Festive at a distance: How to combine remote work and holiday cheer

It’s December; so let’s be honest: You’re probably devoting as much time to fantasizing about baked goods, planning party attire and stressing about a gift for your hard-to-buy-for mother as you are to focusing on work. The festive vibe is perfectly natural for this time of year, but the impulse to celebrate the season’s holidays gets a little more complicated the more dispersed your team is.

If you have colleagues spread from New Delhi, India to New Haven, Conn., how can you hope to bring everyone together to celebrate the season and build a bit of camaraderie? Beers in the break room are probably out due to logistical constraints, but that doesn’t mean you have to forgo holiday fun entirely, according to a recent post by Wayne Turmel for Management Issues.

For the piece, Turmel talks to Jeff Diana, the chief people officer for HR software firm SuccessFactors, who offers some tips for encouraging celebratory feelings among remote workers.

“If you can’t afford to fly in or buy hotel rooms for remote workers, whether that’s for a holiday party or planning session for the year ahead,” Diana says, “consider including remote workers in team celebrations via social media, video, or other group (or individual) acknowledgement of their contributions.”

He also notes that with many workforces becoming more and more international, holidays throughout the year provide a great opportunity for cultural sharing:

Take advantage of the international holidays throughout the year to educate local and remote employees about holiday customs in other regions. For example: Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, Kwanzaa, Day of the Dead, and many other holidays throughout the year provide excellent opportunities for employees worldwide to share personal anecdotes and professional insights about life in their “neighborhoods.”

It’s a far cheerier suggestion than Stacey Higginbotham’s recent worry that telecommuting across international boundaries will increasingly make work-free holidays a thing of the past, and the ambition to share across cultures to increase inter-team understanding is admirable. But at the same time, there’s something sad about the idea if donning your party hat to sit in front of Skype.

With remote “parties” unlikely to be actually enjoyable, is asking employees to attend simply burdening them with an unwanted and unpleasant additional responsibility during this busy time of year? Would it be better to just offer them extra time or money to show your appreciation and make their season genuinely cheerier?

Alternative suggestions to the tech-enabled virtual shindig are light on the ground, though everyone seems to agree it’s poor form not to make sure remote workers are always invited to activities (even if there is basically no chance they can attend) and everyone should receive the same holiday goodies should any be distributed.

So what about your remote team: Will you be using the holidays as an occasion for team-building festivities, and if so, how?

Image courtesy of Flickr use DeaPeaJay.