7 Tips for COVID-Safe Holiday Gatherings in Your Small Business

by Edgar R. Olivo

The holiday season is upon us, and COVID-19 continues to affect lives and businesses around the world every day. Throwing a holiday party is a popular tradition for small businesses and workers. It is a time that provides a space for gratitude and appreciation of work well done throughout the year. As more people get the vaccine, companies are bringing the tradition back with some extra precautions.

This year employers are especially concerned with making employees feel appreciated and engaged, as concern continues to rise over the trend of the great resignation. Last year, holiday gatherings were different for most people. Many had to celebrate with colleagues and family members over Zoom calls rather than in person.

While COVID-19 infection rates are on the decline and workplaces are starting to reopen, proceeding with caution when planning your company holiday event this year is still very important. This year, it may not be necessary to skip the celebrations, but you probably will need to adjust your plans to move things virtual or scale down in-person gatherings that meet CDC guidelines.

Here are seven tips on how to get people together this holiday season without putting them at risk of a COVID-19 infection.

  1. Practice safety in your planning. For businesses that moved operations to remote workplaces, a virtual party may be the easiest option. But for workplaces that have reopened, following all CDC guidelines will ensure that you are keeping the safety of your team in mind. To see a list of CDC guidelines, visit the Centers for Disease Control website. The CDC has set some guidelines for in-person holiday gatherings this year. If you decide to follow this route, ensure that you are following the established guidelines. Do not attend or host a gathering if you are sick, and get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive.
  2. Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people should still wear masks. Unvaccinated people, as well as those with unvaccinated or immunocompromised people in their households, should wear well-fitting face masks over their nose and mouth while attending gatherings. Events where people engage in behaviors such as interacting with others from outside their own household, singing, shouting, not maintaining physical distancing, or not wearing masks consistently and correctly can increase risk.
  3. Avoid crowded and poorly ventilated spaces. Some companies like to rent spaces at hotels or restaurants to gather their workers for holiday events, but poorly ventilated spaces can increase the risk of infection. Events with more people increase the likelihood of being exposed. The size of the event should be determined based on whether attendees from different households can stay at least six feet (two arm lengths) apart. Physical distancing at events can reduce transmission risk — for example, blocking off seats or modifying room layouts.
  4. Limit attendance and keep a record of attendees. Host more intimate gatherings this year; it is a lot easier to keep track of attendees in case you need to do contact tracing. If you have multiple business locations, host smaller individual gatherings for each one. Team bonding with those from their own locations can have greater impact on employee engagement and work performance. If you have a large workforce, consider giving your department heads a budget to do something special for their team instead a company-wide holiday gathering.
  5. Consider outdoor celebrations. The CDC has encouraged outdoor gatherings this year because they are less risky than indoor events. The CDC recommends if you are setting up outdoor seating under a pop-up, open-air tent, ensure guests are still seated at least six feet apart. Using enclosed four-wall tents will have less air circulation than open-air tents. If the outdoor temperature or weather forces you to put up the tent sidewalls, consider leaving one or more sides open or rolling up the bottom 12 inches of each sidewall to enhance ventilation while still providing a windbreak.
  6. Say goodbye to buffet-style serving. Buffet-style serving is convenient and, in some cases, more affordable. But people probably will not feel comfortable with communal serving options like buffets, snack bowls, self-serve pitchers or pre-poured beverages. Avoid offering any self-serve food or drink options, such as buffets, salad bars and drink stations. Consider having pre-packaged boxes or bags for each attendee. Invest in bartenders and catering staff to individually serve people.
  7. Consider hosting a virtual holiday party instead. The safest option this year will once again be to host your company’s holiday event virtually. Virtual holiday parties have become a new holiday tradition and have the ability to create a sense of community for workers you do not get to see during off hours. There are many activities, like dressing up in your favorite holiday sweater, scavenger hunts or gift exchanges. Nowadays, you can host a hybrid event for some employees who can be on-site while others join through Zoom and other platforms. This gives you the chance to include vulnerable individuals who cannot attend the party physically.

Assuring the safety of yourself and your workers is a top priority in your small business. There are many ways to celebrate safely this year, and following CDC guidelines and local mandates will give you peace of mind. If you plan to incorporate an in-person component into your workplace celebrations this year, use your best judgment and keep yourself updated on the changing conditions in your area.

EDGAR RAFAEL OLIVO is a bilingual business educator, economic advisor, and contributor for several media outlets. He’s a nonprofit executive who is passionate about education. He is certified in finance and data analytics and holds a business degree from Arizona State University.

Para la versión en español de este artículo, haga clic aquí.

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