Do’s and Don’ts for Virtual Office Party
For most Ontario employees, December really is ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’ While some businesses can have a frantic few weeks trying to close out their affairs for the year end, most workplaces are generally full of sweets and homemade goodies, cards and gift baskets from customers and clients, and usually a dose of holiday cheer. Best of all for workers – the holidays themselves usually mean at least a few consecutive days off (or some significant statutory holiday and overtime pay).
Standard among these workplace holiday traditions is the office party. Office holiday parties are an age-old tradition, and can take a variety of different forms depending on the size and nature of the workplace. Smaller workplaces usually gather for a simple festive meal, or a fun team bonding exercise of some sort. Larger workplaces have been known to rent out restaurants, banquet halls, or even ballrooms for an evening of celebrations. Some workplaces invite partners, some do not, but the general idea is to give employees an opportunity to ‘let their hair down.’
Yet of course this is 2020, and nothing is operating as normal this year, including the office party. With the pandemic making large gatherings impossible in most areas (and generally inadvisable in others), the office holiday party has now become the latest workplace tradition to move online. With that in mind, we wanted to offer a few tips on making your experience safe and fun for the whole team:
- Make Everyone Feel Included – Office parties have become more inclusive in recent years, with a focus on remaining welcoming and non-denominational, and the same should be true of any virtual festivities. This means thinking of fun things to do together that may acknowledge many seasonal religious/cultural holidays but do not specifically focus on one to the exclusion of any others. While inclusion of multiple faiths and practices is generally well-intentioned, it is better to err on the side of caution. Ontario’s Human Rights Code prohibits any discrimination in the workplace based on religion, so sometimes the best way to remain all inclusive is to remain non-denominational.
- Think Outside The Box – While your party may traditionally have taken place around a restaurant or boardroom table, 2020 requires employers (and often the workplace social committee) to think outside the box. Remember that while a traditional party might have involved buying your employees a hearty meal, a virtual party does not mean that this can’t happen! Many employers have come up with clever ideas for virtual cooking classes, cocktail making sessions, or coordinated takeout options that allow the team to bond over that hearty meal from the safety of their own homes.
- Acknowledge Employees’ Efforts This Year – This year has been difficult for most of Ontario’s workforce. Even if their positions and salaries remained intact throughout, the stress of setting up work from home while coordinating family care issues and looking after their own mental health in an anxious world. Through it all, most employees have made their best efforts to keep their employer’s business running as smoothly as possible, and that is commendable. While every holiday party inevitably features a speech – make this year’s one of gratitude.
- Force Employees to Drink – Every movie or television show about the office holiday party inevitably ends up with someone having too much to drink and making poor decisions, and of course this happens in the real world as well. Those poor decisions may be less likely with social distancing, but too much alcohol consumed anywhere can be an easy recipe for poor behaviour. A glass or two may be okay at a virtual party, especially when no one needs to drive after, but be careful not to encourage excessive alcohol consumption. Also, if your party will be themed around alcohol, be sure to include a non-alcoholic alternative for employees who do not drink.
- Go Too Late – While previous year’s parties may have involved employees hiring a babysitter and enjoying an evening on the town, such luxuries are no longer available in 2020. When planning your virtual event, remember that while the goal is for employees to unwind and enjoy, they may still be juggling that party with kids’ bedtime, eldercare duties, or other domestic duties that have become routine this year. No one time will work for everybody (unless the party is during business hours), but maybe leave the late night festivities for a year when you can gather in person.
- Forget Where You Are – The goal of the holiday party is for employees to have a good time, but the reality is that this is still a work event! Even if alcohol is permitted at the festivities, these parties should not condone, nor encourage, inappropriate remarks or behaviour. Again while this is less likely to occur without an open bar, employers and employees should still be mindful that the party is not an ‘anything goes’ free-for-all. Just because you’re partying in your own home and can imbibe safely, this is still a workplace event.
From all of us at Rodney Employment Law, we wish you and your team a happy, healthy, and most importantly safe holiday season.