As Christmas party season get underway, it’s a time for letting our hair down, decompressing and celebrating progress. In days of old this would be a company-wide party in the office canteen or a nearby venue, but in 2017 with 1.5 million people working remotely across the UK, managers must make sure they are inclusive of all staff.

Research by the Institute of Leadership and Management reveals the biggest benefit to socialising with colleagues at Christmas is team bonding (82%), while personal wellbeing was seen as another significant benefit (57%). Given the value of Christmas Parties for team bonding, it’s no surprise to find that over two thirds of the respondents hold smaller team events, either instead of company parties or as well as them. According to the stats, 28% have a ‘my team only’ event at Christmas instead of a bigger office party; by contrast, 29% said that they only attend the bigger office party. The largest proportion, some 44%, enjoy both.

However, our survey of over 1000 managers, also revealed that the festive season can leave some workers feeling isolated. As one respondent commented:

“We have a group at work who annually plan an expensive event aimed at a small group who live in a particular location. Although everyone is invited, the event always excludes remote workers who cannot get to the event without travelling 20+ miles, the price also excludes many and the type of event excludes others. Rather than helping with staff bonding, it annually reinforces divisions.”

And some flexible remote workers don’t want to go to the main office party because this can coincide with personal events too. A third (33%) of our respondents felt that office Christmas Parties kept them from other ‘personal social events’ and 12% said they actually couldn’t afford to attend.

The office Christmas party remains a huge part of the workplace culture but needs to be managed correctly. Christmas parties are a great way to build teams and improve internal communications and the money firms spend on them are a worthwhile investment in employee engagement, but we must be mindful of what kind of environment we create and of how different individuals can experience the party.

Whatever the difficulties posed by issues of location, culture and geography, virtual team leaders must still deliver team performance and organisational outcomes. Remote working is already embedded in the culture of some organisations, but leadership and management practice has not yet fully adjusted to the changes remote working requires. Technology supports remote working but the shift in working with people you see regularly to those that you see infrequently requires managers to reconsider their practice fundamentally and adjust accordingly.

For more on remote working please see the Institute’s research report Going Remote.

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