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Planning an Offsite That Doesn't Suck

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Planning an Offsite That Doesn't Suck

The benefits of a team offsite are many, but it’s not always an event people are excited for and drawn to. Let’s be real - Offsites can sometimes feel like a drag and be viewed as an unnecessary use of time that could be spent on actual day to day work.
The reality is that offsites can be highly productive, beneficial, and FUN! It’s a chance for employees to get away from their routines and physical desks (and maybe outside the city too). It’s also an opportunity to bond and work together to plan for the future.

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Why have one?

Increased Employee Engagement
Remote/hybrid work environments at many organizations post pandemic have left a lot of employees not feeling connected to their team members, their job, and their company. An offsite is a great way to learn about your team members’ interests, passions, and skillsets, and understand how they can best contribute to work and projects in the future. During the offsite, you can use a combination of information sharing, brainstorming, planning sessions, and fun team building activities to build rapport and give everyone a chance to help drive the company or team’s future goals and direction.
More Effective Planning
Company offsites give us a chance to separate ourselves from the distractions of daily life and business operations and have some uninterrupted time for focused planning. Without the need to put out fires and attend back to back meetings, we can take a balcony view of what’s happening on our team and what we can change and focus on to improve and grow as a unit.
Dedicated Time to Recognize & Reward Efforts
Research shows that recognition and reward are significant drivers of employee engagement. While no one size fits all, offsites are an excellent opportunity to show employees how much you appreciate all of their contributions. It could be a simple gathering with food and drinks, a happy hour or show, a formal awards session, or even a fun non work activity. Regardless of what it is, your team members will love that you have noticed and appreciate their work and that you’re “giving them permission” to have a little bit of fun “on” the office.
Time for Team Building
Team building happens every day on the job. However, offsites give us the opportunity for targeted team building activities. These activities can help team members get to know each other, build rapport, communicate more effectively, and solve challenges together. They’re also a great way to build targeted skills like communication techniques or resolving conflict so your team can be more efficient and productive on future projects.

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When you’re ready to begin planning, first lay the foundation!

Decide on your goals and objectives
Before you start planning out the logistics of your offsite, take some time to nail down your top three goals for your time together. For example, do you want to focus on team communication? Get to know new team members? Reward everyone for a recent project win? Build new skills? Set and plan for a new strategic direction?
Once you’ve agreed on your top three goals, take it one step further and decide what achieving each of those goals would look like to help you design your schedule.
Find a time that works for everyone
For many teams, some weeks are busier than others. It may go without saying, but try to avoid scheduling an offsite during one of these extra busy weeks. If all participants are constantly checking email or cramming work into short breaks between activities, you’re not going to get as much out of the offsite as you should.
Instead, consider surveying the participants about the best time to run an offsite and lock it in as soon as possible. If it’s more than just a one-day event, chances are your employees need to line up schedules with a significant other, find child care, coordinate plans to support their workflow, and clear out their calendar for the retreat.
Lock down the location
Location matters. It’s an “offsite” after all, right? Luckily, that may be interpreted in a variety of ways. You can run an offsite remotely, in a different building, at a dedicated events center, or even further afield in a different city. Of course, you can also run an “offsite” onsite. What’s important, though, is it’s different from your usual day-to-day working environment.
You’ll need to consider costs (especially if people are flying in for it) and think about a convenient location for everyone in terms of travel and accessibility. And if your entire team is working remotely, remember the cost of flying them all in for a few days. All expenses paid are probably cheaper than office overheads.
Involve your team in the planning
If improving team coordination and collaboration is one of your offsite goals, why not get some participants involved in the planning? For example, they could help organize the catering, a guest speaker, a team happy hour, or even a fun team activity like trivia. In addition, when employees are involved in the planning and organization, they feel a sense of responsibility, promoting greater buy-in amongst the rest of the team.
Choose team building activities that work for everyone
While it’s important to schedule some time for fun team-building activities during an offsite, it can be hard to accommodate everyone’s interests, tastes, and styles. That’s why we recommend incorporating a few different inclusive activities, suit your team members’ personalities, and link back to areas that need team focus. For example, don’t organize a beer tasting event if you know a number of your team members don’t drink, or avoid doing a sales-based activity if your team needs to work on their collaboration skills.
Another idea is to make some activities mandatory and others optional. That way, you can make sure everyone participates in the targeted team-building activities but then give options like a food tour, museum visit, or a game night as optional after-hours activities for whoever wants to participate.
Build some downtime into your schedule
Unless everyone in your team is best friends and loves spending every waking minute together, it’s important to schedule some unstructured free time in your offsite’s schedule. That way, everyone can choose how they want to spend that time. For example, they could do some sightseeing, squeeze in a quick workout, meet some colleagues for a drink, or even catch up on some shut-eye. As an organizer, be sure to communicate what’s mandatory on the schedule and what’s optional.
Make sure everyone is well fed
While food is not usually top of mind, it’s an essential part of any offsite. When people are hungry or waiting for their next break, they can be more irritable and less productive. So for in-person offsites, make sure you have snacks and beverages available between sessions, and for the main meals, consider including a wide variety of dishes to accommodate preferences.
If you’re running a remote retreat, consider ordering some meals and snacks through delivery apps like Uber Eats or DoorDash, so they don’t have to think about their meals on those days. Don’t forget to ask everyone about their dietary restrictions or allergies in advance.
Communicate your plans well in advance
There’s no such thing as over-communication when it comes to company retreats. Make sure you give everyone plenty of notice about when the offsite is scheduled, where it is happening, and the general plan. You might also want to consider leading up to the big day or week with some bit of teaser events, prep activities, or a “know before you go” session. That way, everyone can start to get excited about the event and discuss any questions they may have!
Honestly, who benefits from surprising your team…? Especially if pleasant surprises are not generally a large part of your company culture.
Conduct a post offsite survey
While a post-offsite survey isn’t a regular part of offsite planning, it’s essential for prepping for your next offsite gathering. As soon as your offsite is over, you should solicit input from your team on the schedule, activities, planning sessions, and more.
Not only will it show your team that you value their input, but it will help you improve the planning and organization of your next offsite meeting.

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