The right ways to (finally) celebrate the end of 2020

Here in the United States, it's almost Thanksgiving. That means less than 30 working days left in 2020. Somehow, the year that’s seemed like it might never end is actually almost over. 

In any other year, this is the time when we’re normally planning for next year, focusing on finishing the year strong, celebrating the holidays and hitting milestones.

And it’s not that we’re not doing those things this year, but the environment we’re doing them in is so different than any other year we’ve experienced. So what do you need to be thinking about to keep your team happy, healthy and engaged during the final weeks of 2020?

I probably don't need to tell you, but this end-of-year is going to be different. Fewer people will be traveling. Many will be celebrating their holidays virtually, in smaller groups, or on their own. Your team may have experienced layoffs or pay cuts. You haven't seen each other in person in months. 

But some things remain unchanged. Schools will still close. Your team still needs time to rest and recharge. You still need time to rest and recharge. You still need to mark the passing of another year.

Holiday and end of year celebrations are important traditions - to take time to acknowledge everyone’s hard work, to enjoy the fruits of your labors, to take a breath. But how can you do that this year?

Celebrate the end of the year

To mark the passing of another year, many companies hold parties or in-person celebrations to bring everyone together. But you can’t do that this year. Do you want a virtual party? How would that work? Would it even work? Or is everyone just too tired of Zoom meetings?

I’m not comfortable suggesting any in-person events right now, even if they’re outside and socially distant. COVID cases are climbing again across the country, and everyone’s tolerance for these kinds of gatherings is different. Some of your team members may be quarantining before a family gathering. Others may be high risk or have higher-risk people in their households. Some may already be stretching their personal risk levels. To keep your employees from feeling like they need to make a tough choice, just don’t consider an in-person event at all. Don’t add more stress to the pile.

But we all know Zoom happy hours can be exhausting. Are there other ways you could get together virtually? Consider a scavenger hunt or digital show and tell. Arrange a trivia night. Hire a comedian or musician to host a virtual set. There are lots of fun activities that actually translate well online. 

If you want a party, think creatively. Instead of a typical video meeting where everyone sits at their computers in their home offices, what if you all changed things up? Take your computers outside or to the living room. Invite family members or pets. Consider a festive dress code - like ugly holiday sweaters or cocktail attire. Anything to make this Zoom event special, different.

Have a themed snack or cocktail people can prepare in advance, so you’re all eating and drinking the same things together. (And include a holiday bonus to cover the costs of these supplies for your team.) Create a shared holiday music playlist everyone can contribute and listen to together. 

Consider sending a gift to your employees' homes. Think of cozy swag like slippers, socks or scarves, or gift cards to local grocery stores or meal delivery services. Or something to eat or drink - a sweet treat or set of coffees or teas. Find something indulgent or practical this year.

Create holiday Slack channels for your team to share Thanksgiving recipes or trade photos of their holiday traditions. Have a holiday pet contest. Vote on who has the best decorations. Find ways to have a little fun, to make things festive and celebratory. 

Find time to help others

In times of uncertainty, one of the best ways to feel more in control is to help someone else. Most companies do something philanthropic this time of year. You can and should still do that this year.

Host or attend a virtual charity event. I’ve been to a few online fundraisers this year, and they’ve been well organized and successful (and actually easier to attend since you can just dial in from home).

Organize a toy or food drive for a local organization. Ask your team members to collect items and then put them outside at a designated time. Recruit a few volunteers with a truck to go around and pick up the items from everyone’s homes and deliver them. 

Ask for ideas from your team. Many of your employees will have organizations they already work with that could use some help. Just find a way to help others, since so many people will have a difficult holiday season this year. 

Use this time to think proactively about next year

Another way to cope with the uncertainty and anxiety of something like a pandemic is to be proactive about what you can control. We've got at least six more months of this, so how can you prepare for those six months and what eventually lies beyond that? 

Use some time before the end of the year to sit down with your teams to talk about what you've learned this year, and what you'd like to change moving forward. Are there things you can change to help people continue to work from home productively? Are there projects or plans you could make once the pandemic is under control? Give your team something to look forward to, and something they can control.

And if you're planning a virtual sales kickoff, read our tips for making a virtual SKO effective

Plan ahead and communicate clearly

Give people plenty of notice for whatever you're planning for the next month or two. Schedules will still fill up around the holidays. If people will be shopping online for any of these events, they’ll need more time to plan.

Recognize that this could be a harder holiday season than normal for your team. Many people won’t be able to see their families or celebrate the same way they have in years past. Managing mental health may be more difficult this year.

Watch for signs of distress in your team. Check in. Listen. Show empathy. Provide resources for anyone who might be struggling.

Be clear about your expectations for work. Don’t assume that just because someone isn’t traveling this year, they will still want to work every day. Everyone should take some time off before the end of the year. It’s been an exhausting year, and lots of people need a break. So be clear about schedules, and who will be on call when. Communicate this to your customers, as well. Post availability on your website and social media. Don’t be afraid of overcommunicating.

Do your best to balance celebration, relaxation and production as we close out the year. Your team (and your future self) will thank you for it.