Schools, units find meaningful ways to connect — within limits

Written by  Jim Bakken

closeup of a young caucasian woman sitting at her office desk full of confetti looking to her tablet, with the text office holiday party in its screenAs COVID-19 cases continue to increase in Birmingham, in Jefferson County and among UAB faculty and staff, schools and units across campus are replacing traditional end-of-year team-building receptions with creative virtual get-togethers and small, distanced gatherings. 

For safety, virtual meetings are preferred. Unless a documented exception is approved, in-person gatherings are limited to 15 people indoors and 30 people outdoors; social distancing and masking are required in both instances.  

Exceptions will be considered only in extraordinary circumstances. Any exception request must first be approved by school/college/unit leadership (i.e., dean or vice president), then sent for review by Senior Vice President of Finance and Administration Allen Bolton in consultation with public health experts.     

President Ray Watts says large, traditional holiday and office parties are not realistic.  

“We had hoped to relax restrictions by this time, but the data don’t lie,” Watts said. “As hard as it has been to be apart this year and as much as we would like to gather and celebrate team accomplishments, it simply would be unwise to do so.”

Instead, units are finding creative and inspirational ways to reflect on the year and spend time together. 

Mickey Bunn, Ph.D., in the Collat School of Business conducted an online Italian cooking lesson for her students that became a highlight of the semester. Provost and Senior Vice President Pam Benoit plans to host a virtual Painting With the Provost event for her team in Zoom; she’ll lead the painting activity while chatting and giving everyone the opportunity to unwind and learn a new skill. 

“This has been a stressful year in which teams across campus worked hard, sacrificed and rose to the challenge for our students, employees, patients and the community,” Benoit said. “Even though we still need to limit our in-person interaction, it is important to take time to step back and reflect together on what we were able to accomplish.”

Other units are having food delivered to team members’ offices or homes so the group can enjoy a virtual meal together. Some plan to watch and discuss online events together virtually.

What’s the risk?

  • Lowest risk: Virtual-only activities, events and gatherings.
  • More risk: Smaller outdoor and in-person gatherings in which individuals from different households remain spaced at least 6 feet apart, wear masks, do not share objects and come from the same local area (e.g., community, town, city or county).
  • Higher risk: Medium-sized in-person gatherings that are adapted to enable individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and with attendees from outside the local area.
  • Highest risk: Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area. 

Read CDC considerations for events and gatherings.

Here are seven alternatives: 

  • The Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts is offering a team networking event through their exciting fall exhibition A La Carte. UAB teams can schedule a free interactive 45- to 60-minute Zoom tour to explore art and food and encourage out-of-the-box thinking for teams to get to know each other better. To schedule a personalized tour for your team, contact AEIVA’s A La Carte can be enjoyed without scheduling a personalized tour. Schedule your team on Zoom and access the virtual exhibit.

  • Virtual cooking classes have offered a great way for teams to connect and have fun. Your team can choose a meal, distribute ingredient lists and work together over Zoom and enjoy good conversation and perhaps some kitchen bloopers and successes.

  • Support a local restaurant by ordering your team meals to be delivered or picked up before a scheduled Zoom time to chat. Departments should continue to follow their existing procedures regarding funding source determinations and allowability related to any incurred expenses for such events.

  • Find a friend or team member who can lead a fun, easy project on Zoom like Benoit’s painting party.

  • Consider a mask-making or -decorating party that allows time for discussion, then show your mask and talk about what it says about you.

  • Host a virtual white elephant (Dirty Santa) gift swap party through White Elephant Online. 

  • Community service events held outdoors — with proper distance — is a great way to give back to the Birmingham area and do something fun and productive with your team.

Is your team/unit celebrating in a safe, creative way? Let us know about your plans and we might share them with faculty and staff in an upcoming eReporter.