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One financial services executive is working on preparing a list of potential activities for holiday parties, from virtual cooking and wine-tasting classes, to virtual entertainment from a speaker, musician or local school group, to virtual sightseeing tours so teams can vacation together from the comfort of their own homes.

AleksandarNakic/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

This year, of all years, advisors and their teams need some festive cheer. But how can advisors host a safe staff holiday gathering during the pandemic? With head offices having cancelled in-person events, it will likely be up to individual branches and teams to get creative with outdoor and virtual celebrations.

“Team engagement and morale are always critically important for the success of any team,” says Ann Felske-Jackman, principal and head of financial advisor talent acquisition at Edward Jones. “But right now people are feeling isolated. They’re working to balance their home and work lives. They’re dealing with uncertainties. So, it’s even more important to stay connected at a human level, not just at a work level.”

Although Edward Jones is not hosting its usual holiday gathering for staff at the firm’s Canadian headquarters in Mississauga, branches are finding their own ways to celebrate together. As people have different perspectives and experiences around COVID-19, Ms. Felske-Jackman recommends that leaders give staff choices.

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“What one part of the team thinks is safe and fun, another part of the team might think is risky and not right for [them or] their family, [so] let the team decide what type of event should be held,” she says. “Have the team bubble it up, have the leader listen, and then review that against the firm’s and the government’s guidelines.”

Ms. Felske-Jackman says she’s working on a list of potential activities, from virtual cooking and wine-tasting classes, to virtual entertainment from a speaker, musician or local school group, to virtual sightseeing tours so teams can vacation together from the comfort of their own homes.

To get teams laughing together online, she suggests an old standard – ugly sweater day – and something new arising out of everyone’s growing familiarity with videoconferencing platforms – a competition for best on-screen background. Other safely distanced options, she proposes, could include drive-by holiday greetings, a pie or wreath pick-up at the office, or scheduled family sessions with a professional photographer.

For teams that want to get together in person and are in areas of the country with fewer public health restrictions, they should still avoid gathering inside, partly because of the implications for business continuity if several team members were to get sick, says Meredith Malloch, vice-president of marketing and communications at Mississauga-based Investment Planning Counsel Inc.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of family-friendly options available outdoors such as a skating party, a sleigh ride, or maple syrup tasting, she says, adding that advisors should check to see what businesses in their communities are offering this year.

“Local businesses are reinventing themselves for holiday parties [and] we’ve had enough time in the pandemic that you’re also getting businesses at the point at which they’ve got it down pat. … They’ve run these events before and they’ve worked out the kinks,” Ms. Malloch says.

“If you are still running a virtual office, I think seeing people face-to-face is so crucially important, and I think you can do it in a safe manner,” she adds.

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Ms. Malloch is located in Oakville, Ont., which is close to the viral hotspot of Toronto, and is more likely to opt for a virtual holiday party for her team. She’s considering hiring a mixologist to teach them how to make a few different cocktails. However, she thinks it’s important to blend in a real-world element with a related delivery to people’s homes – perhaps a shaker and other bartending tools, along with an ingredients list.

“[It’s] a nice addition to elevate the virtual event instead of just doing something virtual that doesn’t have a physical element to it, [and] so many creative businesses are doing awesome drops, where it’s all packaged up, it’s all good to go, you just purchase it, they send it out and then you have the event via Zoom,” Ms. Malloch says.

Advisors and their teams, she emphasizes, “have gone above and beyond. They’ve done things outside of their comfort zone. They’ve reinvented themselves and really helped push advisors’ businesses forward. … We need to be showing gratitude, especially at this time.”

There are other approaches advisors could consider. Sylvain Brisebois, managing director, senior vice-president, senior wealth advisor and portfolio manager at BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc., in Ottawa, says he’s been hearing from advisors who are considering celebrating the season with financial bonuses or gifts to staff rather than an event.

“More people are talking to me about that as a way of circumventing the lack of ability to do a big festive dinner at their house or a special party,” he says.

Still, Mr. Brisebois thinks advisors can also find safe ways to engage teams and their families in a holiday event. Many of the advisors he has spoken to are comfortable gathering in person in a small group of four or five plus spouses.

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If a virtual gathering is preferred, he suggests something as simple as cooking dinner at the same time, on video, then sitting down to the meal.

“The key word to me is creativity – and that creativity has to be done at the firm level to provide ideas and support, and at the advisor branch level for their teams and their branches locally,” Mr. Brisebois says.

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