Nova Scotia

When COVID-19 crashes the office party

Many work parties are being cancelled or carried out in new ways amid the pandemic — a disappointment for some partygoers and a financial loss for the businesses that typically host and cater the events.

Online work parties mean slow times for companies that help host holiday events

Trampoline staff in Halifax carry on holiday festivities during the pandemic with a live Advent calendar via Zoom. (Mark Gascoigne)

Every year around this time, Saeed El-Darahali throws a holiday work party.

In past years, the president and CEO of the tech company SimplyCast in Dartmouth, N.S., has rented a local restaurant for his staff.

But this year, due to the pandemic, he is moving SimplyCast's seasonal celebrations online, and connecting with people at home.

"We're actually looking at potentially shipping a prepared meal to our employees and then playing an online game for about an hour or two," El-Darahali said.

With more people working from home and public health protocols limiting gatherings, many people are seeing work parties cancelled or carried out in new ways this year.

Office manager Danielle Bishop went from being excited about planning her first office holiday party for Trampoline, a branding agency in Halifax, to hosting an online Advent calendar for staff. Each day in December, she presents items from locally owned shops to her co-workers via Zoom.

"With this year we really had to get creative and still make everyone feel just as appreciated, if not more, than past years." Bishop said. "Everybody kind of needs a smile."

No revelry revenue

While workplaces are finding fun online alternatives for office holiday parties, restaurants, catering companies and event venues are feeling their loss.

This is normally one of the busiest times of year for Esther McLaran, who manages more than a dozen escape rooms in the Halifax area.

But even before the province tightened COVID-19 restrictions in late November, escape room bookings were down to primarily "bubble" families, not company events, she said.

Scanway Catering in Halifax has lost business catering holiday work parties in homes, offices and at hotels. (Scanway Catering)

The RCR Hospitality Group operates seven restaurants and 10 venues across Halifax, including the Lord Nelson Hotel, Discovery Centre and Cunard Centre.

Elizabeth Newman, vice-president of sales and marketing, said each location would have Christmas parties from mid-November to mid-December.

But without holiday office parties or client receptions this year, Newman said "our staff aren't employed" and "revenue is zero."

Put off, not call off 

It's a similar financial story for Scanway Catering, a company that's been operating in Halifax for almost 30 years. 

Business partner Raj Gupta said Scanway would normally be doing up to 12 events a day at this time of year.

But Scanway has lost 95 per cent of its business from holiday office parties and corporate events this year, resulting in a loss of tens of thousands of dollars in revenue.

"We have almost no events whatsoever," Gupta said. "COVID-19 has really hit us in this business industry with unprecedented force."

Dave O'Connor said Glow Gardens, an option for office parties, shut down before opening night because of public health protocols. (Aranza Coutino)

Dave O'Connor, president of the Glow The Event Store in Halifax, said the pandemic has been disastrous for anybody in the event business.

With hopes that better times are ahead, he suggests that holiday office parties be put off, not called off, this season.

"There's nothing wrong with having a Christmas party in either January or February, call it a winter carnival or winter festival," O'Connor said. 

"There's nothing wrong with doing something just a little later, because it's not a normal year by any stretch."


Katy Parsons

Associate Producer

Katy Parsons has been a journalist with CBC in Nova Scotia for more than 10 years. She's worked on news, current affairs and lifestyle programming. Contact her with story ideas at


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