For several days in early December, Ubisoft employees will don a designated holiday tuke, pick up a cocktail kit and, one at a time, walk you through an immersive experience the company envisioned. Like an escape game, each player will make their way through three specially designed rooms and complete a task that will eventually gift them. A few days later, they will enjoy the culmination of their holiday party, an online event featuring performers and acrobats, all under this year’s theme “Secret Cabaret”.
It’s a departure from the large in-person holiday parties of the past for a Montreal-based video game company with 4,000 workers. But that doesn’t bother employees, who clearly want to celebrate.
“It’s the best response to holiday celebrations in many years,” says Karim C-Morrisett, a project manager at Ubisoft.
Office holiday parties will once again be limited by pandemic restrictions. While last year many companies opted for smaller-scale events – if any – and almost all of them were virtual, this year people are more interested in celebrating. This has forced companies to get creative. Most events are still online, caterers and event planners say, but after another long and stressful year, offering employees something special is top of mind for many companies.
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For larger organizations, groups of more than 25 seem to be the “magic number,” says Natalie Ho, national director of event sales for Oliver & Bonacini Hospitality.
“We have groups that are hosting 25 dinners for 25 people over a period of about a week,” she said.
Planning office parties this holiday season has been a “roller coaster”, says Ms. Ho. As recently as late September, many customers were planning on grouping hundreds of people together, but have since changed their mind, opting for smaller numbers or virtual events instead.
Still, that hasn’t dampened the desire to celebrate.
“We actually saw a record number of holiday party inquiries,” Ms. Ho said.
Janet Salopeck, president of Salopec & Associates, a business and human resources consultancy with offices throughout Canada, notes that companies are looking at optics as much as it is when it comes to event planning. They want them to appear to be taking COVID-19 seriously, and are focusing on small or virtual events for this reason. But some are also thinking outside the box.
One of Ms. Salopek’s clients is rewarding her employees for an extra week from time to time – rather than asking anyone to do a Zoom event, she says.
For companies planning virtual events, some are even sending food and other items to employees’ homes for them to enjoy during the festivities.
Judy Reeves, owner of Edge Catering in Vancouver, says most of the in-person gatherings she’s hired to complete are between 10 and 20 people. Several companies have picked up on Ms. Reeves’s delivery box option, including holiday food platters and wine.
This year delivery of food, wine, and holiday treat boxes is especially popular among corporate customers, says Michelle Kuenz, co-owner of Great Events Group in Calgary.
“It’s a way for everyone to be inclusive because there are still some people who haven’t been vaccinated,” she said.
Again this year, companies hosting virtual festivals are looking for more entertaining options than they were last year, says Arthur Kerex, director of live and virtual experiences at Toronto-based Fusion Events.
“It’s all about the entertainment this year,” he said.
Particularly popular is a 10-piece band that performs “Choose Your Own Adventure” concerts, where at-home party guests must vote on music from different decades the band plays, and even That the finer details like which device should get the single. a special song.
Mr Kerkes said interest has also been high in events in which Cash Cab host, Adam Grow, quizzes executives on trivia, as other employees give their answers from home.
Not surprisingly, these in-person events require the most creativity from party planners and companies.
Even among people who want to get together in person, not everyone has the same comfort level.
To help address the different comfort levels at holiday parties this year, a Toronto-based event planning company has created a wristband system, in which attendees choose a red, yellow or green wristband.
“Lal means ‘keep your distance.’ Yellow is ‘You don’t need to keep your distance but don’t touch me.’ Don Eisenberg, co-founder of Pop Events, tells Greene ‘I’m ready for a hug, if you ask’. “It takes the awkwardness out of situations.”
For company family parties, drive-thru events are especially popular this year, says Ms. Eisenberg.
His company recently held a similar event in Brampton for Chrysler employees and their children.
Guests were able to drive up to a hot chocolate station, then to a gift station while entertained by a magician, Eisenberg says.
It’s an ideal option for many companies, none of which want to put children at risk, Eisenberg says.
“There are no live children’s incidents that are happening indoors,” she says.
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