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Should you host a virtual office holiday party this year?

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) A holiday party sounds like a good idea after the trash year we’ve had, but a Zoom company party could probably be skipped.

Online holiday parties can be a solitary experience.

Everyone else already got to make a lot of fantastic jokes and hyperbolic metaphors and such when it came to describing the dumpster fire of a year that’s lasted six decades, and it’s high time I had the same chance. This year has been like mustard on tacos. There’s not a single person in the entire world that eats mustard on tacos, and for some reason, that’s ALL we’ve had to eat. Colonel Mustard’s Last Taco Stand.

Look, it was either mustard on tacos or a long drawn out description of ever-moist socks. Be happy with what I gave you instead of discussing a mildewy dampness your feet are forever encased in, and eeeeeeveryone on Facebook is like-ing it, and you’re a glutton for punishment and any semblance of humanity in this now tired always on-fire year, so you continue to wear them even as the smell never goes away.

Ok, I’m done. Deep breath. Really, please continue to read on.

So we need some cheer. Like, a whole lotta cheer. Cheer all ova the place. Japan literally bombed a comet to bring back alien goodies, AND WE DON’T EVEN HAVE THE ENERGY TO BE HAPPY ABOUT HOW METAL THAT IS. So maybe they can hook us up with a comet made out of nothing but sugar and vodka and Parks and Recreation.

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Now, it is the holiday season (pick your flavor, I’m running a soda fountain and ALL the flavors are going in the cup because it’s party time the world around), and that usually means festivities to remind people that their drudgery can at least be temporarily forgotten through the use of distraction. I can’t say drugs, so we’ll go with distraction. Yeah, that’s the safest word starting with that letter that I can write here.

Companies know this, and given that there’s been a proliferation of virtual meetings now that all air is poison, it’s likely that this will extend into the annual end-of-year holiday party. Scores of people will be encouraged to put on a fun sweater, jaunty hat, maybe even some jingly music, a drink, and then – and then – sit in front of their computer for 45 minutes. Joy.

I haven’t seen Office Christmas Party yet, but replace all those actors with people you know and are subject to rules and laws and monetary constraints and physics and pain, and then assume that you’re being coerced into ‘fundatory’ duties. Because that’s what it’s gonna be – the most anemic, sterile celebration you could have in this moment, with a bunch of disparate, isolated persons all just wanting to end the call as soon as possible.

Forced fun never works; I think a war was started about that once in my elementary school (but not by me). So why delay the inevitable at this point? We all just want to go sit on the couch and have cookies and pizza and bad traditional movies in various states of undress. AND WITH OUR DOGS AND CATS.

Now, I have to be fair – maybe some of you like your coworkers. I happen to adore mine. So the efficacy of a Zoom holiday party is heavily influenced by that level of friendship, and I’ve found that even staring at people on a screen is a fantastic option to dive into a cozy warm bubbly sleeping bag of delight, coworker or friend or family. It’s like when your stomach hurts because you didn’t eat something, and you can’t imagine eating something, but then you do and you find it fixes the pain.

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So I can’t say to not do this, or that companies should not do this. But I do think a virtual holiday party requires tapping into the general mindset pervading your average employee – please read the room, please don’t be tone deaf, please don’t think everyone wants to put on Rudolph antlers and watch people in giant houses tell us how “this year wasn’t so bad.” Failing this for even a second is going to send everyone into full on Grinch mode, and justifiably so.

There’s a lot of factors to consider – if you’re going to be part of a meeting with people you literally never talk to (other departments, executives, C-suite level personnel, and all the plus-ones no one knows), then it’s probably not going to work. If someone shows off their lavishness and synthetic ebullience against a candy colored backdrop of lights and excess, then it’s probably not going to work. If a lot of downsizing happened or there’s a general air of hostility, then it’s not going to work.

I can’t objectively measure this in any way, but I’m going to guess the majority of virtual parties won’t be received well. If you/your company is the exception, then that is amazing (seriously! not-joking-emoji-face!), and no one should begrudge that, and by all means, please party. But chances are probably low, and if that’s the case, we should discuss alternatives.

The obvious one is to take the budget and send it right on back to employees – preferably as a bonus, at the least as a gift card of sorts (in the form of a store-agnostic credit card), or a gift with an attached receipt. Another option would be to give attendees a way to purchase their own food and drink, and if that means Doritos and Gin, then that is what it means, judgements out the window and into the biohazard atmosphere. Or hold the money until an in-office soiree can be held.

Maybe charity is a better avenue to travel down here, and the money could be allocated to helping out an agonized world. Perhaps employees could use the money to donate to their own cause of choice. Either of these take away the commercial rewards and indulgence and instead redirects it to needy souls whose gratefulness is oceans deep against a backdrop of despair. None of the usual fun stuff will happen anyway.

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I can’t make the rules or calls; I can only supply some considerations. I think this year – taken overall – has been bad, where as a case-by-case audit will yield a spectrum of values from the very happy to the incredibly sad. So there’s not a single solution to apply to everyone for your holiday party, and I won’t pretend to have one that is one-size-fits-all.

What I can say is that everyone should take this moment to be quiet and reflect, and especially those in positions of power, whose invisible hand has perhaps held more lives and livelihoods in its judgement and grasp than potentially ever before. With that level of power and responsibility, it should not be taboo to ask for a sincerity that befits this hallowed, holiday time. That’s really all I’m asking for – insight, wisdom, empathy, and the best means to deploy it to brighten up everyone in the best, farthest-reaching way possible.

That’s what it’s all about, Charlie Brown.

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Robert Snodgrass has an English degree from Texas A&M University, and wants you to know that yes, that is actually a thing. And now he's doing something with it! Let us all join in on the experiment together. When he's not web developing at Docusign, he runs distances that routinely harm people and is the kind of giant nerd that says "you know, there's a King of the Hill episode that addresses this exact topic".

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  1. Pingback: 5 holiday gift ideas that will have your employees feeling valued

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