The sad demise of the office party

    3 December 2020

    It would be easy to list this year’s absence of office Christmas parties as a rare upside of Covid (along with left-wing people admitting the value of ‘big pharma’ and having whole trains to myself).

    However, I will miss the annual staff do. A lack of fresh gossip arising from a staff get together will create another great gouge in 2020. The gossip void has been a problem all year. In the absence of ‘coke and hooker’ shames we’ve been feeding on scraps. It’s why politicians have been under such unbearable scrutiny, they’ve the only ones still regularly making tits of themselves in public. Yes we’ll have online Christmas parties, but ‘Doesn’t Keith have terrible wallpaper?’ is no match for Sandra from HR dry-humping a stool during karaoke.

    Partying from home also removes the jeopardy of getting drunk on a school night. The best office drinks always happen midweek. There’s something epic about the immediate penance staff have to soldier through the following day. The manic energy of the morning. The blessed relief of stupefying yourself with a burrito the size of a cat. The interminable expanse of the afternoon. The hero of four-thirty who does a surprise coffee and kit-kat run. There’s no risk to midweek drinking when you’re working from home. If you do have online meetings on the Friday there’s a big safety net: no-one can smell you over zoom. As long as you can prop yourself up with a high-back chair, the pain is something you can nod your way through.

    At least this year will see a record low in cases of sexual harassment at work. It took the country being like a category C prison for that to happen, but a win’s a win. The company Christmas party was always the showpiece event for office creeps. However, online events still come with risks. Women may get made up for these events and it might be the first time this year some men have seen an actual lady they know wearing lipstick. The rule is ‘Don’t say anything over Zoom that you wouldn’t say in person’. And it’s probably best to just mute pervy Paul from accounts.

    No free bar is a big drawback of having to stay at home. Indeed, as the economic crisis really kicks in, ‘free bar’ might be something we’ll one day look back on in wonderment, like the dwarf tossing scene in Wolf of Wall Street. Complimentary booze is a great annual redress of imbalances in pay and seniority. It also helps you say things to your line managers which ensure those imbalances remain in place for the following year.

    If you’re having an online party, drinking at home may be cheaper but it’s also far too easy to replenish your glass. Do something which recreates the disincentives of going to a packed bar. Stick the booze at the end of your garden. Put it in your sleeping child’s bedroom on the creakiest floorboard. Pay an Australian to spend ten minutes standing in front of your fridge ignoring you.

    We’ll also miss the unique social phenomenon of the office party, like the ubiquitous crying lady. I don’t like women being upset, but one woman in inexplicable floods of tears can provide memorable drama. There will always be one lady first on the scene, the office Kay Burley directing her team of emotional first responders. The crying woman will get spirited away promptly, but there will always be one minion who mysteriously returns ninety seconds later for a bag. You never find out what’s in that bag (I’m presuming it’s tampons or Valium but I’ve yet to get a straight answer).

    A great companion to the crying lady is the nervous dweeb from payroll who’s been bitten by the sambuca spider. This guy will not only ‘come out’ of himself he’ll accuse everyone else of being boring, because they don’t want to join him doing ‘Oops Up’ on the pavement. The following day he’s back in his office slippers dreaming of his next civil war re-enactment, but for one night you saw his ‘Mr Farenheit’ and it wasn’t pretty.

    Then there’s the issue of exits, particularly the French exits from office parties, those enigmatic rebels who slip to the toilets then away into the night. It’s not so easy to vanish on a zoom call. You could get creative and pause your face, pretending that your wi-fi has frozen (Just be sure your dog isn’t around, as they have a nasty habit of casually strolling past in the background).

    So I’ll miss the office parties, but will take whatever skimpy methadone is on offer in the form of an online equivalent. Just one bit of advice, make sure no-one is recording the bloody thing. At least acting like an idiot in the real world exists largely in the form of anecdote or legend.

    Geoff Norcott’s book ‘Where Did I Go Right? (How the Left Lost Me)’ is available for pre-order