This holiday season, about 80% of businesses will have a holiday party—and almost a third will hold it on company property, according to new survey data from the global consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Jeff Kear, co-owner of the event management software company Planning Pod, puts that number even higher based on what he’s seen from his users’ data. He estimates that about three-quarters of his customers hold their holiday parties in the office.
There are certainly benefits to having your festivities on-site. No one will get lost on the way there. You have a captive audience, so turnout may be higher. But there are also significant reasons to consider moving the celebration elsewhere. Here’s why you may want to consider doing that—and where to go instead.
There’s always another email to open, another call to answer—and at least one coworker who just can’t bear to step away from any of it. Edward Yost, an HR manager for the Society for Human Resource Management, says holding the party off-site helps employees shake off their work responsibilities and focus on having fun. It will also spark more interesting conversations. It’s easier to leave work talk at the office when you actually leave the office.
Whatever their personal reasons, not everyone wants to join in the office holiday festivities. Yost says it’s easier for an employee to skip an outside event than to sit uncomfortably at their desk while everyone else celebrates in the next room. On the flip side, Kear says you’re likely to see better attendance in general—especially if employees can bring a date—when the party is out of the office, since significant others often feel awkward showing up to an in-office event.
Kear says that most office parties are planned by employees who have very little experience with event planning. It’s usually an extra chore tacked on to their regular responsibilities. As a result, either their real work suffers or they put off planning the party. Greg Jenkins, cofounder of the event planning firm Bravo Productions, says inexperienced planning can lead to “missteps or gaps in coordination.” It also saddles someone with the unpleasant role of cleanup crew. Take the event elsewhere so that every employee can enjoy the party as a true guest.
Yost notes that serving booze at the office or letting young kids rummage through the supply closet can lead to accidents and injuries. Then there are the food allergies to track and the access to private company data or pricy electronics to worry about. Holding the party outside the office removes any legal issues that can result if your company is the host.
First think about your employees. Would they be more excited for a sporty challenge or a fancy dinner? Do most people have families they’d want to bring? Do they love dancing? Use those answers to start forming a list of venue ideas that fits your budget. (Kear says a holiday party budget should roughly split into 50% to 60% for food, another 20% for venue expenses, and 20% to 30% for entertainment or employee gifts.)
Restaurants and hotels are the go-to options for a reason—they’re often the easiest to organize, and many have event planners who will take care of the details. But there’s also room for creativity. Marsha Chernoff Golob, an event planner in Minneapolis, says former factories and empty storefronts in her city have been offering themselves as party rentals. She recommends looking through local magazines to find listings for unique spaces.
Jenkins says art galleries and museums can make interesting party backdrops, too, and they typically offer after-hours rentals at reduced rates.
Even if your budget is modest, there are still options for an out-of-office event. Take a hike together and have a boxed lunch at the end. Volunteer at a local food pantry or animal shelter and grab pizza on the way back. Hold a potluck (or if you have warm winters, a barbecue) at a manager’s house.
When Kear worked for an advertising agency, the company hired limos to shuttle staff around Denver on a scavenger hunt. They ended back in the office with a champagne toast—and he says no one was talking about work.
Yost’s office once rented out a movie theater for the afternoon. After a catered lunch inside the theater, they all sat down for a private screening. The movie? The Chronicles of Narnia (2005). That’s how much this creative holiday celebration impressed Yost: It’s still on his mind 11 years later.