Your Office Doesn't Need a Virtual Holiday Party


Illustration for article titled Your Office Doesnt Need a Virtual Holiday Party

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Even as the pandemic stretches into a nine-month slog, upending lives and shattering economies around the world, a pretty much universally reviled corporate custom still threatens to rear its ugly head: the office holiday party.

This year, your office holiday party will be different, or at least it really should be. Instead of piling into some rented venue, you and your colleagues will sit in front of your computers and attempt to ring in some holiday cheer via Zoom, Google Hangouts, or HouseParty. The typical awkwardness of video chat will abound, and your colleague’s presumably smiling faces will be sequestered into grainy squares on a monitor. And for what, exactly?

Holiday parties, in the best sense, are a chance to let loose and informally get to know the colleagues you spend more time with than your actual family. But this year, you won’t even get to enjoy the unexpected silliness of seeing your work acquaintances get weird after one too many spiked eggnogs. If the pandemic has given us a chance to shatter any rote tradition that few people actually look forward to, it’s the corporate holiday party. Because it just won’t be the same on a video chat.

Video chats are awkward

When there’s an objective at hand, video chats aren’t as awkward; if you’re going through a corporate agenda or presentation, people know they have to pay attention because it’s pertinent to their jobs. But if the context is less formal, workers with little rapport outside the office are going to flounder and your well-intentioned holiday soiree will feel like social purgatory.

Just think of video chat’s trademark hiccups: washy internet connections, lapses in conversation, people talking over each other, stragglers who forget to mute their microphones. It’ll be harder, or impossible, to mingle and let casual conversation flow. When one person talks in a video chat, everyone has to pipe down and listen. These tools weren’t really designed to facilitate the spontaneous and organic environment of parties.

That’s one reason your Zoom party will suck. It’s one thing to deal with the annoyances of relying so heavily on technology for the sake of work in this COVID-stricken environment, but why willfully subject yourself to it for the sake of manufactured fun?

It’ll be depressing

I hate to be so negative in this time of pestilence and economic decay, but I’m not here to lie to you. The holidays call for merriment and gratitude, and logging on to a work holiday party might feel like papering over the horrifying reality of what the world is going through right now.

Want to feel sad? Stare into a lonely computer monitor at several other solitary faces trying their damndest to celebrate the holidays with a group of relative strangers. Trying to pretend that things can be normal when they’re so glaringly the opposite isn’t going to make it feel like Christmas, or Hanukkah, or any other festive tradition.

Like I said, I hate to dwell on the misery of our times, but let’s not pretend a virtual party with work colleagues is going to make things feel less terrible.

None of the usual fun stuff will happen

Silver linings may be in short supply this year, but there’s usually a pretty consistent one with office holiday parties—or at least there was in the Before Times. It comes when your colleagues do something unexpectedly funny. It’s always a treat when a colleague gets a little too toasty and breaches the corporate decorum, or when that one working stiff from accounting shows that he can, despite all presumption, really throw down on the dance floor.

None of that impromptu stuff will happen this year. You will occupy a window on a screen, perhaps nodding mechanically to a mundane conversation about how weird it is to be isolated during the holidays. In this remote setup, you can’t be the free-floating social butterfly who has different conversations about different topics with different work friends.

Video chat parties are for friends and family

Let’s be honest, our personal and leisure time is fleetingly small, and it’s best to spend it with those you really know well and care about. This is no disrespect to your coworkers (you might be close friends with them, after all) since they have friends and family whom they’d probably rather be doing holiday stuff with as well.

With all this in mind, it might be better just to shelve the office holiday party until next year, when we at least have a chance of making the most of them.



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