When Lynn Theodoro and her team at Xerox went remote in 2008, it meant that they couldn’t all easily attend any of the company’s annual holiday festivities. So they had an idea, she said: “Let’s have our own parties.”
Since then, the virtual gatherings she’s organized have become a tradition, complete with recipe exchanges and charity gift donations. Theodoro, Xerox’s director of employee relations, says that last year, about a dozen people were in “attendance”—meaning they were all logged into WebEx, a corporate videoconferencing platform. They chatted, they drank festive beverages, and they sent around recipes just as they might PowerPoint decks.
The annual party has spawned other online gatherings, with Theodoro’s team occasionally congregating on WebEx for Halloween (costumes and all) and a pre-Thanksgiving send-off. Earlier this year, they gathered together to mark the turning of the seasons, albeit in the manner of telecommuters: On the first day of summer, they went on a trip to the beach. Of course, the party wasn’t an actual trip to an actual beach; it was a JibJab animation with coworkers’ faces superimposed on cartoon characters who were swimming, surfing, and sunbathing.
However humdrum many IRL office holiday parties and happy hours may be, they aren’t without their benefits—for one, getting coworkers talking with each other about things other than their jobs, which many human-resources managers appreciate in a team-building, trust-falls sort of way. Remote-work arrangements, dispensing as they do with common physical spaces, often means skipping these (somewhat stilted) corporate gatherings. But some people who manage remote teams are figuring out ways to enact annual social rituals online, and say they’re pleased with the results.