Ready to party like it’s 2019? Tech industry holiday parties are back like they haven’t been since before the pandemic, with some companies bringing in ice skating rinks, juggling lessons, and big-name entertainers.
As companies tighten their belts, this year’s parties won’t be exactly what they were in the Before Times — even Sundar Pichai warned Googlers to “try not to go over the top” this year — but some teams are still going all out.
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This year’s biggest tech company holiday parties will be half the size that they were before the pandemic, according to Non Plus Ultra, the venue and events company that hosted Meta’s lavish 2019 Game of Thrones-themed year-end bash. (This year, Meta’s holiday parties will “likely happen on a team by team basis depending on office/site/location,” spokesperson Tracy Clayton told me.)
NPU is working on parties of up to 2,500 to 3,000 people this year, down from 5,000 to 6,000 pre-COVID-19, according to Shannon White, NPU’s Bay Area general manager. “We’re almost back,” White said.Parties this year are going to be “a little bit more toned down” than in 2019, White said, but some will still be flashy. One company asked NPU about installing an ice skating rink at its party, White said, which is “definitely doable in some of the bigger spaces that we have.”
Salesloft, a 915-person sales software maker, is spending “well over seven figures” on its three holiday parties, which will be the company’s first IRL year-end celebrations since before the pandemic, according to VP of people Katie Cox Branham.
The parties are planned for Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the Gherkin in London, and Casa Pedro Loza, an 1848 mansion-turned-hotel in Guadalajara. (The company has offices in all three cities.)“There’s still something so special and magical about bringing people together and not being on Zoom,” Branham told me. “That being a priority, we did prioritize this in our budget.”
Companies this year are split between in-person bashes and taking a more virtual approach with mailed gifts, according to Phoenix Anna Porcelli, VP of sales at Convene.
“Hybrid is much less of a focus, is what we’re noticing, from a meeting and events perspective,” Porcelli said.Clients are bringing in jugglers, hot chocolate stands, and carolers, according to Porcelli. “Companies are using holiday parties as a way to bring folks back to the office and entice them with really unique experiences,” Porcelli said. “Celebrity chefs, different stations, unique culinary options, and unique venues.”One major difference has been the cadence of bookings. Pre-pandemic, companies started planning holiday parties four to six months in advance. This year, HR teams started calling after Labor Day and inquiries are still coming in, according to Porcelli and White.
Then there are the companies that won’t be doing much at all. Deque Systems, a digital accessibility company, hasn’t had a virtual or IRL holiday party in a decade, according to Glenda Sims, Deque’s chief information accessibility officer.
Around 25% of Deque’s more than 300 employees are based outside the U.S., and having a party in December seemed too aligned with a “traditional, dare I say, Christian American holiday season,” Sims said. “It becomes kind of odd to say, ‘Oh, we’re having a holiday party’ when half of your employees don’t even celebrate that holiday.”That said, Deque is looking forward to its companywide virtual meeting in April. “We do know how to party,” Sims said. “We just don’t do it related to holidays.”