6 Dec 2022

Office Parties in a Hybrid Working Era

Office parties have taken a hit over the last two years. The convivial and
raucous get-togethers of the pre-pandemic era seem like a distant memory,
and many of us may be finding it hard to reboot old office traditions.
The advent of hybrid working has taken a lot of wind out of our sails. In the
days of 9-5 working, we socialised with our colleagues all year – lunches out,
after-work drinks, planned team-building events, spontaneous outings. Now
our workforce is scattered, atomised array of postage-sized images at a
weekly Zoom meeting, or a series of ships that pass in the night, as we all
evolve our own working patterns.

For some people this is the ideal option: they thrive in their home office, find
their new working lifestyle blends in perfectly with family and childcare
obligations, they do not miss the ups and downs of office social life at all. But
this is not the case for many workers, who – while they may appreciate more
flexible working practices – sorely miss daily human contact, office gossip,
office friendships.

This year we need to take a fresh look at office parties. We are no longer
subject to Covid restrictions, we are free to meet in person. The question is do
we want to?

Many managers, who are keen to build productive teams and foster loyal and
supportive friendships amongst their staff, will recognise that now is the time
to break free of our virtual bonds and meet in the flesh. A group celebration of
a successful year is always a bonding experience, and erstwhile colleagues
will enjoy the chance to see each other again. We no longer need to indulge
in on-screen cocktails, quizzes and drinking games have been consigned to
the (online) past.

Perhaps it would be sensible, since this is the first ‘normal’ Christmas since
2019, to take baby steps. Your increasingly scattered and de-institutionalised
staff might find a big corporate bash overwhelming. For people who have
embraced a solitary work life, the social shock to the system might well be
over-stimulating, leading to drunken dramas and histrionics. This year, it might
be easier to place the emphasis on smaller team celebrations. These will be
easier to organise – rounding up a team who have unpredictable working
patters and are used to being at home could turn into a logistical nightmare,
so give them plenty of warning.

Some offices, undaunted, will be reverting to their pre-pandemic office party
rituals. Whatever path your workplace decides to go down, follow our
recommendations and get the most out of your return to Christmas
socialising:

How to Handle the Office Party

Behind the gloss of festive celebrations and the camaraderie of Christmas
lunches is the reality that you are socialising with colleagues under the
watchful eye of those further up the food chain.

Socialising, chatting to everyone, being helpful about making introductions
and getting drinks are all ways of fully participating in the party that will play
well with bosses and team leaders. So do your best to showcase your
manners and charm. Go to the party armed with some icebreaking
conversation (extra-curricular activities, families, holiday plans). Circulate and
socialise but keep it upbeat and general. Don’t talk shop, you’ll come across
as a work-obsessed bore.  Now is the time to get to know your colleagues, so
don’t spend the evening bitching and backbiting. Steer clear of mistletoe and
keep goodnight kisses innocent.

When conversation falters it’s all too easy to fall back on unchecked alcoholic
intake. Inhibitions fall by the wayside and inner truths are broadcast to all and
sundry (clumsy crushes, latent dislikes). Office socials may look very much
like any other party, but never forget they are a test of interpersonal skills and
how you fit into the company.

Follow the basic drinker’s survival guide: avoid shots, eat well, alternate drinks
with water. If you fear your behaviour is getting out of hand, withdraw
gracefully. Keep your eyes open for flagging colleagues; helping them to find
coats and hail taxis is an act of responsible friendship, which may be
observed and applauded.

Thanking the host on departure is basic good manners (you can usually slip
quietly away from larger parties).

Office Party Dos and Don’ts

  • Do make an effort to look smart and well-groomed, and ensure you adhere to the dress codes, if specified.
  • Do circulate and socialise but keep it upbeat and convivial. Asking about plans for the Christmas holiday is always a good starting point.
  • Do make the most of the opportunity to network with your colleagues and clients. Use small talk as a pleasurable way of making contact and cementing relationships.
  • Do ensure that you’re democratic in your mixing: this isn’t the place to schmooze your bosses and ignore your team, or to form an impenetrable clique with your favourite colleagues.
  • Don’t gossip, spread rumours or confess your sins. The party might feel like a chance to let your hair down, but any confessions of incompetence or scandalous indiscretions will be remembered long after the tinsel is taken down.
  • Don’t let bonhomie turn into sleazy indiscretion. Office parties are a very public forum, and any missteps will be observed and noted. You don’t want to be watercooler gossip fodder the morning after.
  • Don’t ignore the warning signs if you feel drink is taking its toll; hail a taxi before any late-night lasciviousness or boisterousness comes back to haunt you.
  • Don’t crawl in hungover and late (or worse, call in sick) the following day. It’s unforgivably unprofessional. Don’t look smug about it, but now is the day to bounce in on time, on the case and seemingly indestructible.

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