TORONTO – When the holidays arrive in December, Rogers Communication Inc. usually as efficient as elves to turn the Rogers Center into a carnival.
They arrange half-way rides at the Toronto baseball field and hire face painters and entertainers to thank more than 8,000 employees and their families for a year of hard work.
Although the baseball field is empty this year, the elves haven’t hung their hats. Instead, they offer personalized Santa phone calls and host an online variety show featuring performances by the Arctic merry man, Inuit throat singers Piqsiq, and a slew of celebrities they keep secret until the big day.
The revamped holiday party comes as COVID-19 has forced companies to rethink their usual December festivities.
In pandemic hotspots, this means that virtual gatherings become dazzling, while others in locations with fewer cases of the virus choose to host parties, but strictly enforce social detachment and masks.
Many will send tokens of appreciation to employees or offer free time or cash, but some will forgo any kind of celebration to limit spending and acknowledge a difficult year.
Rogers came up with his new plan almost as soon as the pandemic started to cause shutdowns in March, said corporate events director Emma Shaw.
“Because this year was so tumultuous … having something that offers a little bit of normalcy and consistency … we thought it was a win-win for everyone,” she said.
Royal Bank of Canada uses a similar road map. It hosts 150 virtual galas for every flow of the business and a company-wide, family-friendly video experience – a departure from leaving holiday events to divisions and affiliates to plan for itself.
The one-hour pre-recorded presentation will feature celebrities – the bank didn’t want to spoil the surprise and name one of the planned musicians, chefs or dancers – and will close with a message from chief executive Dave McKay.
“Not recognizing our people was not on the table,” said Curtis Hitsman, RBC’s Senior Director of Recognition Programs.
“If there was a year to recognize the efforts of employees, this is it.”
But some companies still feel that the holiday spirit can be celebrated without a screen.
Flying Apron Inn and Cookery in Summerville, NS received three bookings for corporate holiday parties in mid-November.
“There is a dental practice that gives private cooking lessons in our space. They are together all day anyway, so they are not going to do anything virtually ”, says co-owner Melissa Velden.
“With this other group, this is the third year they have come to us for their Christmas party and these are actually the most people they will ever have.”
Indoor dining is still allowed in several regions of Atlantic Canada, but Fields limits the number of guests, scraps buffets, and requires masks when not eating.
She has heard other companies ship local food baskets to staff, pay the bill for each employee to treat their family to dinner, or cancel the holidays altogether.
“People are so tired of Zoom meetings that they don’t want to have a virtual Christmas party and prefer something more personal later on,” said Fields.
Some, such as OpenText Corp. and TC Energy Corp., will stop altogether. It in Waterloo, Ont. Established technology company and the Calgary oil and gas company said they would each donate at least $ 1 million to local charities rather than holding companies.
Manulife Financial Corp. announced it will give all 35,000 employees money to do acts of kindness, such as helping neighbors in need or donating to charity.
Others rely on the home offerings – meal packs, wine tastings, and wine club memberships – from Stephen Beckta’s fine dining restaurants in Ottawa.
For $ 100 per person, Beckta delivers cold cuts and at least four wines to the homes of employees, customers, or donors. Later on video, a sommelier will show them what to sip and sip.
Beckta can tailor packages to specific tastes or higher budgets, as he recently did for a client looking to focus on BC
“We do a lot of it,” he said, noting that companies appreciate the arrangement because they can give something tangible and not just settle for one more video call.
Cineplex Inc., Canada’s largest cinema operator, knows that sentiment well.
The company recently started offering auditorium rentals for as little as $ 125 for 20 guests who can easily distance themselves in a large theater.
Cineplex received more than 2,500 inquiries in the two days following its launch, and many came from lawyer, real estate, grocery and automotive companies thinking of holiday meetings, spokesman Sarah Van Lange said in an email.
But not every company is experiencing a boom.
Carla Smith of the Rolla Skate Club in Vancouver can usually count on a flurry of bookings, but the COVID-19 restrictions are putting a chill on holiday bookings this year.
“Our capacity in our huge space is limited to 15 people including staff, making the feasibility of even trying to host a private event very limited,” she said.
“The juice is not worth us this year.”