Christmas parties are held virtually by companies whose offices are closed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The vaccination would come too late for workplace parties, so that businesses have invested in digital events and activities.
Food distribution, workshops and live entertainment have practically been arranged for the workers.
The goal is to raise morale as certain home-workers feel lonely.
Hire Room has changed from holding activities at large venues to throwing virtual parties with a difference.
Clients begin by choosing an entry experience-for example, a comedy bouncer who tests the dress code on the way in-and then choose from more than thirty immersive spaces, from burlesque to dance floors.
Guests will switch between rooms by clicking on a party map, showing the various performances and where the guests are.
Virtual toilets and smoking areas are also included.
“It was a big achievement for us after a very rough year,” says Will Swannell, co-founder of Hire Space, adding that they are now recruiting again after recent job losses.
There are escape rooms and other immersive experiences for those bored of online quizzes.
Digital Murder Mystery Co. is planning virtual murder mystery parties organised by a celebrity. Guests will be given character descriptions in advance.
“It helps keep team bonding alive and kicking,” says Christina Rhodes, co-founder.
“It’s important that teams also know that they belong, even if they can’t communicate outside of work.”
Food and drink
The culture of working lunch continues-with many pubs, chefs and caterers switching to take-aways and deliveries.
One Fine Dine offers freshly cooked, haute cuisine meals to visitors at the same time as part of its Christmas party offering, which ensures no uncomfortable video chat splits.
“We had a company of 70 that all got together on Zoom,” says Daniel Hulme, founder of One Fine Dine.
“Food is a common language-it binds people. You can share your knowledge digitally.”
South Catering typically provides corporate clients with food for meetings, training activities and day-to-day meetings.
It now offers lunch packs and meals for workers operating from home and has launched a ‘Dining Home For Christmas’ three-course meal kit for its customers.
“The last few months have been about transitioning to a radical transition, with businesses realising that more of their staff are struggling to operate from home,” says Justin Gilchrist, Chief Executive Officer of South Catering.
“Most offices have advantages that include heavily subsidised food and in-office snacks and drinks.
“We aim to make it easy to reward and inspire home-based workers who are lacking their pre-pandemic workplace tasks.”
But other offices are going to work for their dinner, by live cooking activities.
Jane Smart runs Soho 15, which provides leadership training.
She will usually schedule a two-day celebration with speakers, seminars and downtime.
This year, she’s booked a team cooking class through Cookalong.tv.
The menu is planned, ingredients and wine pairings are shipped, and live coaching by experienced chefs on a video call.
“Everyone enjoys the fact that it will be a joint experience, that we will learn some new things from our experienced chef and have a lot of fun in the process,” she says.
“We’re going to be in our own houses, with partners joining, and it’s going to be a special opportunity.”
Other organisations also held workshops, including cocktail-mixing, wreath-making and makeup treatments.
“So far we’ve had quite a few business activities for advertisement agencies, lifestyle brands and fashion labels,” says Katie White, facialist and founder of Re:lax London.
“It’s a perfect way for companies to build morale and do something fun as a team, and it shows that managers are interested in the well-being of their workers.”
The workshops include everything from conscious meditation to facial massages.
Jo Woodward, founder of Wreath Making Shipped, adds that her company has been “absolutely overrun by demand” and has already hit potential on several dates.
It sends wreath kits to the workers, who then obey a video call tutorial.
“We still have some international activities, which means that friends from all over Europe will really come together and enjoy their Christmas parties for the first time,” she says.
While the lockdown has shut down live entertainment venues, private gigs are being held online for businesses.
NextUp hosts virtual comedy events from the home of comedians, some of them featuring Eddie Izzard and Richard Herring.
Performances ranged from traditional stand-up to interactive quizzes.
“If an organisation virtually moves online-the social side needs to do as well, not just work,” says Dan Berg, co-founder of NextUp.
“Comedy is needed more than ever, it’s been a tough time.”
And live music also caters to virtual workplace parties.
Encore hires hundreds of musicians to deliver virtual packages of live music.
One of the most famous offerings is the Zoom Bomb experience in which musicians perform on a video call to surprise workers with an album.
“Am totally obsessed now,” tweeted Emma Sinclair, co-founder of Enterprise Alumni, after arranging a surprise rap show at a virtual meeting.
“Companies are eager to keep their workforce engaged and happy, particularly during the winter months when we’re locked up,” says James McAulay, Chief Executive Officer of Encore.
“Crucially, January is a time when many workers are beginning to search for a new job, and so it is vital for businesses to keep their teams happy and consistent in the run-up to Christmas.”