Is the virtual office holiday party mandatory this year? Here’s what experts say

The COVID-19 pandemic may have interrupted any (and all) plans for 2020, but don’t be alarmed: the annual office holiday party is still going to happen.

It won’t be as booze-infused as years past and gathering restrictions make options virtually impossible, so find a cozy place to sit in your apartment or home. This year’s holiday party won’t be at the venue where that one coworker embarrassed themselves two years ago.

This year, office holiday parties will be held virtually over Zoom and other video conference platforms. In the past, it’s been argued whether holiday parties require mandatory attendance due to it being a work function.

It’s often said that your boss will likely remember you not being there rather than actually attending, so is a virtual holiday party really mandatory, especially this year?

Keystone Partners Vice President Brenda Stanton said that companies should be mindful and flexible, while approaching things differently for this year’s office holiday party.

“I don’t think [holiday parties] are mandatory from the standpoint of it being in writing, but I think sometimes it’s that feeling that it’s implied that if you don’t go, it implies something like you’re not engaged or committed in pre-COVID times,” Stanton told Ladders recently.

“I think now in COVID times companies are learning to be more empathic and understanding of everything that people are going through, especially their employees.”

No one wants to be sitting in front of computer for another four hours juggling some poorly mixed drink with whatever bottom shelf essentials emblazon your home. Zoom fatigue has basically made any type of virtual social gathering feel like another meeting despite its best intentions.

That’s something companies should try to avoid.

“We want to have something that is entirely different [this year],” Stanton said. “It’s not company-oriented; it’s employee-oriented. It’s just a different approach to what companies normally do where they know what people want and they give it to them.”

Setting a time limit can ease some of the burden on employees that do not want to spend hours sitting in their ugly Christmas sweater in front of a computer. But perhaps the biggest hurdle for companies to climb is creating a divide between work and life.

“It’s important to cap the year from the standpoint where this is nothing work-related, but it’s for us to gather and share our gratitude for what we learned this year,” said Stanton.

She advised managers and team leaders to communicate individually with members of teams and let them know that the office holiday party is indeed optional, which can alleviate any unwanted additional stress that the holiday season — combined with COVID-19 — puts on the employee.

Office holiday party ideas during COVID-19

If your company is still juggling its plans for a holiday party this year, fear not — there’s still time to put something together.

  • Stanton said she’s noticed a few trends for holiday parties that encourage creativity and collaboration, such as a virtual movie night, where employees watch the same movie together.
  • Cooking classes can also be an option. She’s seen companies send cooking-making kits to employees featuring all ingredients needed for a team-baking course that creates a unique and fun exercise.
  • A Secret Santa through Amazon Prime can capture great reactions watching coworkers open presents from other coworkers.