Well, here we are, the last month of 2020. For many of us, this has been the most challenging – and felt like the longest – year in memory (or ever). When a fresh new year and decade was upon us, along with the symbolism of 2020 being perfect sight, we are, in a way, awed by the year that actually transpired. Despite many of our hopes and plans, we instead had to navigate unmet expectations, uncertainty, change of course, loss, fear, anxiety, adversity, and death. While circumstances impacted everyone and every business differently, they affected us all, in some way or other – and of course, continue to do so.

Although December is very often a time of celebration and connection, with rising COVID-19 numbers and further restrictions, employers and employees alike are once again/still on high alert. This has undoubtedly impacted your plans as an employer to celebrate the holidays and the end of the year with your teams. Holiday dinners, parties, and gatherings won’t be happening in the way many are accustomed to. With a focus on appreciation and gratitude, we do, however, encourage you to plan something that makes sense for your organization and teams.

As has increasingly been the case throughout this year, there are an abundance of options to celebrate virtually, including fully hosted online parties. However, much of the true feeling of the holidays and the festive spirit for employees arises from the “total December package”. For many teams/employees, this starts with collaborative decorating, and/or that first day of coming in to see decorations have been put up. Then there’s the first, then second, then third (and so on) arrival of chocolates or goodies from vendors, clients, and partners. For others, it’s that moment when they walk into a co-worker’s office, or by their workstation, and hear festive music. Regardless of the detail, for most employees, it’s less about the one-time occasion of a party, and more about the ongoing feeling of being surrounded by the festive season.

Given that many will be missing out on that this year (both in their workplace and beyond), now is the time to consider what you can do to bring it into the virtual/remote workspace. For example:

  • Start by having an early-December workspace/home office/virtual space decorating contest
  • Send a care-package to your teams with items they open every week, or twice a week, from now until you close for the holidays; e.g. hot cocoa and a festive mug; cookies, candy, and/or chocolate; coffee and Irish cream (if appropriate)
  • Build a collaborative Spotify playlist, where everyone adds their favourite holiday tune(s) and can listen to it from their respective workstations
  • Host a virtual “ugly holiday sweater” contest at one of your meetings
  • Use an online Secret Santa generator to arrange gift-giving without having to pull names in person; gifts would then be sent to the respective individual’s home address and opened together, at a team meeting

For many workplaces, another important part of the holidays is how they come together to give back to their communities and other relevant causes. Although getting together as a group and being able to support organizations in-person may not be possible this year, there are still several ways to support and give back – and that are perhaps even more important this year. If you try to do something different every year, consider how you can have some fun and get collaborative with it. For example, on a few occasions, Jouta employees were given several five-dollar bills, with instructions to distribute them in their communities, as they saw fit. Some of us would put them in envelopes with little notes and leave them between food items at a grocery store, on a bus seat or at a bus stop, in the pocket of a coat at a department store, between the pages of a popular library book, or on the steps of a shelter or drop-in center. Others would pay it forward by either giving someone in a café line-up the money to buy their coffee, or simply buying it for the person behind them. For us, this was an amazing opportunity to get out in our communities, to feel the true pleasure of giving without receiving, and to share our experiences.

Appreciating that the ideas above won’t work for every workplace, in addition, or instead of the above, consider what you can do differently this year. While it’s nice to bring a sense of normalcy and festivity into your workplace (virtual or not), and we encourage it if you can, a more lasting impact can be achieved through sharing of appreciation and gratitude.

As an employer or manager, you could write a personalized letter/card to every employee, delivered by mail, where applicable. Or you could use the Secret Santa generator for employees to choose the person they will send a gratitude or appreciation letter to. Depending on the nature and size of your teams, you might even consider having each Santa read their letter aloud at a virtual meeting. Or they could come to your end-of-year meeting prepared to share one thing they’re grateful for/appreciate about their co-workers, employer, job, etc. There are endless ways to show and share gratitude that don’t involve the more typical holiday traditions. The only caveat is that they be genuine and aligned with you/your organization.

In a time of continued uncertainty, it’s more important than ever that we all focus on connection, hope, and gratitude, however we can.