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We work from home. Do we still want to party with our co-workers?

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TROY — It was early November 2019, and workers were nearing completion of Loft 433, a posh new banquet space on the top of the former Arrow shirt factory building along the Hudson River in Troy. Its first event would be in January, missing the crucial Christmas season, but it didn’t matter.

With its spectacular views, its outdoor terraces, and space for as many as 350 people, Loft 433 would be on everyone’s “must see” list in the coming year.

And for Sean Willcoxon, vice president of catering at Mazzone Hospitality, 2020 was indeed looking very bright.

Today, Willcoxon has adjusted to a post-pandemic world. The holiday season is here, but hardly any employer is throwing a company Christmas party, at least not in the traditional way.

Willcoxon and employers who plan the annual company party instead are coming up with creative alternatives, from virtual cocktail hours to online cooking classes and trivia games.

The internet — Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex — is tying people together. Part of the challenge is making the virtual get-togethers fun.

Food is a key factor.


“Maybe you have food that’s delivered,” said Adam Lawrence, chief talent officer at BST & Co. CPAs, LLP. “Our restaurants are really struggling right now.”

Lawrence, whose job includes maintaining a client company’s culture, also suggests activities that involve an employee’s whole family, such as a gingerbread making competition, or learning how to make pizzas.

Cost may be a factor. Some companies will pursue trivia nights, or do a virtual escape room, with participants breaking into teams to compete. It becomes a team-building activity, said Lawrence.

“You don’t have to spend a lot of money if your company hasn’t had a good year,” Lawrence added.

Many employees have been working from home since March, in the early days of the pandemic. The holidays are more important than ever in maintaining social ties. And while they may not be looking forward to yet another get-together on Zoom, food-oriented events can change their minds. “People need to eat,” said Willcoxon.

Mazzone Catering delivered 300 holiday meals to a construction site, and workers took the meals back to their cars to eat.

And it has created so-called holiday boxes — charcuterie, hot chocolate — that companies can send their employees as a way to thank them for their efforts.

For a retail client, Mazzone delivered ready-to-cook holiday meals, with choices including prime rib, pork loin and turkey.

Still, for those looking for more of a party event, they’ve created a couple different events.

“We can do a cooking show experience or a cocktail experience, or both,” Willcoxon said. “We deliver the ingredients, and the glass” for cocktails.

“We can have a chef come on, and show how to make the food, and do it together” with the employees online.

Willcoxon said that some client companies have employees who work remotely and in the past weren’t able to attend a company party in person.

But with Zoom, they can be included.

“This morning we shipped a box to Puerto Rico,” to an employee based there, Willcoxon said Wednesday.

Not every employer is planning a substitute for the traditional party. A survey last month by outplacement consultants Challenger Gray & Christmas found that just 23 percent of employers were planning some kind of a holiday celebration this year, down from 76 percent who planned to hold holiday parties last year.

And three quarters of those 23 percent planned to make their holiday event virtual.

“It is no surprise that many companies are forgoing the holiday party this year,” said Andrew Challenger, the firm’s senior vice president. “It’s difficult to celebrate and implement all the precautions needed to keep everyone safe. The last thing any employer wants is an outbreak due to their year-end party.”

But with the pandemic dragging on, holiday cheer has been in short supply this year.

“Millions of Americans are still out of work and many others are waiting to hear if their jobs still exist,” said Challenger. “Of those who are employed, many may be experiencing survivor syndrome or are dealing with other energy- and morale-sapping issues at home. It is imperative that companies look for ways to celebrate their employees.”

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