Last year, most companies canceled their holiday parties as COVID-19 case rates started surging after the Thanksgiving holidays and as people started spending more time indoors.
Cases have once again been rising in the run-up to December, so many businesses are approaching their holiday plans with the safety of their staff top of mind.
If you’re concerned about the safety of your staff, there are number of issues you’ll have to consider in light of the pandemic as well as other safety issues that you need to address:
Make attendance voluntary. Many people are still nervous to be in public places or in large crowds. They may be immunocompromised or live with someone who is. They may fear contracting COVID-19 and bringing it home. Don’t force anyone to go to the party. Make it voluntary.
To mask or not to mask? Masks have become a major trigger point in American society and a political issue that inspires outrage among some. The Centers for Disease Control still recommends masking and social distancing, but many companies who have a majority of staff who have been vaccinated have decided to hold parties without mask requirements.
Companies will have to consider transmission rates in their communities before deciding whether to require masks at their parties.
Choose a venue carefully. Select a location that is large enough to provide additional space for your employees, since COVID-19 is still actively circulating. Ideally, arrange for an outdoor space but if you go with an indoor venue, make sure it has ample space.
Keep events small. The scale, nature and venue for your event should be chosen considering the local situation. The number of people attending will have to be within the allowable limits under state or local regulations. If there are no local rules, make sure that you have ample space for everyone to socially distance.
Food and drinks. CDC guidelines recommend that at large events all food be served to people at tables and not offered as a buffet, where people can breathe over the offerings. That also means that appetizer stations are out, as well.
One option if you don’t want to have a sit-down dinner that is served is to provide bento-style boxes of food for people to pick up and bring to a table to eat. That way all the food is covered.
If you do want to have food out so people can graze, consider keeping it under see-through covers liked domed cloches.
Also, you should consider not having champagne towers or punch bowls. Instead try to provide drinks in bottles that your staff can open on their own, or have a bar with a hired bartender who serves bottles and pours glasses of wine or mixed drinks.
Use technology. Some companies are planning to hold Zoom-based celebrations to reduce the risk of transmission, particularly if they are located in areas with high and rising case rates or if a large portion of their staff remain unvaccinated.
A solution for some businesses may be a hybrid event where some people are on-site and others join in via Zoom or other platforms. This is an ideal way to include vulnerable individuals who may be at special risk, for whatever reason.
While “virtual mingling” might not have quite the same zing to it, employees joining in from home can still relax and chat with colleagues.
Live, interactive games that cyberspace attendees can participate in are limited only by your imagination. Invite employees to make suggestions, and you might be surprised by what people come up with.
Ultimate in safety: No party. Some employers are holding off for another year and instead providing their staff with additional time off to spend with their families.
The decision on whether to hold a holiday party, and how to hold one, requires planning and a focus on safety for everyone who will be attending. While safety should be top of mind for any company event, with the ongoing pandemic in the background, it’s important that employers focus on protecting their staff from infection again this year.