This time last year, Darren Murph was meeting some of his colleagues in-person for the first time to celebrate the holidays.
Murph is the head of remote at GitLab, an IT company that's always operated in a remote capacity and has a global workforce of 1,300 people across 65 countries. GitLab generally gives each employee $100 to use on a year-end celebration, which in a more normal year could include meeting up with colleagues from neighboring cities for a holiday lunch.
Murph shared with CNBC Make It how the company is recognizing employees this year, and how he believes year-end company parties will change after the pandemic.
Given the size of the company, GitLab executives are all in charge of organizing smaller virtual gatherings within their departments, such as rounds of trivia or holiday-themed happy hours. Group cooking sessions have also been popular, whether an outside instructor is brought in to teach a class or an employee volunteers to lead demonstrations from home.
Murph has also seen events where colleagues simply catch up while wrapping presents or baking cookies, which helps those who live on their own or can't visit family feel less alone.
A benefit to virtual events is that GitLab employees can more easily share their cultures and traditions of holidays celebrated around the world. Employees are encouraged to post photos and videos in dedicated Slack channels of how they celebrated in the past, and what they're doing this year. Some live events invite people to give a show-and-tell of how they're celebrating at home.
Finally, Murph says GitLab leaders realized that productivity increased this year despite challenging working conditions, yet employees weren't taking as many days off to recharge. So as a show of appreciation, the company is giving employees days off on Dec. 18 and Jan. 15, 2021.
While building re-openings will likely bring workers back to the office in 2021, Murph expects levels of remote work will remain elevated, whether people operate on a hybrid schedule, or organizations allow employees to move away and continue teleworking.
Either way, Murph recommends organizations continue to be creative and include remote workers in their end-of-year recognitions. For example, when business travel resumes, organizations may fly remote workers into their headquarters for physical gatherings, or they may go the GitLab route and pay for colleagues to gather in their regional locations to celebrate.
He says GitLab's approach of providing a dollar amount for each employee, and letting them decide how to use it, is another way of showing flexibility. "People are most equipped to do something that matters to them, and we empower them to do it," he says.
Of his team lunch last year, Murph says organizing happened organically once colleagues were notified of their stipend. Twenty-three coworkers dined at A Place at the Table in Raleigh, North Carolina — a pay-what-you-can cafe that provides meals, jobs and volunteer opportunities — and donated money left over from their meal directly to the organization.
Virtual celebration, Murph adds, "is a unique opportunity for companies around the world to bring together global partners. If you're headquartered in San Francisco but partner with a company in Kansas City, it may not be practical to fly them into your company party. Now it's as simple as extending a Zoom link."