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How to host a socially-distanced staff awards ceremony

If you have annual awards coming up for your employees, what are you doing this year? If your thoughts have turned to cancelling or postponing them, I urge you to reconsider.

I have a guest post for you today to share how an NHS Trust successfully ran a socially distanced awards ceremony yesterday.

I’m so proud to share this with you, it’s a wonderful example of finding new ways to recognise our people for their hard work. I challenge you to watch the video without getting teary, it made me feel emotional watching it – and they’re not my colleagues! I can only imagine how it feels for the Trust.

As a nation we’ve been saying thank you to our frontline workers and NHS workers, it’s fantastic to see an example of an NHS Trust thanking their employees in their usual way, albeit with a socially-distanced twist.

Well done to Kate Waters @katewaterscomms, Head of Communications at Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and the team. Kate has written for the All Things IC blog to tell the tale.

I’ll hand you over…

How to host a socially-distanced staff awards ceremony

In March this year my team was busy planning a staff awards ceremony for staff at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge.

Thanks to support from our sponsors, it was due to be a glitzy event at a Cambridge University college to recognise an incredible year: we had completed a complex move to a brand new hospital in May 2019 and become the first UK Trust to receive an ‘outstanding’ rating in all five areas assessed by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in October.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be. With a few days’ notice, we put our staff awards preparations to one side and took on another challenge: getting ready for a global pandemic.

As the UK’s leading heart and lung hospital and one of the five UK centres for the provision of ECMO, a treatment for severe respiratory failure, we quickly became very busy indeed.

Like other NHS staff around the country, our staff gave everything they had to fight COVID-19 and provide the best possible care to patients in difficult circumstances. We couldn’t let them go uncelebrated. But how do you reschedule a staff awards event during a pandemic?

Planning the event

We decided to hold a socially-distanced staff awards day instead. We wrote to every nominee to ask whether they would be in the hospital, in our administrative office or working from home, then set up a timetable for the day.

If a winner was working from home, we asked if they would be happy for a member of the senior team to present the award on their doorstep. We planned a socially-distanced presentation in the hospital’s atrium in the afternoon, but told nominees we would present some awards during the day.

We prepared a ‘have a nice day’ gift pack for all nominees with some gifts donated to our charity and sent them to nominees working from home in the post – others picked them up when they arrived at the hospital. We also gave all managers with a nominee in their team a budget from our sponsorship money to buy some food and drink to have a celebration in their team throughout the day.

On the day

Earlier in the year, we had put together a video about some of the nominees so we shared this on social media on the morning of the event. We installed a branded banner and decorated the entrance to the hospital with balloons.

We presented some awards throughout the day at people’s places of work, surprising them by a member of the executive team coming into their office/ward with their trophy and certificate in front of their team. Where winners were at home we arranged for someone senior to present their award on their doorstep.

If nominees had told us that they didn’t want a fuss, we sent them a card from a member of the executive team in the post with a voucher and gift pack. We hired a local AV company to set up a small stage and screen in our hospital atrium, with a video camera and webcam so that staff could join from home via Webex.

We held a socially-distanced presentation in the afternoon to show highlights of the day, and our headline sponsor and chairman, who is social distancing, said a few words from home.

Last minute challenges

We faced a few last-minute challenges too – last Friday, new guidance came into effect meaning that all staff in the hospital had to wear surgical masks, except in a few ‘COVID-secure’ areas. I don’t think our Chief Executive or Director of Workforce ever expected to be presenting an awards ceremony wearing masks, but they took it with good humour. It certainly gave us a new respect for staff who wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) all the time!


We’ve received some lovely feedback from the day already. One winner, who received a visit while shielding at home, said “today I have been totally overwhelmed.”

Another said: “I am overwhelmed by the generosity in my gift box, it’s such a lovely thing to do for everyone.”

Making sure staff feel valued and recognised is a huge priority for our chief executive and the rest of the executive team at the hospital. The last few months have been very challenging – now it’s time to say thank you for everything our staff have done.

Post author: Kate Waters.

Thank you again Kate, congratulations to you and the whole team and everyone who was honoured at the awards.

Do you have a story to share with my readers? If so, please see my guidelines and do get in touch. I love highlighting brilliant examples we can all learn from.

Thank you for stopping by


First published on the All Things IC blog 18 June 2020.

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