Many company-wide events take place at the end of the year, from annual office parties to team retreats, to large-scale planning meetings. No matter how small or large the event is, committees responsible for organizing them have an important task to make them inclusive. Because it’s easy to forget small touches, a checklist helps us ensure that we make our events accessible and inviting to all. Our largest event each year is our annual holiday party. Here are some of the key things we keep in mind when planning this event to make it welcoming for all.
Food and beverage restrictions may be for religious or health reasons, and designing the menu to accommodate all needs can be tough. If you are unable to fully accommodate everyone, remember that simply asking colleagues about their constraints is an important step to making them feel included. If you won’t have enough menu items for someone to eat a filling meal, communicate this proactively so they can eat ahead of time. Do make an effort to offer at least one item that everyone can eat.
In addition to colleagues, don’t forget about the guests! Everyone is welcome to bring a guest to our annual party, so to account for all special food requests, we request all dietary restrictions about a month in advance. Using this list, we work with the catering partner to create multiple dishes to accommodate these needs. Don’t forget to request clear labels with ingredients, and offer variety: make sure your vegetarian options aren’t all fried, for example. Finally, remember that people won’t simply eat food based on their restrictions; everyone may want those dairy-free salmon sliders! Make sure you have enough.
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Parties are often synonymous with alcohol, but there are many reasons this can pose an attendance barrier to colleagues. Ensure that an assortment of non-alcoholic beverages is available for guests who don’t drink alcohol. Italian sodas, teas, seltzers, and mocktails are great options. Beyond the menu, you may also choose to start the party with a dry hour or a pre-event for individuals who are unable or uncomfortable being around alcohol.
When choosing a venue for our annual party, think about how the space can accommodate people’s physical needs. It’s good practice to ask colleagues and their guests about this, but keep in mind that accidents and illnesses can happen and create new or temporary needs. Make sure that there’s a ramp and elevator for people who may not be able to take stairs, consider how acoustic will impact people with a hearing impairment, identify lactation facilities (private room and clean refrigerator) for nursing moms, and non-gendered bathrooms for people who are non-binary.
In general, it’s challenging for parents and caregivers to attend events during non-work hours, due to care arrangements. Try to plan one or more family-friendly gatherings during the year, in case your colleagues are unable to attend other events. This year, our fun committee, organized a company fall picnic so that kids, pets and other family members could attend as well. Keep in mind the location, date and time when planning family-friendly events, but make sure all events give parents and caregivers plenty of notice. To make it easier for parents to attend adults-only events, we check in with everyone about child care assistance prior to our annual party. For some organizations, it may make sense to set up childcare services for employees onsite, or near the event location. You may also prefer to offer a subsidy to help your parents and caregivers with the cost while allowing them to choose the provider and location that makes the most sense for their dependents.
One downside to working remotely is missing the opportunity to participate in smaller company and team experiences. The annual holiday party or meeting is a good opportunity to bring all remote employees onsite with the rest of their colleagues. Make sure to set the date of the event as early as possible, so that these workers have enough time to plan their trip. If it’s their first time visiting the city, put together a welcome package that suggests local cultural attractions, restaurants, and shops to explore, and make sure that they have all the up-to-date public transport details. Also, if it’s their first time at the company office, be sure to schedule an office tour for them to view the space and meet other coworkers. If possible, consider offering to pay the travel expenses of partners and family members, so that they have an opportunity to meet team members as well. For those remote workers that cannot attend, consider sending a gift, recording any talks or toasts at the start of the event, and let them know they are missed.
Over the past few years, office holiday parties have gained a bad reputation. Remind everyone attending the event to be kind and respectful towards each other; a party is an extension of the workplace. This may seem redundant, but it is important that people are notified about company event policies ahead of time to set expectations. Additionally, designate individuals that people can talk to if something does happen, and make sure those individuals are trained on the company policy and reporting procedures. If alcohol will be served, encourage people to make transportation arrangements ahead of time, and remember that company leadership generally sets expectations around alcohol consumption by example. Make sure people understand that these rules and policies are meant to keep everyone safe.
Building an inclusive organization takes intentional, continual work. We want all our guests to feel included at our events and do everything we can to make the experience as welcoming and respectful as possible. Email us with other suggestions you may have to make office events, meetings and other gatherings more inclusive. We would love to hear from you!