How to Reintroduce In-Person Gatherings Into Your Workplace

AJ Beltis
June 21, 2022
in-person work events, work events, in-person company gatherings, company events COVID

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: 

One of the biggest things employees are looking forward to about returning to the office is being able to socialize with their peers again. 

Chances are, however, that your workforce looks different now than it did in March of 2020. 

You’ve probably had some new hires and Great Resignation-related departures that have changed the makeup of your team. Employees returning to the office will see some familiar faces, but also some folks they’ve only met on video calls, or perhaps have never spoken to outside of Slack, Teams, or email.

Zoom ice breakers, Jackbox Game nights, and virtual after-work meetups have kept company culture alive. However, it’s clear that these alternatives don’t always hold a candle to a company-sponsored dinner or an evening out at a local sports game. 

Of course, we’re talking about the in-person gatherings that workplaces offered pre-pandemic—from quick happy hours to week-long corporate retreats. 

With remote work now considered a mainstay, companies need to balance the true need for real-time, in-person bonding while also respecting the possibility of discomfort related to in-person activities.

With that said, here are five things to remember when reintroducing in-person gatherings to your workforce. 

Related content: Bonding Remotely: How to Hold Remote Team Building Events

1. Develop a gathering strategy

The first step is to develop an in-person meetup strategy.

This plan should cover all the logistics of getting together, including:

  • How many people can meet up at one time. 
  • The overall budget of each event, including travel reimbursements. 
  • Who can attend (is the event company-wide or team-specific?).
  • Where the event will take place (on-site or off-site). 
  • What type of booking, reimbursement, and travel software you’ll use, to make things easier on your team.

Once you’ve finalized this strategy, you can document it in your company wiki and share it with your employees, and give everyone a chance to review and offer feedback. 

2. Set an attendance policy

Keep in mind:

While many are thrilled to be returning to the office, others have settled quite nicely into their permanent work-from-home lives. 

They might have moved out of the area entirely, making it a hassle to attend an in-person event. Or, they may still have hesitancies about seeing people outside of their immediate circle due to health concerns. Finally, they might just have obligations outside of work and can’t afford to sacrifice the time for a two-hour team dinner. 

For all of these reasons and more, consider making in-person gatherings optional. While you and your team members may be eager to see each other, not everyone shares that sentiment—and that shouldn’t be held against less enthusiastic employees or used as a pressure point to make them attend. 

If an event does require attendance (such as a company-wide offsite or a conference), be sure to communicate this expectation early enough in advance so attendees can make necessary arrangements. 

Related content: Should You Offer Flexible Work Schedules for Your Team?

3. Survey your employees for activity preferences

Two years is a long time to go without seeing your coworkers face-to-face. 

Your first in-person events should be a point of elation for those who have patiently waited for a work-sponsored get-together. So, when planning company get-togethers, who better to give input on what an event should look like than your team?

Aside from asking what specifically the event should be (laser tag, anyone?), it would be beneficial to get a feel for what general expectations employees have of events. 

Some questions to ask include: 

  1. What time of day would you prefer team events take place during?
  2. Do you prefer physically active, cultural, or purely social events?
  3. Would you be willing to travel for events? If so, for how long at a time?
  4. Would you prefer events that took place at the office or off-site?
  5. What hesitancies do you have about getting together in person, and what can we do to alleviate those concerns?

To gather this info, just send your team members a survey on Google Form with these questions. You’ll quickly have a list of appropriate activity ideas that your employees are sure to love. You can also use a tool like Doodle to determine a time and date that works for everyone to meet up. 

4. Keep it outside

This tip isn’t a requirement, but with a lingering uncertainty of COVID (and the warm summer months awaiting us), consider an outdoors-first mentality for team gatherings—at least for the immediate future. 

While this approach may seem limiting, there are plenty of outing activities that take place outdoors—here’s a few to consider:

  • Hiking (keep in mind that any physically strenuous activities should be handled carefully and need buy-in from your entire team, or you risk leaving out teammates with different abilities)
  • Kayaking
  • Breweries, outdoor happy hours, or rooftop bars (be sure to check in with your entire team that an alcohol-forward event isn’t making anyone uncomfortable) 
  • Outdoor dining 
  • Company barbeque or picnic
  • Concerts, live music in the park, or similar
  • Mini-golf
  • Baseball games 
  • City scavenger hunts (à la “The Amazing Race”)
  • Amusement parks 

As a result of the pandemic, people reported feeling significantly more comfortable having events outside than inside. These are just a few ideas to entice more employees to attend and to keep everyone safe. 

Related content: 6 Ways to Prioritize Employee Safety During COVID

5. Be generous

Let’s be honest: One of the major motivating factors of the Great Resignation was a perceived lack of appreciation

Employees have waited years to reunite (or meet for the first time). They deserve to celebrate by getting together in a more lavish fashion than they might have before 2020. 

Don’t be afraid to splurge a little on the first one or two events. These in-person gatherings are a chance for you to thank your employees for weathering the worst of lockdowns and the pandemic and sticking with your business. This could mean going to that slightly nicer restaurant or extending everyone’s stay for an optional additional night in town. 

These gestures can go a long way with making employees feel more valued in the moment, but also in helping them make stronger bonds with their teammates. Relationship-building is a core pillar of lowering employee churn, so while it’s a nice thing to do in its own right, allowing these connections to happen with longer, better experiences is also an investment in employee retention. 

Let’s get together, yeah yeah yeah

In-person gatherings are one of the very best parts of working together. A gesture of a company’s generosity towards (and investment in) its employees, they’re an effective way to help employees form bonds with each other and feel valued. 

However, managing these events safely and respectfully is essential as teams make their way back to the office. Keep these health protocols, employee preferences, and logistical priorities top-of-mind as you work to bring back company events.

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