Holiday lovers can rejoice! This year, some of the biggest US retailers – like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy – have announced their intentions to start running their holiday promotional campaigns as early as October, injecting that much-needed Holiday spirit into everyone’s lives. As always, the Holiday shopping season will yield a bounty of joyful commercials, posters, and other advertisements, that will reach the eager eyes of Holiday shopping buffs even earlier than normal this year. And at many companies, HR teams are starting to think about and plan for this Holiday season early as well.

The year 2020 has seen pandemic, wildfires, storms, political unrest, large scale unemployment, and even more stressful activities that we could all use a break from. This Holiday season will inevitably prove be a cathartic one in the lives of many – among which are the employed, who might have been less directly affected by the events of 2020, but have no doubt experienced a turbulent year.

With this new “work from home economy” because of COVID-19, the in-person secret office gift exchange is likely cancelled, travel to HQ is off the table, and the office holiday party may no longer be within reach. With the communal eggnog bowl likely to remain in storage (at least for this year), things will unavoidably go more virtual this Holiday season – and companies are getting creative with how they navigate this new temporary normal this year.

Okay – so the end of year Holiday soiree is likely nixed, and employees prefer the comfort of their own home than risking a gathering adorned in a facemask. But for many companies, the party will go on – albeit remotely. Organizations are turning to Zoom and similar alternatives to host their company party online, encouraging a much needed connection. Firms are getting inventive with ways to get staff engaged in these get-togethers and entice party-goers to get involved in the conversation – through use of games, quizzes, even beer/wine tastings. Some firms even plan to live stream a company favorite Holiday classic movie, while others plan to send a Seamless or Grubhub gift card to employees to order their own meal, while enjoying virtually with their collogues.

Other virtual gifts are unsurprisingly being considered for this year too, which provide employees with a valuable but intangible gift as well as the option to use their hard earned value on what they may need or want most. Recognition and incentive platforms (like those provided by WorkStride!) provide multiple virtual options to show employees that important end of the year holiday love, which some clients plant to leverage this Holiday season.

Virtual gift cards spread instantaneous joy to the recipient, allowing them to print in the comfort of their homes – imperative for these “low-touch times.” Admins can choose to send a specific Holiday reward type, and either choose a gift card or provide value to redeem for a host of cards. Options include big retailers like Walmart or Best Buy, online marketplaces like Amazon or Airbnb, or your favorite brands like Uber, Foot Locker, and many others.

For fans of more tangible Holiday gifts, some companies are turning to gifts of physical merchandise to send by mail and energize employees for the Holidays and the New Year. Popular brands like Apple, Sony, Bose and others offer a vast catalog for buyers to show their appreciation with a merchandise gift. Recipients feel the cheer with a physical gift, without the need for a crowded company event or party.

Rewards should be accompanied with an appreciation or recognition note, making them more memorable to the recipients, especially during the Holiday season. This includes those programs with dried up budgets or a hesitancy to spend more while the future is unknown. Even a non-monetary award like a high five or a normal recognition identifies employee contributions and positively impacts the right behaviors, in the absence of funds for monetary gifts.

As Q3 comes to a close, it’s definitely time to start thinking about how to reward your employees come the holidays. Promotional creep is real, and with an early spirit being pushed out by big retailers, companies can run parallel to that environment with something quick and early. The need for creativity and virtual alternatives are higher today than ever before, and your recognition strategy and employee experience can reflect this too.