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How To Have An Office Holiday Party In The Pandemic

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Put the kibosh on a lot of things, including most office holiday parties. But injecting cheer into 2020 has arguably never been more important. So some employers are finding ways to party on. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: As a chill descended on New York City and the pandemic picked up steam, Trevor Kaufman wondered what on earth to do about his company's annual festivities.

TREVOR KAUFMAN: Normally, the Christmas party is a victory lap for the company.

NOGUCHI: Kaufman is CEO of Piano, a tech firm that manages paywalls for media sites. Typically, it's 600 employees - fly in from far flung places like Singapore and Oslo. Over a few days, they celebrate and bond over games and awards. Some are still holding in person parties, notably the White House. Many other employers, like Kaufman, are playing it safe. But the online alternative seemed so ho-hum.

KAUFMAN: Well, if we put everybody on Zoom, it's just another meeting.

NOGUCHI: So to keep staff connected, Kaufman hired celebrities to record custom videos,

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ICE-T: Sup, y'all. It's Ice-T. And this is a huge shout out to the Piano commercial teams. OK?

KAUFMAN: Ice-T, Lindsay Lohan and David Hasselhoff. We really needed people who were internationally recognizable.

NOGUCHI: Those videos will be mixed with live award presentations, sketch comedy and musical acts webcast to all staff.

KAUFMAN: It's almost like a mix of the Oscars and "New Year's Rockin' Eve" and "Saturday Night Live."

NOGUCHI: Figuring out how to party in pandemic is a lighthearted way to address worker burnout and other issues.

KAUFMAN: I worry very much that people have stresses that if we were in the workplace together, we might learn about but are kind of hard to identify because people aren't going to volunteer that information over Zoom in the same way that they would kind of around the coffee maker.

NOGUCHI: But coffee klatches just can't happen, so online holiday parties have become a booming niche market, one that's saving David Goldstein's business called TeamBonding. This spring, things look grim for the Boston-based event planner.

DAVID GOLDSTEIN: We had an event in Las Vegas for 4,000 people for Intel, and we lost that. And all after we lost that, we lost everything else.

NOGUCHI: But a few months into the pandemic, clients came back seeking ways to recreate a remote office culture. Suddenly, Goldstein was organizing hundreds of online murder mystery parties...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: But we know that's where the poison comes from, so that is one question.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NOGUCHI: ...And improv comedy get-togethers.

GOLDSEIN: Some things actually work better on Zoom. You know, our improv is actually - people are much more comfortable because they're in their home. They're having more fun because they're less nervous about what people think about them.

NOGUCHI: There are other perks to the remote office shindig - no need to hire a babysitter, no designated drivers and, says Tiff Daniels, no tipsy coworkers making unwelcome sexual advances.

TIFF DANIELS: It's almost impossible for it to even occur - even verbally, I mean - because you're on the screen with many people.

NOGUCHI: Daniels runs sales for Outback, a Vancouver team building firm. Another big benefit, he says, is that you can have large parties on a tight budget.

DANIELS: I can have, like, five or 10 gatherings and it's still going to cost me less than the one big gathering.

NOGUCHI: But I have one question. What do you wear to a Zoom holiday party?

DANIELS: I think probably no tie. Is my wife going to do her hair up like she would for an in-person, where she's got long hair and she might curl it up? She's probably not going to do that.

NOGUCHI: Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUSPO'S "BRASILIA E LUISA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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