off. “If you’ve got an unlimited budget then we would be delighted to ask Paul Hollywood or Prue Leith if they’ll do it for you,” he said.
Many companies are keeping tight-lipped about their plans, saying they want to surprise staff on the night, and some that typically have large-scale events are going for smaller, departmental virtual bashes, to allow staff to talk to each other.
However, there will be some star-studded events taking place. Speaker agency JLA is offering celebrities including Jimmy Carr and Al Murray for virtual quiz nights, and Joe Wicks for team workouts, while Clearpoint Business Services, a firm that usually offers hospitality at sporting and cultural events, is offering virtual wine, beer and gin tasting with sporting celebrities including David Gower, Brian Moore and Steve Davis.
Mike Walker, the managing director of MGN Events, said his firm was setting up websites for companies to pick and mix what they offer to employees. “There will be smaller ‘rooms’ where people can learn a skill and get the chance to laugh and joke with each other, and then back in the main room they can do something like Bandeoke,” he said
Walker said his company was being kept busy with quotes for new business, but had also taken a hit, with companies scaling down their spending. While traditionally firms are willing to splash out up to the £150 a head they are allowed without needing to notify the taxman, Walker said this year some were holding back some of their typical budget.
Suppliers who are missing out on sales elsewhere have realised that they can cater for firms who would never usually travel for their events. For example, Chase Distillery in Herefordshire is marketing virtual tours and tastings, with staff sent a box of samples before the event, which they will be talked through on the night.
The chance to huddle in a corner and gossip with colleagues may not be replicated by Zoom breakout rooms, but Hewitt said it was important to give time between activities so people could “comment on each others’ curtains, how they’ve decorated their bookshelves, and that kind of thing”.
Whether the events will be well received is another matter. A survey by the telephone answering firm Moneypenny, found a quarter of workers had been invited to a virtual Christmas party this year, while in London the figure rose to half. However, only 11% said they were excited by the prospect.
Coming to an office party near you
IT consulting firm Velocity Smart would normally hold a traditional party for its 11 staff, but is this year sending them Oculus VR headsets so they can take part in a team paintballing session together. The event will cost just under £5,000 – “probably similar to what we would have spent on a team event with travel, hotel bills and drinks”, according to director Anthony Lamoureux. “Rather than delay our Christmas party to the summer, we wanted to do something that our team and technical developers would enjoy, and would still allow us to bond and have some fun as a team.”
Chase Distillery is one of several gin makers offering virtual tours to firms. For £30 a head it will send out five samples and mixers to staff and then do a virtual tour of its Herefordshire base. Sipsmiths in London is offering a virtual cocktail masterclass for £500 and will send out packs of ingredients, from £15 a person. And starting from £199 a person, Clearpoint Business Services is offering former England captain Michael Vaughan to talk you through tasting a gin made by his company.
Manchester-based events firm Clear is working on a talent show for one organisation – people can put themselves forward to show off their skills, and everyone watching from home will be able to vote on an app. The idea is to get whole families involved, rather than having people sitting on their own away from the rest of their household. The evening will also involve a TikTok challenge.
Firms who have staff in the office are booking AOK Events to put up decorations overnight, or for carol singers and entertainers to turn up and surprise them – subject to restrictions.
“A bit out of date,” according to Mike Walker from MGN Events. “Everyone got sick of them months ago.” But they are still the order of the day for many firms looking for a way to entertain and engage staff, and they are on offer from many events firms.
Alongside virtual entertainment, many firms are sending out boxes of food, drinks and party ware. For £25, Taste Club will send a box of gin and rum, mixers, crisps and “party props”, while Evolve Events has two options, both including food, drinks, scented candles and party hats, starting at £75. The website Best of British Beer said it had received lots of orders from companies who wanted to send out boxes to staff for parties and tastings.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Party on! How offices are keeping the Christmas spirit alive | Christmas