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COVID-19 phenomenon: Year-end parties go online

BeConnected CEO Ha Ji-eun interacts with participants of a year-end virtual celebration held Nov. 28. (BeConnected)
BeConnected CEO Ha Ji-eun interacts with participants of a year-end virtual celebration held Nov. 28. (BeConnected)
As the year draws to a close, many people are navigating rules made necessary by the pandemic as they try to mark the end of a challenging 2020, with restaurants closing early and colleagues working from home.

Alarming new daily cases of COVID-19 have dashed hopes that the drastic changes the virus brought to the way people live, work and socialize would get back to normal by the end of this year, resulting in series of cancellation of plans for holiday get-togethers.

Seven in 10 South Koreans have no plan for in-person year-end parties. Only 9 percent of South Korean companies plan to hold an event to celebrate the end of the year, compared to 66.2 percent last year, according to surveys conducted by online recruiting service Incruit.

On the upside, this unprecedented time has led to the discovery of unconventional ways to communicate and stay connected with one another.

Some startups and information technology firms here have taken their office holiday parties online.

Kim Sun-ah, who works at a Korean unit of a US broadcasting company, planned to join an end-of-year virtual celebration Thursday along with some 40 co-workers.

The company provided vouchers for the employees to get takeout fried chicken and drinks before meeting up on Zoom.

Using video communication applications is not new to most company workers as they often have town hall meetings with offices in other countries.

“I hope that all of us will have a heartwarming time by talking to each other during the year-end party although we are staying physically apart because of the pandemic,” Kim said.

Ha Ji-eun, professor and CEO of life consulting firm BeConnected, hosted a virtual party under a theme of “Hero’s Night” on Nov. 28.

During the party, participants -- mainly those interested in self-development -- shared their thoughts and experiences about good habits that enriched their lives and personal branding strategies.

Ha has been throwing year-end parties every year and it was the first time to move it online. But responses from attendees were more enthusiastic than expected.

“One thing I found fascinating about the virtual event was the great accessibility it offered to those who wanted to come to the previous parties but couldn’t because of their personal circumstances like living too far from a party venue or having young children,” Ha said.

Concerned that people might be more distracted during a virtual meeting than an in-person gathering, she expected the party would go on for two hours at most, but it ended at 1 a.m., going a full four hours.

“I think being at home gave them a sense of coziness to enjoy the party until late as they were surrounded by space that they are most familiar with and were wearing comfortable clothes,” she said.

Trying to adopt the new normal, event hosting service providers, which usually stay busy and are profitable in December by arranging year-end ceremonies and workshops for corporate clients, are moving their programs online.

Innertrip, an Incheon-based firm specialized in corporate event curation, started to provide online event services that replace in-person office parties from this year.

“We have a studio where an instructor presides over socialization workshops through Zoom or WebEx focusing on team building, quiz sessions, entertaining and socializing,” Innertrip CEO Park Mu-hyeok said.

To counteract the lack of face-to-face interaction during virtual gatherings, the company actively harnesses various tools that videoconferencing solutions provide, such as a team chat feature and emoji to keep participants focused and make them feel connected, he said.

By Park Han-na (