Office holiday parties are back — and some companies are going all out
After years of virtual parties, some event planners say this year is their busiest yet
Pull out your ugly sweaters and wrap up a secret Santa gift, because workplace holiday parties are back.
After years of virtual get-togethers, companies big and small are scheduling sometimes lavish parties for their employees as the holidays approach. And event planners say this year, they're busier than ever.
"The volume of corporate inquiries that we're currently getting is higher than I've personally ever experienced," said Lynzie Kent, founder and creative director of Mad Bash Group, an event-planning firm in Toronto.
"A friend of mine works at a venue and they're currently facilitating an event for a huge company — thousands of people, over a $2 million budget and it's literally a circus."
Patrick McGannon, owner of PM Gigs, a Calgary company that books performers and entertainment services for events, said it's his busiest year in 22 years of business.
"We are going to shatter every record that we ever had," he said.
Companies eager to celebrate
Restrictions on gathering, brought about by the pandemic, limited many holiday parties to a handful of boxes on a screen for the past two years. Now, with restrictions largely lifted, company heads say they're eager to celebrate with employees.
For the first time since 2019, Calgary tech company Arcurve will host its annual holiday pub night, which in the past saw hundreds of partygoers pass through a local bar in one night.
"We invite all of our clients, we invite all of the staff, all of the staff's significant others," said Jay Gohill, the company's CEO.
"It's raising a glass and cheering the season and making sure that, you know, you get to see people."
This holiday season is bringing a sense of optimism to his company, said Casey Kelneck, executive director of Toronto-based Concierge Club, which co-ordinates in-person and virtual events.
"I think the pandemic itself has shown us the real value of doing things in-person," he said.
But, he admits that the pandemic's uncertainty had some clients slower to plan in-person gatherings, and says companies had been reluctant to make firm commitments.
"What that did was create a traffic jam at the end of the year," he said.
McGannon said many venues in Calgary are already fully booked for December. Meanwhile, everything from hospitality staff to entertainers are stretched thin. According to Kent, in Toronto, suppliers that provide equipment like tables and decorations are running out of stock due to demand.
Some event planners say companies seem to be spending more on parties than before.
"These parties are of a bigger scope. They're of larger size. They're adding more elements of entertainment to it, you know, trying to elevate experiences," McGannon said.
One event recently planned by Kent is a Great Gatsby-themed party. The event will have a 12-piece band, 1920s-era food, an oyster bar — and a champagne tower.
"It's these sort of unique themes that are just going to give people something special that they've never experienced before," she said.
An investment for businesses
Coming off of years of unique challenges presented by the pandemic, like remote work and a shifting employment market, the party planners said that celebrating employees around the festive season is important for engagement.
Parties are a great way to create opportunities for authentic conversations between colleagues and even clients, Kent said. For McGannon, it's a way to increase employee productivity.
"Having an event and thanking your employees is an investment," said McGannon. "I firmly believe that that is a motivator for productivity."
Kent said she's hearing a similar message from businesses.
"They really need their employees or their team or their clients to be able to connect in person, and to create relationships in person," said Kent.
"You want people to stick around, you want them to work for you, you want them to work hard for you.… A party is a great way to do that. It's not the only way, but it is a great way."
Pandemic contingencies needed
Still, rising cases of respiratory illnesses could put a damper on the celebrations, with hospitals across the country overwhelmed by viruses, and public health officials in several regions encouraging people to wear masks indoors.
Kelneck said that's something companies need to plan for. He added that companies should also accommodate attendees who may have a lower level of comfort in public events. Some companies are opting to take a hybrid approach, opting for both in-person and virtual options, he noted.
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And while the industry is in the middle of a boom, Kent is conscious that it will likely even out.
"I do think that a lot of this is just a reaction to not having been able to do these things for so long," she said.
"It's exciting for us and I welcome it with open arms, but I'm also quite pragmatic about the fact that it could slow down."
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At Arcurve, Gohill says the company is aiming to host a social event at least once a month going forward — gatherings are an important part of the company's culture, especially with much of the staff still working remotely, he said.
As for the upcoming pub night, he anticipates lots of excitement.
"I think we'll see a pretty big turnout for the event…. I'm looking forward to that aspect of it."
Radio segment produced by Jennifer Keene