It may be a remote memory, but the workplace party is back for the holidays. While some companies throw up their hands at the thought, others are planning to celebrate like it's 2020: In virtual worlds.
"We may be apart, but we do have the technology to create the psychological and emotional experience of being together," said Priya Parker, author of The Art Of Gathering and host of the New York Times podcast Together Apart.
"People still need to party: We need release, we need connection, we need to let go of all this stress and step into a joyful space."
The prospect of hosting online holiday parties is so daunting that only 23 per cent of companies are even planning one, compared to 76 per cent last year, according to a new survey by staffing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Of the employers trying to pull this off, about three-quarters are going to do it remotely. Some will throw parties in virtual environments so that even if you cannot be there, at least your avatar can have a pretty good time.
"With a lot of current online parties, it's just staring at a wall of faces, with the boss cracking corny jokes for an hour," said Salimah Ebrahim, co-founder of Artery, a startup that organises gatherings and performances.
Ebrahim is building out a new platform, Bramble (bramble.live) that can create virtual worlds that feel more like a real-life party and less like a Webex team meeting. Its recent "House of Hallucinations," hosted in partnership with Brooklyn venue House of Yes, was named a top Halloween event in New York City by Time Out magazine.
Artery is putting finishing touches on the Holiday World options on its platform – think of a ski lodge vibe, with roaring fireplaces, cocktail bars, outside campfires, holiday playlists, performances and more.
"It's like Zoom meets Animal Crossing," Ebrahim said, referring to the video game set in a village of animals that fish, catch bugs and hunt for fossils.
COVID-19 is forcing us to be creative and celebrate in innovative ways such as virtual escape rooms, culinary battles, shared games like charades, murder mystery dinner parties. Novel solutions are endless for those willing to think outside the box.
Here are a few tips.
DO YOU NEED A PARTY?
Different teams need different things in this unique year, and leaders cannot decide without talking to the partygoers.
"Some communities this year need escape, some might want to mark losses, some might need moments of nonsensical joy," Parker said. "So first find out what your people need, and then design your event around it."
GET THE TECH RIGHT
Throwing everyone into an unfamiliar tech platform for an online party with no preparation is a recipe for disappointment. Choose an online environment that is fairly intuitive and easy to navigate, and spend some time getting everyone up to speed.
"Don't underestimate the need to know how to use the technology," Parker said. "Especially for older generations, you want to make sure they have the tools to meaningfully connect. It's very frustrating to deal with tech glitches, and not be able to be a part of something."
As head of Atlanta's Team Building With Taste, Paul McKeon has been hosting culinary competitions for years, in his company's fully stocked commercial kitchen. This year, most of those kitchen battles are taking place online.
The best way to make a holiday party work is to allow a glimpse of your personal life, McKeon said.
"Make your partner the sous-chef, or have your son or daughter help in the prep work," said McKeon, whose chefs guide partygoers in creating dishes like risotto primavera and judge at least the plating, even if they cannot eat it.
"This is not the time to be just staring at each other's foreheads," McKeon noted. "We've all been lonely for so many months, so share a bit of yourself, make it personable, and have fun."