On a recent evening in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, a group of revelers gathered to partake in a tradition as old as desks: The office holiday party. Every detail was just as you might imagine, from the stiff drinks to the ironic sweaters to the secret Santa gift exchange set to a playlist that jumped from Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas" to the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" with a smattering of vintage Beck thrown in before the karaoke portion of the night kicked off. There was even a sexy Santa and Mrs. Claus posing for photos with the guests. The only thing missing from this office party was, well, the office.
It may sound like an existential koan--how does one without an office attend an office party?--but in an increasingly freelance, telecommuting world, for many people this is actually a very real consideration.
The Gowanus No Office Holiday Party was thrown collectively by the websites Brokelyn, Brooklyn Based, F'd in Park Slope, and the email newsletter the skint. "A lot of our writers and readers and editors are freelance types who spend a lot of time at home in front of their computers all day," Brokelyn's managing editor, Tim Donnelly told Fast Company. "We're not in a position to hand out bonuses, but we can hand out fun bonuses. The drinks were pretty cheap and the punch was pretty strong. The benefit is the human contact. To know you're not alone out there hacking away at the Internet all day in a silo."
Donnelly, 30, knows whereof he speaks. Like many of the attendees at last week's party, he's a freelance writer doing his best to survive as part of the post-downsized, independent workforce that has colonized cafes, libraries, and home offices across the country in the last few years. "We're part of a broader movement of the economy," he said. "You don't need to be trapped in a corporate office to be a quote-unquote success." (Donnelly writes regularly for Inc.com, which shares a parent company with Fast Company.)
The same night as the Brooklyn party, there were two other non-office holiday parties in Manhattan, each offering a chance for freelancers to set aside their MacBooks and interface the old-fashioned way. Housing Works Bookstore Café in Soho played host to a gathering of three small literary magazines, Lapham's Quarterly, Slice, and The Coffin Factory.
A couple of subway stops uptown was the party at Paragraph, a writers' space on West 14th Street that attracted between 50 and 60 attendees, mostly writers who rent desks at the space and their guests. Lila Cecil, one of Paragraph's cofounders, said the mood couldn't be more different from the forced conviviality of a traditional office party. "Everyone really enjoys it," she told Fast Company. "Everyone that comes to the space is there of their own will. It's not like this is another obligation… It's more like a party of friends."
Lest you think it's only New York freelancers getting into the office-less holiday spirit, there was also a gathering of Los Angeles-based non-cubicle dwellers last week. Parties for freelancers will also be held in Portland, Oregon and Toronto Monday.
Paragraph's Cecil said she'd never been to an actual office holiday party (her impressions of such events come entirely from reruns of The Office). As she sees it, the difference between the non-office holiday party from its corporate analog is the true kinship among attendees: "It's unusual in the sense that it's a bunch of people who have a shared common goal in their lives, which is to write. There's a certain enthusiasm that comes from being in a room with people who share that in a deep way. It doesn't feel like a random group of people there because their boss said they had to be."