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How Office Gift-Giving Has Changed in a World of Remote Work

By Alexander Lovell, PhD

If there is one thing that the workforce has become accustomed to in 2020, it is change. Not only in where and how work is done, but also changes in how employees connect and collaborate. The approach to holiday office parties is one of those changes that’s recently been top of mind. Will companies try to put on an elaborate virtual party like PayPal? Or opt for something more low-key like a Zoom lunch? Our research indicates that companies are looking for alternative ways to bring together and appreciate their employees. One solution we found? Promoting reasonable peer-to-peer gift giving.

Many employees continue to work remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has made a frequent approach to office gift-giving, like buying small presents and leaving them on the desks of team members or participating in in-person gift exchanges, exceptionally difficult for most. So how exactly are employees and their organizations approaching gift-giving this year?

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According to a recent O.C. Tanner survey of nearly 2,900 workers across Australia, Canada, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States, a majority of employees anticipate spending the same amount of money (35%) or less (40%) on office holiday gifts this year compared to last. Further, of the 31% of total respondents who currently work from home, but worked in a shared office space prior to the pandemic, nearly one-third (30%) agree that they are less likely to receive a holiday gift this year from one or more coworkers. In addition, 28% of this group agrees that they are less likely to give holiday gifts this year compared to when they worked in a shared office space.

The main reason for this? Of those currently working from home but were working in a shared office space prior to the pandemic, nearly three in 10 (29%) feel like it’s too much additional work to send individual gifts to coworkers in their homes than in a shared office. Other key reasons behind why those are less likely to give include:

  • Lack of time to hand-deliver gifts to coworkers’ homes: 19%
  • Concerned about asking coworkers for their home addresses: 15%
  • Lack the money to spend on coworker gifts this year: 14%
  • Feel more disconnected from coworkers: 12%
  • Do not want to pay for shipping: 10%

Despite many being less likely to give, nearly half (48%) of those employees who are now working remotely report that they feel their organization’s overall culture encourages holiday gift-giving. So, in what ways did organizations go the extra mile this holiday season, beyond simple encouragement, to boost employee connections by making remote holiday gift-giving a success? Here are a few examples:

  • Online Secret Santa: While organizing and hosting an office-wide or team-specific Secret Santa program may be easier with all employees under one roof, online resources are readily available to help facilitate with a remote workforce in mind. Websites like com help manage the entire Secret Santa process from start to finish. This site allows participants to anonymously draw names of their colleagues while avoiding drawing duplicate names, price limits to be set, participants to create wish lists, and the sharing of mailing addresses of giftees anonymously to the assigned gifters. Essentially, these type of “secret santa generator” sites help take the hassle out of the process that those in our survey mentioned.
  • Subsidized gift and shipping expenses for employees: Employees participating in gift exchanges were allowed to expense the costs of gifts and shipping.

As we look at 2021, it is important to remember that remote celebrations will be the norm until the pandemic is under control and the move back to the office has officially happened. Keeping office celebrations alive during these times, whether it be for holidays, company milestones or personal achievements, will help companies continue to uplift culture and facilitate impactful employee experiences.

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