PayPal, Pinterest leaders on 2021 holiday party plans

After another year of the pandemic, a few things have fallen to the wayside: the catered office lunch, the company-wide happy hour, the rigid schedule measuring worker productivity as hours logged at the office.

Even as some workers return to their desks, one event that feels poised for reinvention is the annual holiday party. What does this look like almost two years into the pandemic? Are employees eager to gather in-person? How will distributed teams celebrate the holiday season virtually?

To get a sense of where things stand, we asked leaders at a few companies what activities they’re planning this year:

Cate Luzio, founder and CEO, Luminary

“Everyone is fully vaccinated. We have been hosting in-person gatherings for many months, albeit smaller than in the past. We will be doing a Zoom version to celebrate the holidays, with some fun icebreakers, member moments, and storytelling. In-person will be more of a cocktails and conversation, plus a little karaoke.”

“Last year was completely virtual, and there was no vaccination. That has definitely been an important factor for us doing something in-person. However, we can’t forget about our global community—hence the virtual celebration, too.”

Franz Paasche, SVP and chief corporate affairs officer, PayPal

“Drawing on our culture of service and building on the commitment of our employees to make a difference, this season we’ve launched our ‘More Ways to Make a Difference’ campaign—an end of year skills-based volunteering, community engagement, and charitable-giving initiative.

Over the next five weeks, our employees will meaningfully engage with their communities all around the world through small Acts of Impact, all culminating in our virtual end-of-year gathering where we will showcase and celebrate these efforts. Employees across 52 cities, 26 countries, and 5 continents will enjoy celebrity cameos, cultural performances from global entertainers, a virtual dance floor, opportunities to support local small businesses, and more.”

Alexi Robichaux, cofounder and CEO, BetterUp

“We actually designed our holiday events to be hybrid-friendly from the early days, as we have a global, remote-friendly workplace. This has scaled through the pandemic.

Though not a ‘party,’ we’ve introduced 30-minute breaks 3 times a week for the rest of the year; they are fixed times the whole company participates in, as we know that making room for frequent, regular rest away from the computer expands capacity for creativity, productivity, [and] engagement. One holiday tradition we’ll be keeping up is our annual allocation for each employee to donate to charities.”

Kathrin Hamm, founder and CEO, Bearaby

“Breaking free from last year’s Zoom holiday parties and simply general busyness, we decided to celebrate in a more active and playful way through an outdoor scavenger hunt. [A] scavenger hunt allows us to reconnect and bond as a team, as we solve the riddles during the hunt, and interact with colleagues whom we don’t necessarily cross paths with during our day-to-day—all while feeling and staying safe outdoors.”

Harrison Fugman, cofounder and CEO, The Naked Market

“When we first went into the pandemic, our full team was based in San Francisco, and since then, we have grown our headcount four times and are now across five cities. So as we close out the year, it’s important for us to build culture in person by flying the team to an offsite retreat in Lake Tahoe for a few days of team building, strategy sessions, and fun.”

Julie Bornstein, cofounder and CEO, The Yes

“We’re still a young company, but pre-COVID-19, we did one big holiday party that included both our New York and San Francisco offices. This year, we’re hosting two local optional events and piloting a virtual ‘gratitude’ moment by asking our employees to recognize another employee by writing a note of gratitude for any way they have supported, inspired, or helped them. We want to encourage a culture of saying thank you and recognizing each other, which feels even more meaningful in a remote work environment.”

Rahul Vohra, founder and CEO, Superhuman

“As a fully hybrid company, Superhuman is aiming to celebrate in a way that’s safe and inclusive for everyone. For example, we’re running a company-sponsored ‘Secret Snowpal’, where employees can purchase surprise gifts for one another. We then have an #unwrapping Slack channel where folks can post pictures and videos of their unwrapping experience. And finally, for anybody who opts out of the event, we will make a toy donation to charity.

We are also organizing opportunities to volunteer. Just as with Secret Snowpal, we are leaning into our hybrid model and including options for both in-person and remote employees.”

Larry Gadea, founder and CEO, Envoy

“We’re having in-person holiday parties at each of our locations after hearing from our people that they miss the celebratory get-togethers. We’re thinking about possible themes and maybe a talent contest with prizes.

We’re recreating a vibrant workplace for ourselves—and a big part of that is helping our people build better and deeper relationships while at the office and through events like holiday parties. A lot of folks are new to our company, and they want to get to know each other better. Remote work has its place, but the best way to connect is in those in-person moments and group experiences.”

Kacy Ashley, senior manager of employee inspiration programs, Pinterest

“This holiday season at Pinterest, we will not have an in-office celebration; however, we are giving back to nonprofit organizations who are focused on environmental sustainability.

[Since] we haven’t been able to come together in person over the past 20-plus months, we have been mailing moments of joy to Pinployee homes to increase shared connections as a remote workforce. We recognize the impact that has on the environment, which is why we’re giving Pinployees $100 to donate to a selection of leading global environmental nonprofits leading the charge on climate change, [that] have powerful missions and proven track records of environmental impact. We’re also encouraging employees to use their ‘volunteer time’ off to serve communities in which they work and live.”