2020 has been a tough year for our industry and the end-of-year celebrations we use to blow off all that steam are potentially being postponed too. Will the annual Christmas party ever be the same again? H&E North discusses this with some key movers.

This year has presented many economic, social and emotionally challenges across the UK and the globe. There is no doubt that this will impact the usual merry sentiment around Christmas, not to mention the government restrictions which will likely hamper any planned large-scale celebrations.

Companies and event profs will have to figure out if there is an appetite for gathering together at the end of 2020, and with news on whether mass or group gatherings can take place still to be confirmed, the time when teams would normally be booking in their desired venues and finalising their chosen theme, is already upon us.

At the time of writing, it looks as though large gatherings of people are likely to be restricted for the foreseeable future, and this is leading to those who have forward-booked large work and office parties being told their party plans will not now happen: “Just as we thought 2020 could not get much worse, we’ve had to cancel our Christmas party – as have many of our clients. Our party venue isn’t sure how social distancing will work, so they aren’t bothering this year – it’s too much of a risk for them,” says Jonathan Ratcliffe from office space company Offices.co.uk.

Lavinia Stewart-Brown, founder of Stewart-Brown-Events

Lavinia Stewart-Brown of Stewart-Brown-Events

Still Come O Ye Faithful
Lavinia Stewart-Brown, founder of Stewart-Brown-Events, a boutique events planning consultancy, reveals that she anticipated that Christmas 2020 would not take the form we usually expect in the corporate world when her event planning activities came to a crashing halt in March: “Christmas Parties in 2020 are going to look very different, and I knew this would be the case from the beginning of lockdown.”

“A few of my corporate clients who work in banking, law and fashion have put their large annual Christmas party planning on hold. I was in the middle of doing venue tours at the start of March, looking for a venue that could accommodate more than 300 guests in a prime location. As soon as the lockdown was enforced the venue tours stopped and most corporates realised they would have a limited budget this year, with restrictions most likely in place.”

Instead Lavinia has been devising different ideas for alternative Christmas get-togethers for smaller teams that will have just as much, if not more personal impact for employees: “Rather than book a large venue for all 400 employees, the managers of each individual departments could take their staff out instead for a smaller celebration. The clients we are speaking to say their teams vary from approximately eight people up to 25 people. We are currently sourcing exclusive rooms in restaurants so they can have a private area just for them. We will create bespoke menus, style the tables, and give the area a theme if they wish, and some venues will allow us to bring entertainment. We are working with tighter budgets but can still create something special and fun on a smaller scale for employees.”

But this might not be suitable for everyone. Larger businesses that require their employees work in an office adapted for social distancing, might feel more comfortable returning to the classic ‘office Christmas party’ of old and host a bash within company premises: “One of my larger corporate clients has asked what we could create within the office environment that still allows for social distancing. We are exploring options such as having fancy dress items packaged and left on each employee’s desks for them to wear without having to rummage through a dress-up box that lots of people have touched.”

The lockdown has meant that Lavinia has sourced lots of new ideas to help the Christmas celebrations still feel special: “Why not bring in a bar company to not only make a bar and serve drinks from but also to go round and serve people at their desks from a fun drinks trolley? The bar and trolley can display a menu with cocktails named after things relating to their industry, or funny names to do with their bosses or characters in the workplace. We have also looked into quirky fun entertainment that can go hand-in-hand with an occasion like this, and if the offices have a kitchen, catering can also be provided with canapes or bowl food.”

For those who still cannot meet up in person, there are plans afoot to celebrate the usual office and work Christmas games but using virtual technology to bring Christmas cheer to all. Jonathan concludes: “We’re excited to see what everyone comes up with to replace the face-to-face Christmas fun – it’ll be the perfect for grumpy Scrooges that’s for sure.”

DON’T FORGET!

Tom Moyes of Blacks Solicitors

Tom Moyes of Blacks Solicitors

Although it might seem a little early to be thinking about planning a Christmas party, event planners and business owners should already be gaining an understanding of the COVID-related issues which might impact this. H&E North spoke to Tom Moyes, Partner at Blacks Solicitors who specialises in employment law about what to consider…

Data Protection
COVID-19 screening is something which may have to be put into place at all mass gatherings moving forward. If guests are being screened for COVID-19 on arrival, business owners and event planners should ensure that no personal or sensitive data is shared and the data is stored safely.

It may be necessary to have an internal track and trace system in place to ensure no guest has been in contact with someone who has COVID, but this can potentially lead to further GDPR and data protection issues which must be taken into account.

Force Majeure Clauses
Business owners should check the terms and conditions with venues in the event of cancellations caused by a second wave, as this would no longer be deemed a force majeure event.

Employers should investigate whether it is possible to postpone the hiring of the venue until the second wave has passed, rather than having to cancel and lose out on the deposit.

Insurance
Event planners, hospitality organisations and venues must be aware of their insurance cover in the event that they have to cancel. Business owners should review their existing policies to check whether they would be able to cover losses and liabilities. This extends to refunds to customers and/or pay-outs to suppliers where those services can’t be cancelled without payment.

Health and Safety
If the Christmas party is organised successfully and goes ahead, business owners may be held liable to ensure that they take reasonable care of the health and safety of every employee in attendance.

Employers should consider working with the venue and any suppliers to carry out risk assessments, to ensure the gathering complies with government guidelines and regulations to limit cross-infection and the spread of COVID-19.

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