After months of remote work and awkward Zoom calls, many hope to bring office parties back this holiday season. But is it possible to have safe gatherings while Covid continues spreading across the country? What precautions do companies need to put in place?
According to the CDC’s new holiday guidance, vaccines are critical, along with masks and avoiding large groups where possible. Additionally, cleaning and sanitizing while creating a plan to minimize risks is essential.
Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning an in-person party this holiday season:
Take It Outside
If possible, host your office parties outdoors this year. Covid-19 spreads more easily indoors, making an outdoor gathering the safer choice.
If your office party must be inside, the EPA recommends opening windows and doors to increase ventilation. You can also place fans in open windows and doors to blow the office air out and replace it with fresh air. If possible, HEPA filters are another effective option to filter air indoors.
Set Up for Social Distancing
Large gatherings increase the chances of Covid exposure. To minimize the risk, ensure you have enough space to implement social distancing measures based on the number of people attending the event.
To help make physical distancing easier, get creative with your office space:
- Modify room layouts and block off seats
- Rent extra tables and chairs
- Use multiple entrances and exits, and discourage crowded waiting areas
- Establish traffic flow plans to reduce bottlenecks, such as using tape to make walkways
- Install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions in areas where it is difficult to remain at least six feet apart
- If serving buffett style lunch or dinner, hirer servers or assign staff to serve to limit touch points
Think about social distancing in terms of time as well. For instance, if your office party has a long guest list, space out arrival times to prevent crowds from forming at the entrance. You can even throw several smaller parties, perhaps divided by department, rather than one large gathering.
It’s also important to remind guests about the risks they assume at parties and discourage physical touches such as handshakes and hugs.
To Mask Or Not to Mask
The CDC recently updated its guidelines regarding when to wear masks in public settings.
In general, if you’re hosting a party outdoors for vaccinated people, it’s OK to ditch mask requirements. However, your team should still consider wearing a mask when:
- In crowded outdoor areas
- In close contact with someone who isn’t vaccinated
- At an indoor event
So if you’re hosting an indoor party, the CDC advises you to encourage masks for all attendees, especially the unvaccinated. Inform attendees ahead of the event to bring and use masks, and consider having extras on hand for anyone who forgets.
Discuss your party expectations early, so everyone understands the ground rules about masks and other safety measures. At the party, post signs in high-traffic areas promoting proper mask-wearing, physical distancing, and hand hygiene tips.
What to Avoid
Singing and shouting can increase the risk of spreading Covid-19. Unfortunately, that means renting a karaoke machine isn’t the best idea for office party fun, even if you’re outdoors. If possible, keep music levels down, so people don’t have to shout or remove their masks to talk with each other.
Think About Testing
With the increased availability of rapid testing, you may want to require a negative Covid result as an extra safety measure for your office holiday party. This is now standard practice at many indoor concert and performance events.
Depending on your budget, you could also provide rapid testing on-site at the party or bring in a service to take guest temperatures at the door.
Food Sharing Tips
When most people think of traditional office parties, buffet-style serving dishes and potluck dinners come to mind. However, it’s best to cancel any self-serve food or drink options, such as buffets, salad bars, and drink stations. Instead, consider these alternatives:
- Individually boxed lunches or dinners for each attendee
- Small sealed bags of snacks instead of shareable appetizers
- Individual cans or bottled drinks rather than a beverage container and cups
- Pre-portioned condiments in small cups or packets
- Disposable plates and cutlery
If you have a food table with platters and bowls, assign designated staff members to serve the food from the other side, like in a cafeteria line. This will ensure utensils make contact with the least number of people. If you must handle food, wear gloves.
Good Gift Exchanging Practices
Many office teams exchange gifts during the holidays. You don’t have to let Covid turn you into a Grinch, but you should modify the process.
- Secret Santa. To streamline the number of physical gifts coming into the office, go with the age-old office tradition of assigning everyone a Secret Santa.
- Go electronic. If your company typically gives bonus gifts, choose presents you can email, such as Visa gift cards.
Keeping It Clean
Regularly disinfecting and cleaning your office building or facility is still one of the most effective methods to help keep your workers and customers safe. The CDC says cleaning surfaces once a day is usually enough, but consider adding sessions before and after hosting an office party.
Pay special attention to:
- Frequently touched surfaces, such as countertops, light switches, phones, doorknobs, toilets, and faucets
- Sanitize restrooms and kitchens frequently after heavy use with disinfectant products from the EPA’s List N
Ensure that you have adequate supplies to support healthy hygiene, including:
- Soap and water, and hand drying sources, like paper towels or hand dryers
- Sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol
- Tissues and disinfectant wipes
- No-touch trash cans
If you plan to host your office party at a private venue, inquire about its sanitization process and pandemic precautions. Additionally, ask about your group’s exposure to the venue’s staff.
The Bottom Line
We know the holidays can be stressful enough without factoring in health risks for your staff and customers. If you’d rather leave enhanced hygiene protocols to the professionals, contact us today. We’ll conduct a free risk assessment of your building at no charge and help get your office holiday party ready.