This time of year is usually filled with festivities. From Christmas parties to the legendary Secret Santa gift exchange, there is normally no shortage of reasons to get together with friends, family and co-workers during December.

But after a difficult year curtailing coronavirus, and with continued efforts to keep the risk of transmission low, the festive season is already looking very different this year.

Varying government restrictions remain in place which require physical distancing and significantly reduced gatherings. Many teams have been dispersed, downsized, or are working in a very different way to this time last year.

So what options are left for seasonal celebrations in the workplace? And how can employers reward employees in the absence of the annual staff party?

Peterlee and Seaham business park groups’ resident HR expert Alison Schreiber from the HR Dept Durham shares her thoughts.

Get creative this Christmas

Employees may be working at a distance or not yet be filled with festive cheer. However, that shouldn’t deter you from arranging a few cost-effective virtual events to lift spirits and bring them together.

If your team find joy in generosity, why not set up a virtual Secret Santa using an online name selector? Alternatively, get buy-in from employees for fun charity events, like Christmas Jumper Day.

Amongst other things, 2020 may well be remembered as the “Year of the Quiz”! Why not revive this summer lockdown favourite with your team?

Communication is key to ensure that everyone gets the message, including those on furlough leave. Make sure they feel included by inviting them to a casual Christmas catch-up or game via Zoom. This is not only allowed during furlough but encouraged, so long as employees are not undertaking any work.

Not everyone will feel like participating however, for various reasons. It’s important to explain that your virtual events are voluntary and that any coercing of those choosing to opt out will not be tolerated.

What are the benefits of virtual staff events?

There are many benefits to celebrating Christmas virtually with employees this year. Some of which include:

1.Bring employees together, no matter where they are
With many people continuing to work remotely, employees could be missing out on the social aspect of your company culture. Hosting a virtual event, which isn’t to talk about work, can make your team feel valued and better connected.

2.Reduce the risk of vicarious liability
By facilitating Christmas themed calls, or even virtual leavers drinks for departing employees, you reduce the risk of employees arranging meet ups themselves, which could be against COVID guidelines if done in person. Protect employees and your business by providing a safe outlet.

3.Combat loneliness at work
Christmas can be a lonely time for some, especially with the added pressures of social distancing this year. A virtual Christmas event can be another contact point, and provide you with insight on how employees are coping whilst working from home.

4.Boost employee engagement
Sadly, cancelling the staff party is inevitable, but cancelling all celebration is not. Filling the void with some fun online events shows employees that you care. It may give them the boost they need to stay engaged through the winter.

5.Reward staff with cost effective benefits
For many businesses, finances have taken a hit this year. If you’re seeking cost-effective ways to reward staff, a Christmas call or virtual game should be top of the list. Additionally, small and frequent signs of appreciation can do wonders for employee retention.

6.Maintain good workplace well-being
The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have longstanding implications for mental health. Your workplace well-being could be at risk if employees feel they have little to smile about. A fun virtual Christmas event can help during these darker winter days, whilst a workplace well-being strategy can help in the long term.

HR Support when you need it

If you have some ideas for a virtual company Christmas, but want to run them past HR to make sure they are low risk, get in touch today. We’ll support you through the virtual festive period and beyond, ensuring your workplace well-being strategy is ready for anything.