How to feel festive when working apart

How do we celebrate to raise spirits and engagement with our people? Wendy Carter provides some ideas.

The transition to remote working during 2020 has delivered both challenges and positive opportunities for change in how we engage with our teams. Despite the potential benefits of working from home, not everyone is happy with the current working restrictions. 

Some employees may not feel comfortable working with the people they live with, or they might not have an appropriate environment for working from home.

Similarly, employees may feel isolated. It has been many months since the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic, and for some this is clearly impacting on their mental health. The Centre for Mental Health predicted that up to 10m people in England – almost a fifth of the population – will need mental health support as a direct consequence of Covid-19.

Two thirds of Brits admitted to feeling lonely during the first lockdown, and although this study didn’t specifically ask about working from home, it’s likely that the lack of office interaction contributed to this sense of isolation.

Many of us have reflected on how and when we communicate with our employees, the frequency and method of communication, along with our management style.

If ever there was an opportunity for a fresh approach to the traditional style of middle management, the time is now. For some managers, particularly those only experienced in leading teams from close proximity, remote management can be uncharted territory.

Christmas parties and after-work drinks are almost certainly out of the question this year but virtual experiences and events are an alternative way to engage and motivate remote working employees

Consequently, more traditional management styles, when used with a remote workforce, are becoming a growing source of employee complaints for bullying and harassment.

With the festive season fast approaching, keeping our employees feeling engaged and included is crucial. Recognising and responding to the individual needs of each employee is a great way to demonstrate that you care about their wellbeing and is an effective tool for motivating and engaging staff members.

Christmas parties and after-work drinks are almost certainly out of the question this year but virtual experiences and events are an alternative way to engage and motivate remote working employees. So, what are the practical ways of getting our employees enthused and embracing the festive spirit this year?

Themed calls

The increased use of video communication in 2020 means that many of us are experiencing video conferencing fatigue, however, you can take your regular meeting beyond the ordinary by encouraging colleagues to add their own background image, adding a dress code and using breakout rooms. 

Staff members can meet from other departments, different areas of the business and different countries. Forget the regular team meeting agenda, and perhaps add a competitive element with quizzes and trivia; there are plenty of online tools to support this.

Virtual events

There has been an explosion in virtual events and you can do everything from a day at the races to cocktail mixing and cookery classes. Virtual events could all work well for festive bonding, particularly if a pack with all ingredients is sent out to employees prior to the event.


For something really festive, the Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol themed virtual tour from London Walks can be booked for teams, or for the more adventurous, virtual escape rooms and photo booths are great fun and create memorable experiences.

Office gifts

2020 hasn’t done away with office gifts, we just have to approach it differently and actually, working from home might be a blessing. A recent survey found that over 75% of office workers dread opening a gift in front of colleagues in case they don’t like the gift they have received, and 69% of people haven’t liked a gift given to them at work.

A good way to get around this is to suggest a group collection, everyone puts in £5 and it goes towards a lovely meal once restrictions allow, or to a chosen charity.

Secret Santa

If you still want to do Secret Santa, use free online tools for drawing names, set a date and a budget with gifts sent directly to your colleague.

Gift cards are set to be incredibly popular for 2020, particularly local, multi-venue gift cards that support shop local such as Town and City Gift Cards which are active in over 50 places around the UK, from £5. Handily for those working from home, they can be posted out directly to colleagues with a gift message.

Collaboration tools

As much as there is the temptation to plan elaborate events and activities to try and capture that festive feel for teams working virtually, remember that communication that is little and often can help to keep spirits high through the Christmas period, particularly if it’s a busy period in your workplace.

Tools such as Teams and Google Hangouts offer an effective way to interact and engage with colleagues on a daily or at least weekly basis, checking in on how people are regularly. Remember too to celebrate the little occasions in the same way you did in the office, the birthdays, the engagements, the retirements, through the festive season and beyond.

Company awards and a thank you

Every employee will appreciate the acknowledgment of their hard work during what has been the strangest of years. Company awards are a good way of engaging your colleagues, whether the categories are funny or serious, it’s important to toast the key achievements through 2020.

Similarly, it may be deemed as traditional or even old school, but a handwritten note from the boss or CEO with a Christmas gift or hamper is a perfect way to say thank you for a job well done.


There are many ways for virtual teams to stay connected this Christmas, for employers to show their appreciation for their teams and for colleagues to keep on developing and strengthening relationships with colleagues to enable better working. The obligatory Christmas party needn’t be obligatory, and for many teams, 2020 will be the year the office party became a thing of the past.


About the author

Wendy Carter is the founder of group collecting platform Collection Pot


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