Publisher tries out virtual Secret Santa

‘It’s not just about receiving gifts; it’s about coming together to connect’

Publisher tries out virtual Secret Santa
Digital publisher Narcity Media will be holding a “Secret Santa” event for its nearly 70 employees.

With so many office employees working remotely this holiday season, one company is adjusting its party plans to reflect the new virtual workspace.

Digital publisher Narcity Media will be holding a “Secret Santa” event for its nearly 70 employees that will see toys distributed to children’s hospitals in various markets throughout North America.

“Rather than doing a traditional Secret Santa, where you purchase a $25 gift for someone that’s something they probably don’t need... we get to exchange gifts and we’re going to do it through a virtual happy hour. We’ll have holiday music, and we’ll get people to make eggnog and we’ll be giving a gift to the other person [that is] something you think they would like as a child,” says Johanna Skitt, vice-president of people and culture at Narcity Media in Vancouver.

“We’re able to donate toys to those children’s hospitals in each of the communities that we represent in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa.”

Skitt had worked with the B.C. Children’s Hospital for five years on fundraising but this year, it’s also about keeping employees engaged during the holiday season, she says.

“It’s a way of keeping the traditional holiday spirit alive, and we’re giving back connecting to our communities, which the holidays are also about. It’s not just about receiving gifts, it’s about coming together to connect.”

It’s the holidays and loneliness can be an issue for some, says Skitt.

“Some are fortunate that they have families they live with but some people are living in one bedroom and they don’t have those outlets. Everybody’s celebrating the holiday in some way, shape or form and if we can bring that into our employees’ home and into their hearts for that period of time, it’s really important to stay connected."

Johanna Skitt

Feeling disconnected or alone is one of the top challenges for employees working from home, found a recent survey.

However, Narcity had some logistical challenges to overcome when it started thinking about a holiday celebrations.

“We don’t want to encourage you to be out in the shopping malls, that’s not appropriate [and] how are we going to get all of the toys to the hospitals in these locations?” she says. “We have a courier company in each of the cities who’s going to be responsible for helping to get the toys to the hospital.”

Making the move to remote... and back

While the majority of employees remain remote, the company has slowly begun to open some offices, says Skitt, for those employees who wish to go back. 

“We’ve transformed our office in Montreal. It used to be 35 desks, row to row; we’ve transformed it into this chic space where there’s different areas where people can socially distance and hang out together. There’s protocols in terms of masks and sanitizers and maximum occupancy for the space. People book their time through an app that can do a four-hour time slot to connect with people and do so in a way that there’s not too many people in one space.”

During the pandemic, Narcity has conducted various virtual happy hours and provided regular updates via video and CEO chats, says Skitt.

“It’s been eight months of this situation and many employees... haven’t met [each other], and so it gave you an idea of someone who lives in like South Carolina and ‘I got to see their garden and now I know who they are.’”

Overall, it’s been a good lesson for HR to listen to feedback and take action, she says.

“We were seeing in the first few months that our wellness score was dropping and so rather than just assume that we knew what was going on, we talked to people and so we have a monthly meeting with our CEO. We do a half-an-hour Q&A where employees can literally ask anything, and there’s been tough questions that come up.”

Business continuity planning and employee communications have been top priorities with HR at the forefront in the pandemic response.

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