Yes, You Should Attend Your Virtual Work Holiday Party—Here's How to Make the Most of It

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This time of year, workers' calendars are usually are jam-packed with office holiday events and year-end networking opportunities. With many office workers now logging in from home, however, employers are figuring out how to approach end-of-year celebrations to acknowledge workers' contributions during a tumultuous 2020.

According to a Monster survey of 1,700 respondents on Nov. 6, a majority 59% of workers said they would appreciate their company hosting a virtual holiday party, and 47% are fine with it taking place through a more informal video call.

"The purpose of a holiday party is to thank employees, build camaraderie, have some time to spend with colleagues and network," Monster career expert Vicki Salemi tells CNBC Make It. "A video call can do all that and may be the best and safest way to acknowledge people at the end of a challenging year for both the employer and employee."

While workers said they would miss being able to spend time with colleagues in person, as well as the usual holiday party food and drink spread, they recognized several benefits of a virtual event, such as eliminating a commute, pulling a "Zoom exit" to leave the event more easily and avoiding small talk with their boss.

A separate poll of nearly 3,300 LinkedIn users conducted this week finds that roughly two-thirds of workers say their company is not celebrating the holidays at all this year. Another sample of just under 2,400 LinkedIn members surveyed in mid-November found that roughly 1 in 2 would prefer a bonus over other seasonal activities or celebrations, and 1 in 3 would prefer extra paid time off during the holidays.

Organizations unsure of how employees want to recognize the end of the year should be transparent and simply ask, Salemi says, and accommodate where they can financially do so. For example, employees may request that funds that would otherwise be used for an in-person gathering or companywide gifts instead be distributed as a cash bonus or a charitable donation to a local cause.

Given the added pressures of living during a pandemic, Salemi says leaders should be flexible in how they recognize their employees; they can be respectful of employees' time by hosting an event during already existing meeting time, for example.

Depending on the size of the company, C-suite leaders may choose to send around a companywide email or video greeting, then leave smaller teams to decide how to commemorate in their own way.

How to make the most of a virtual holiday event

Regardless of what your organization chooses to do, Salemi recommends considering these events mandatory and making your best effort to attend. She adds that even 20 to 30 minutes can make a good impression and acknowledge the efforts your employer or the event organizer is making to show appreciation to employees.

Go in with a strategy about who you want to speak with, whether you want to introduce yourself to senior leaders, network with one or two people from other departments, or simply catch up with coworkers. Have some conversation starters in mind so they sound authentic rather than canned.

One way to work though the challenges of interacting in a large video-based event is to log on early right when it starts — there's no excuse to be fashionably late, Salemi says.

"Zoom rooms can get crowded in terms of who's speaking so people don't talk over one another, and especially when it's more social than work-related, so try to speak first and jump right into starting a conversation," she says.

 As for what to say while networking, especially with senior leaders you don't regularly work with, you might mention something they discussed in a companywide email or during a recent call.

"It may even be something more casual like noticing a family photo in their home office — was that on vacation?" Salemi suggests. "Be conversational, relaxed and yourself."

If you've had limited face-time with senior leaders, address them by name on the call so they know you're talking to them. Try to also state your name and job title or department so they can familiarize themselves with you.

Also remember that your colleagues may also be vying for time to speak, so be cognizant and respectful of that.

Gear up for the event in a similar way you'd prepare for a video job interview: sit in a quiet and presentable place in your house with good lighting, and shut off technology distractions.

If you're concerned about making an awkward exit — you're likely already home with nowhere else to go, after all — Salemi suggests you set a timer to leave and make a quick but courteous exit. "You can say something like, 'OK everyone, I need to leave and take care of something. Happy holidays to you and your family,'" Salemi says. "You don't have to make excuses for leaving, just bow out."

If you're unable to attend, it's a good idea to reach out to your manager or the event organizer directly and thank them for extending the invitation.

"Even if you have one foot out the door, I'd still attend," Salemi says. "You could be networking with current colleagues that will be your future boss, or vice versa."

"Just be flexible and have fun. You may actually like it."

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