Party Like It’s 2021!

It’s late October and the monthly management meeting is just coming to an end. Ninety minutes on a Monday morning in the boardroom, the one day that everyone is in the office; apart from Sue and Thomas who are on the big screen dialling in from home via Zoom.
“Thank you everyone, now, any other business?” asked the MD, shuffling his papers hoping for no response.
“What about the Christmas Party this year?”
And so began another 45 minutes of debate. It is a question being asked by hundreds of companies up and down the country that are just getting used to adapting to what is being called the new normal; and then along comes the curve ball about whether to encourage a social gathering and, bluntly, what can be afforded after 18 months in survival mode.
Back on the big screen Sue is looking horrified. Ever since the first lockdown she has flatly refused to return to the office. When Boris Johnson said work from home, she worked from home. And with a bedroom converted into an office and all the tools she needs to hit her target she sees no reason to change that and has had many a run in with HR on the subject. The thought of mixing with everyone in a social environment at a Christmas party is not one that appeals.
“I think it will be great to get everyone together again and let our hair down to celebrate the fact that we have made it through, and start bonding again.” It was Helen that had now perked up, pushing hard for a big party. “We missed out completely last year and those that only joined the company in February or March 2020 have no idea how great our parties are!”
Helen is the office party animal. At only 25 she was one of the last to be vaccinated but was also the one going out the most throughout the pandemic often ignoring the advice to wear a mask and socially distance. At the last Christmas party there was an unsavoury incident when Sue walked past the stationery cupboard and saw Helen in an awkward position with Paul from Accounts, a pack of Post-it Notes and some Sellotape. Sue never did reveal exactly what she saw, but the relationship between Sue and Helen had been strained ever since.
“I have to say, I don’t mind coming into the office on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday as agreed, knowing that we have the screens up between desks still and it is easy to keep our distance, but I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea of a full-on party at the moment.” Now it was the turn of Paul, the Senior Consultant. At 58 years of age Paul had been in the “vulnerable” category throughout the pandemic following a minor heart attack two years ago. A real shock to the system and one that brought an end to his heavy drinking and partying days.
“Couldn’t we just do the same as last year” he continued “let everyone have Christmas Eve off and send them a choice of a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates.” His suggestion was met by a series of jeers from the end of the boardroom table.
“Bah-humbug to you!” shouted Jane.
The MD immediately knew that he had a difficult decision on his hands and wished he had been more prepared for the question going into the meeting. Two years ago, the office party was the highlight of the year. The majority of the 100 strong staff would attend, mostly with their partners, at a hired hotel suite or at the function room of the local football club and everyone would have a fantastic evening before heading home and coming in the following morning, some with more sore heads than others, to laugh and joke about the stories that came out the previous night.
Things have changed now though. Over the past 18 months there had only been 30 members of staff working the whole time, another 30 had just returned from furlough at the end of September and were just getting back into the routine of working; 15 had left and found other jobs and another 25 were going through the “at risk of redundancy” process. The MD himself was in no mood for a party, he knew that a maximum of 8 would come through the process with a job. Yet, on the other hand, he owed it to his staff to give them a Christmas Party, to thank them for their loyalty and re-build the company morale that had been decimated by the pandemic.
After 45 minutes of differing opinions the MD finally banged his pad on the table, declared the meeting closed and concluded, “Let’s all go away and think about our options, and we can discuss it at the next meeting.”
The Christmas Party can had been well and truly kicked down the road; but it will be back, just like it will in management meetings throughout the globe in the next chapter of The New Normal Way of Working in 2021.

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