November 22, 2010, Brockton, Mass—In an effort to reduce expenses associated with company holiday parties given the continued economic uncertainty, a number of organizations are replacing their traditional parties with “virtual holiday parties,” online get-togethers with some of the attributes of physical events but at a fraction of the cost.
What is a virtual holiday party? According to meeting industry experts, these gatherings typically feature a live webcast of a company’s chief executive thanking employees for their hard work, followed by an open audio or video conference line on which attendees can ‘e-mingle’ via instant messaging or text messages with co-workers from the comfort of their cubicles, remote offices or homes. Some companies offer a virtual “Secret Santa” program in which employees can exchange virtual gifts. Others use the audio/video link-up to display a crackling fireplace with multi-denominational decorations representing the spectrum of religious faiths, as well as an appropriately diverse holiday music soundtrack.
“When our VP of human resources suggested a virtual holiday party as one of the initiatives to achieve her departmental cost-cutting quota, my first reaction was overwhelmingly negative–the concept screamed ‘tacky,’” said B. Morrison Gates, CEO of Planarity Consulting, a Pleasanton, CA-based company with offices in five states. “But after looking at the business case I decided it was brilliantly innovative. I mean heck, we have virtual servers, virtual offices and virtual identities, so why not virtual holiday parties. Bottom line, we reduced our event costs by 99%–which just about offset the bonuses we paid to our leadership team for meeting their cost-cutting goals.”
Some wonder whether a virtual holiday party can replace the warmth, frivolity and joviality of face to face events. Not to worry, according to Marissa Marington, a leading corporate behavioral psychologist. “The whole frivolity/joviality thing is a myth,” said Marington. “Recent surveys show that employees would, by a wide margin, prefer to avoid their company holiday parties. An evening of stiff-backed, awkward conversation, the risk of being seated next to a recently divorced sales director, the prospect of being anchored to a high maintenance spouse–these are not the hallmarks of an enjoyable tradition. And let’s face it, it’s a lot harder, although not impossible, to get drunk and embarrass yourself if you’re logging into the party from home in your jammies. It’s no wonder companies are experimenting with virtual holiday parties to reduce costs.”
But others feel as though the virtual holiday party is just another notch in the corporate cost-cutting belt—a trend that represents the dehumanization of workers. “This is an affront to every working man and woman across the world,” said Planarity union representative Bob Getteltoe. “Demeaning practices like the virtual holiday party are why we have unions in the first place. What’s next, virtual bathrooms?”
Recently however, stories have surfaced regarding companies trying to have their party cake and eat it too. “I have to say I’m a bit confused,” said Planarity executive administrator Holly Lindenflecht. “Right after Thanksgiving, I was accidentally copied on an email where all VPs and above were invited to a planning meeting to iron out the details of the virtual party. Sounded innocent enough but the planning meeting was at the Century Club and featured cocktails and expensive hors d’oeuvres–no Costco stuff. And the higher ups partied ‘til 3 am. So I kind of feel like those bleepity-bleeps had a real holiday party, while the rest of the company suffered through that online debacle.”
This is fiction/satire and not based on any real people, companies or practices that I am aware of.
Bob London is president of London, Ink, a full service marketing and communications consulting firm based outside of Washington, DC. www.londonink.com