“The company Christmas dinner is part of the work environment folklore”, Michiel Das, professor at the Human Resources Management Master’s Degree.
05 de January de 2021
05 de January de 2021
It’s Christmas and tonight we are having dinner.
Any other year this would have been a statement that would have gone unnoticed and, yet, it is possible that after reading it, you might have felt the need to watch the news to check what is going on with the state of emergency.
But do not be alarmed, because this is not just any kind of meeting. It is not a company dinner, although that is the theme we pretend to have. This year has taught us the value of contrasts. We have learned to get together at a distance, to be closer without touching, to reinvent ourselves, to go further without leaving the house.
That is why we are having dinner with professor Michiel Das, from our Human Resources Management and Talent Development Master’s Degree, because in the middle of the pandemic, he has captained a startup that has proven to be a total success: Meet En Casa (Meet at Home), the definite alternative to the traditional company Christmas dinners, turning it into an online event that includes food, a live show and the classic Secret Santa.
And, why not, it is the platform through which we will carry out this interview, while enjoying some of the delicious dishes that are on its menu –prepared by professional chefs using fresh products from the area– and the show we have chosen for tonight.
We have a thirst for knowledge, so we have booked WiFi for two and we have everything ready for the session to start. Enjoy!
In order to keep things from going cold from the start, let’s go straight to the point. What happens at the company dinner, stays in the company dinner? Or does it stay in the company?
Very good question! Traditionally, what used to happen at the company dinner stayed there, but with the advent of social networks and apps like WhatsApp (quite some years ago), it has become easier to share the moments of joint celebration with the rest of our colleagues or even with family and friends. This year in particular, due to COVID-19, the digitalisation of the company dinner has revolutionised the way we experience it. Now, through our screens, streaming live, we can have dinner together with all of our colleagues instead of having dinner only with the people sitting at our table.
What is really the goal of the company Christmas dinners? Do you think it is achieved?
Although it is seemingly just a celebration, deep down it is a very important social event for companies, for it helps strengthen the culture of each company, it creates a sense of belonging among the employees and it is also a perfect time to thank them for the great job carried out all throughout the year. From the point of view of the workers, it is a perfect time to do some networking, to strengthen friendships that have developed in the workplace and to get to know a more relaxed and informal side of their workmates. And that is why, this year, in spite of all the challenges that the pandemic has presented, many companies still have sought alternatives to celebrate this social event that is so important and necessary.
Could it be that these events are used as a remedy for the lack of team building experiences during this year?
Yes, totally. As I mentioned before, as well as developing employee loyalty and being a source of motivation –which are really important matters–, they play a very important social role. In fact, there are many companies that started taking their employees’ mental health very seriously, which has led them to carry out different digital team building activities, such as digital escape rooms, among others.
Numerous articles have been written on how not to lose your composure at the company dinners. What is the reason for this?
Company dinners are usually social events where professional hierarchies disappear for a while, but this does not mean we can forget that we are having dinner with people from work and not friends or family. Accordingly, even when thes e are much more informal events, it is important to remember that they still take place in the workplace, and therefore, punctuality, dress code and other matters are still important. This year, with the complete digitalisation of the experience, it is even more important to remember this and avoid risking your professional image on account of a badly placed camera or an open mic at the wrong time.
This year has taught us to keep on doing our things remotely but, are we really our proper selves through a screen?
Interacting through a screen can offer many benefits –such as saving time that we would spend commuting–, but it also carries some disadvantages regarding communication: when the only thing we can see in the video calls are people’s faces (and sometimes not even that), we cannot pay attention to body language and we lose a lot of indirect information; on the other hand, tools like Zoom and Teams let us see ourselves on the screen, which makes us worry more about our own image than we would do if we were having a face-to-face conversation. Raise your hand if you have never checked your hair or your clothes during a call from work with workmates! (He hides his hands and smiles).
Which aspects of our personality disappear due to the lack of physical contact?
The non-verbal aspect —precisely the one aspect that we control the less in face to face interactions. During the virtual meetings, we constantly see ourselves on the screen while the light on the camera is on to remind us that we are being captured. Indirectly, we pay more attention to the way we speak and to our gestures. But, at the same time, the camera is only capturing one part of our body and the rest of the non-verbal communication is lost.
Meet En Casa surge como una alternativa maravillosa para poder seguir celebrando la cena de Navidad de empresa a pesar del virus. Pero, ¿cuál fue la semilla de la que nació esta idea? ¿Cuál fue la pregunta, el debate o la cuestión a la que da respuesta?
The concept for Meet En Casa came up for the first time at the Employer Branding sessions I hold at the Human Resources Management and Talent Development Master’s Degree at EAE Business School. We were reflecting on the strategies that exist to promote talent loyalty –one of the most important aspects of Employer Branding– and, then, the issue of the Christmas dinner came up. The discussion moved towards the challenges that companies would face with an on-site meeting this year. On my way home, I kept on thinking about the problem and the idea of making the Christmas dinner a completely online experience came to me. I shared the idea with my colleagues at the Employer Branding Lab (a start-up where we help companies become employers of success), in some WhatsApp groups of Human Resources professionals and, finally, with the Master’s students, and they all agreed that it was a very interesting project to set in motion. That i s how Meet En Casa was born! As an Employer Branding Lab spin-off and thanks to a debate at EAE.
Do you think this kind of virtual meetings are here to stay or will they disappear along with the safety distance?
We created Meet En Casa mainly to solve the problem around Christmas dinners that many companies were about to face, but we have received such a positive feedback during the last few weeks (even appearing in Spanish media outlets such as TVE, Telecinco or El País) and companies have shown such an interest on keeping up with these meetings for other events beyond Christmas, that we have had to rethink it more as a long-term project. At the moment, we are working on a project that involves monthly meetings during 2021 using the same formula: digital events that include meals and entertainment in order to disconnect for a while from professional duties.
For some people, social interactions are not easy and Christmas dinners can be quite the nightmare. Do you think that using Meet En Casa could make it easier for them?
Certainly! There are studies that show that introverted people have not been suffering as much during the meetings that took place during the pandemic, and partly, the reason has to do with the style of communication used for online meetings: in general, turns for speaking are more defined and turning the camera on, in many cases, is optional. This is something we have noticed in the shows we put on in the app: improv sessions are usually a nightmare for shy people because the actors grab people from the audience — but in the online format, we use the app’s chat box, so only the people who wish to participate come forward and the rest can enjoy the show without the need of getting involved.
It is your creation and you know it better than anyone else. So, which aspects of Meet En Casa would you say are better and which are worse than a traditional Christmas dinner?
It is better if you take into account that it allows you to interact with your colleagues while still respecting the safety measures and being in the comfort of your home, enjoying a meal all together and watching a show to disconnect and have a laugh. It is worse mainly in the sense that it lacks real human touch or the possibility to hug each other and dance together.
This alternative offers the possibility of having your family showing the face on the camera and be part of your company dinner. Would you recommend it or would you advise people against it?
I think it must have happened to all of us, at least once during this pandemic, that a family member came up in the background of a video-call without us knowing. Nevertheless, I think it is better to keep the professional life separated from the private life — although sometimes it can be tricky when we share our house with other people. That would be my advice in general. Also, it is true that we have had Christmas dinners that have been quite the contrary and where family members played a very important role. In the end, it all depends on the company culture.
In a world where the virus does not exist, would you still think this is a good idea or would you rather go back to the usual way?
When this pandemic is finally over, it is very likely that some of the hybrid formats will be kept –where people would still work some days of the week from home– and thus, these digital meetings that we are carrying out through Meet En Casa will surely remain relevant. In fact, we have already received several requests to keep the same approach, even making it a monthly thing — we are looking into it at the moment.
In the hypothetical scenario in which the Christmas dinner could not be carried out in any way by any company, what would you propose? Would it be necessary to replace it with something else?
Christmas dinner is part of the work environment folklore. Even if it was not possible to do it anymore, companies would find alternatives like virtual escape rooms, online karaokes, improv sessions or comedic events. And that is the goal of Meet En Casa — making it easier for them to do any of these.
That being said and having scraped the last piece of dessert, it is time to enjoy some exciting improv sessions. The topic will be: working from home. Laughter is guaranteed as we revisit all those things that happened to us while we were learning from experience what it was like to work from home, or if we ever left the mic on accidentally.
One thing is sure, we cannot end this evening without surprising Michiel with the Secret Santa present we got for him! We can only tell you that these were the faces he put when he opened the present:
And that, much like the Christmas dinners he is helping organise, he has loved the digital version of himself!