If executed well, a team offsite can be an extremely useful tool to promote team engagement, boost morale, knowledge-share and most importantly, take a look at the year-in-review and hear from leadership about what’s to come. But when my CEO recommended that our team of 50 do a remote offsite in the middle of a pandemic, my initial reaction was “This is going to be impossible.”
At best I guessed it would be a tortuous day of back-to-back Zoom sessions. (Haven’t we endured enough?)
But we did it. And while it almost unrecognizable from our in-person offsites in the past, which tend to be all-day retreats, it was just as meaningful, impactful, and — most surprisingly — fun! Here’s how we did it:
At in-person offsites, companies are typically providing meals, snacks and other goodies throughout the day. Consider sending your team members a “survival kit” prior to the virtual offsite, which might include things like a gift card for morning coffee and lunch, snacks, a beverage for your closing happy hour, and props that they might need throughout the day. Receiving something fun prior to the day will build excitement and allow you to treat your team to some of the same things that would be offered at an in-person gathering.
Involve the Team
Knowing that you’ll be planning several activities during the day, try to incorporate different teams or departments by assigning them blocks of time to plan. Provide some parameters, but allow them some latitude to concept an activity. For example, the marketing team could be assigned a 30-minute session for a client-related trivia game. In addition to adding some diversity to the schedule, it gives team members the opportunity to work together prior to the offsite in a different way and for a different purpose than day-to-day workflow.
Share the Agenda
In the “Survival Kit,” include a high-level schedule of the day ahead of time so that team members know what to expect and can plan any necessary activities during break times.
Set an OOO
Urge your team to set an “out of office” message so that others know to expect a delay in responding to emails. It also allows your team members to feel less anxious about missing emails and less likely to try to multitask during the offsite. You’ll maximize engagement while stressing the importance of being fully engaged throughout the day.
Give ‘Em a Break
Or several! Don’t make the mistake of packing in so much programming that you can’t give people a chance to step away from their screens and unplug. I recommend a few breaks throughout the day, with a longer one for lunch, to allow people to log off and/or take care of necessary work-related tasks. If the team knows they can use breaks to answer time-sensitive emails, they’ll be more likely to be fully engaged during the day’s activities.
Invite a Guest
An offsite can be a great opportunity to have a guest speaker address your team. Bringing in someone with a different perspective to speak on a specific topic can be a great way to both educate your team while adding variety to the agenda. This can be anything from an industry-specific expert to a speaker on a more timely topic. Polling the team prior to the offsite to get a sense of what topics might be of interest could also be helpful in determining what type of speaker will be most impactful.
Give your team members the ability to convene in smaller groups throughout the day. Large online group meetings can be intimidating and deter people from speaking up, while a smaller discussion group is more conducive to being vocal. Most online meeting platforms like Zoom, Webex, and Microsoft Teams allow for breakout rooms to facilitate smaller conversations. It’s often in these smaller breakouts that team members share and learn things about each other that they wouldn’t have otherwise!
I’m not talking about a high intensity workout here, but urging your team to get up and move at least once throughout the day will help them be more energized and focused. This could be as simple as encouraging a walk around the block during a break, or having a team member lead a short yoga or stretching session before you dive into programming.
Don’t Forget to have Fun!
When we come together as a whole team, we learn, we share knowledge, and we engage each other in different ways. But it’s also important to not lose sight of one of the main reasons to have an offsite — to have fun! We’re all in the trenches together every day, working alongside each other, relying on each other and supporting each other, and an activity like an offsite can be a great opportunity for your team to just have fun together. Play games, be silly, share personal anecdotes, have a cocktail challenge. Whatever the activity, make it part of your agenda to laugh frequently throughout the day.
Ask for Feedback
After the offsite, solicit feedback from the team to understand what they liked or didn’t like and what types of activities they would like to see included in the future. This will allow you to better plan subsequent offsites (hopefully in-person!) to maximize engagement and inspiration.