Even though Unlock helps us stay connected virtually on a weekly basis, it is a fact that we will always connect better in person. It’s just human nature. It is also true that relationships can be created, maintained and strengthened virtually, and as a remote-first company, we deeply endorse it. However, we do not eschew in-person interactions altogether to embrace the fully async world in our internal culture. We believe that in-person retreats are essential, important, and a key part of creating company culture, especially for remote companies.
In May, we had a very successful company trip to Greece. It was the first time we all met — a rather exciting milestone since some of us have been working together via a screen for more than a year, but never met in person. The 3 days off-site was filled with inspiring sessions, fun activities, personal time and above all, great food, in the beautiful old city of Athens. Our Co-founder and COO Eli was the master mind behind making this trip a success. And with every planning, come learnings. He learned a lot throughout this process, and we thought it would be helpful to share some insights.
💡Have a clear purpose
Speaking of planning, there’s never a reason to do it alone. No one person can do it all, and quite often, members of the team will have great ideas for what to do. Ask your team members what they expect from the off-site, or what they have loved about retreats in past companies. Personally, we learned a lot by gathering feedback and iterating over previous, smaller, get-togethers we had around Europe. Once we had an outline for the sessions we wanted to do, we also asked for volunteers to run some of them. You will notice that people appreciate being given the chance to step up, be creative, and contribute. So go ahead, give everyone an opportunity to get involved, and you’ll be surprised at how many hands are raised!
🛎️ Get expert help
Just because you are tasked with planning an off site, it may not necessarily be your area of expertise. Sometimes it is useful to get advice from a professional. A professional in the field can help both with quality, and saving resources like time, money, and associated headaches. We used VenueScanner to find accommodation and a boat. And if you want to focus on communication and storytelling, The Story Spotters are fantastic. For creativity and innovation, Joeri’s a star, and to deep dive into leadership or team dynamics, go for Cameron or Ben. Get expert h
💌 Get purposeful merch
Everyone loves freebies. Kick off the off site with something that’s relatable to your brand, the company or the mission. Is there a particular item that aligns with what you’re building? How about an inspiring book you’d like your team to read? Maybe a handwritten note from the CEO? A pinch of thoughtfulness will go a long way and often show that you, as leadership, care about the people.
⌛Build in free time
The schedule is the foundation of your entire event. But that’s often not where the magic happens. It’s the in-between moments, like the breaks, the coffee times, the walks from place to place, where people bond the most. The more you give people natural time to connect, the better the out come will be. Focus on providing more breaks than you think are required, and if conversations are flowing and people need to constantly be herded and reminded “come on, we’re starting the next activity”, it’s only a great sign. It means they are connecting. To provide structure or purpose to those downtimes, think of games such as a company bingo or a treasure hunt. We created some challenges during our off-site and pivoted them on people getting to know each other (e.g. find out facts, take selfies, and so on). As a reward for getting it all done, we even gave a day off to the person who finished the challenge first. Just remember to make it a little difficult in parts, so someone eager does not get it all done over one break!
🎨Mix people up
There are always subgroups in any group. It’s human. People like to stick closer to people they know. Thus, an off-site is a perfect opportunity to break down barriers, and be purposeful about it. Set the tone at the start; structure the activities by mixing people up; repeat it; and most importantly, lead by example. Sit with different people at every meal, make an effort to talk to those you don’t normally speak with, and nudge others to do the same. The more you focus on cohesion, the better your team culture will be.
🚀 Look to the future and “close with a closing”
What do we usually remember from an event? Two things — the emotional highlight, and how it ends. End your trip with a bang, end it with great energy, end it in a memorable way, and most importantly, end it while looking to the future. We did a Cover Story activity (creating a make-believe magazine cover story about Unlock that we wish to see published in the next few years) and then raised a toast to the future. Keep your eyes on the game, you chin high and let everyone go home tired, yet happy and optimistic about all that is to come. We hope these tips will help you to organise your own amazing off-site while keeping it fun and purposeful. And don’t forget to collect feedback from your team after, so you can continue to improve your own work over time. Happy planning!”