This week Health Secretary Sajid Javid urged Britons workforce to take a Covid test before they go to their office Christmas parties to avoid festive get togethers becoming super-spreading events.

But the big question doesn’t seem to be around testing, but whether to have a Christmas party at all. With Covid numbers still high and petrol shortages to think about, is this year the time to encourage your team to go ‘out out’ or ‘in in’? Or maybe this December we’ll see the ‘out in’ hybrid office party becoming the new norm?

A discussion forum on this topic was hosted recently on the CIPD website, the professional body for HR and people development in the UK. The responses suggested a real divide in the workforce of people who want to just get on with things and others who are more Covid-cautious.

The main takeaway was that managers shouldn’t have different rules for Monday to Friday to whatever they decide to do for their party; if you still encourage masks and social distancing in the workplace, then you should maintain the same policy for any gathering. 

What can you do to bring the workplace together while still adhering to some Covid restrictions?

Stacie Hill, Head of Marketing at Ultima Business Solutions, has taken a hybrid approach:

“With coronavirus still around, we are giving our employees the option to join us for one of three smaller events. We want to celebrate and thank our staff for all their hard work but, keeping everyone’s safety in mind, we decided against having the whole company and hundreds of people together all at once. Instead, we are throwing three parties, so we can segment people into smaller groups. Everyone will be asked to provide proof of a negative lateral flow test on the day too, so they should feel safe while having lots of fun.”

Ultima has also made plans that will keep travel to a minimum, as Stacey explains:

“In terms of connecting with our customers who are spread across the country, we have decided to do a virtual event. We’re hosting a tasting event, providing customers in advance with a hamper which experts will then take them through on the day discussing the food and wine pairings. Our CEO, Scott Dodds, will open the party with a short talk on his forecasted trends for 2022, then the focus will be on fun and networking on the chat.” 

Jack Bird, team manager at digital and tech marketing business Ad People, is spreading the risk this year by breaking Christmas parties into department-specific events instead of their usual company-wide gatherings.

“With over 150 people in the business, we run the risk of putting all our eggs in one basket and then, if hypothetically events with over 60 people are cancelled, we’d be left with nothing.”

If the Covid climate changes and even small parties are no longer possible, then Jack encourages team leaders to still use Christmas as a time to highlight the positives using internal communications.

“Christmas is a good time to look back at what you’re thankful for. Yes, 2021 has been rough for many, but that’s even more reason to highlight the wins that have come out of your team! A fun, simple video of some of the managers and directors talking to a camera can be very effective here. Did someone finally get that promotion they’ve wanted forever? Maybe their work finally got covered in a magazine they’ve wanted to be featured in for years? Even wins outside the office like a marriage or a new baby on the way can and should be highlighted. This is a great way to show your team how valuable they are and put a face on the higher ups.”

Jack also encourages managers to remember the value of small gestures when teams are working remotely,

“It’s easy to get carried away with the expensive, luxurious, Instagram-friendly Christmas gatherings – but don’t let the small gestures get lost in the mix! Even something small like a Christmas card delivered to an employee’s home – with a personal message, don’t underestimate the value of handwriting! – can go a long way in making people feel valued and part of a larger business family.”

Does technology hold the key to maintaining social connections between teams?

Nadia Vatalidis, VP of People at remote team specialists Remote, sees social connection and emotional bonding as crucial in a remote environment, whether that’s at Christmas or throughout the year. The company hasn’t allowed the restrictions imposed by Covid to lessen their connections with team members across the world. A team-wide distribution of Oculus Quest 2 VR headsets enabled Remote to host two virtual year-end events in 2020 including virtual hangouts, holiday-themed games, contests and prize giveaways.

“The VR Year-end party was the first step of our broader ‘Remote Labs’ initiative, which will see the company continue to pioneer the future of work. The main idea of the VR year-end party was to bring our distributed team closer together and feel more connected. Remote has a fully distributed team all over the world, – by giving everyone a VR headset, we enabled the team to feel closer together when working on projects, but also to ensure we are intentional about social connection and emotional bonding.”

London-based events planners Evolve Events are feeling positive. With last year being all about the virtual Christmas party, they’re confident that Christmas 2021 is set to be all about the face-to-face.

Here are some key suggestions for navigating the Christmas party season 2021:

Be prepared for change: whilst we might not all love the Zoom-style get-togethers, there have been enormous developments in virtual platforms, which get more creative and engaging all the time, plus of course there’s the advantage of being able to bring a wider audience together. Look for packages with interactive activities, so that if things do change you’ve got a virtual alternative to fall back on.

Be flexible: many venues are being flexible on their bookings, so it’s better to secure your date now rather than miss out later. With demand set to be higher than usual with every team missing out last year, some dates at certain venues may have already gone, so expect to find midweek parties becoming the norm this year.

Combine work and play: team-building activities were the most popular virtual offerings during the pandemic. Many companies are looking to incorporate them as they return to live events as they help workmates reconnect and enable new members of staff to form a bond with others quickly.

Spoil them: there is a real drive for companies to thank their staff and to celebrate getting through what has been an extremely challenging year,  so if Covid rules allow, make your 2021 party extra special.