Last month, we returned from our second annual company-wide offsite (we call it the “OmniRetreat”). This year we took 350 people from across the globe to Panama for five days of connection, celebration, and clarity. It was an incredible experience for all but also a mammoth undertaking.
From finding the perfect location to navigating the complexities of visas to ensuring everyone had a great time, it took us months of research, planning, and dedication to pull off the ultimate offsite. So we wanted to share our learnings with you so you, too, can plan and host a high-impact company offsite for your remote, global team.
Why Host a Company-wide Offsite?
First things first, why even take your remote team to one location to meet up in person?
- Build stronger professional relationships: While it’s certainly possible to develop strong interpersonal relationships with colleagues virtually, meeting face-to-face can add a new level to connection - particularly in a more casual setting. Teammates get to have those water-cooler moments and serendipitous interactions that are hard to replicate in the virtual world.
- Boost team morale: Your team works incredibly hard, so it’s only fair to reward and recognize that hard work. After all, recognition is the key to happy, engaged employees that stick around.
- Fuel creativity and innovation: As the saying goes, routine kills creativity, and offsites provide a much-needed break from that monotonous routine. Spontaneous conversations, new connections, and an exciting backdrop is the perfect recipe for thinking outside the box.
- Enhance long-term productivity: Productivity is only possible with regular breaks and downtime. So taking your team away from the daily hustle could help you improve productivity levels in the long run, which ultimately helps improve your bottom line.
- Stand out from the crowd: To secure the best talent, you need to find new ways of differentiating yourself as an employer. As remote work becomes more and more popular, offering annual in-person retreats to an exciting destination is a great way to stay competitive.
“We’ve grown so much as a business and as a team over the last year - from around 100 people to over 400 in more than 50 countries. Everyone works incredibly hard to help other companies build the best teams on earth, so this retreat was an opportunity to nurture and thank our own high-performing team. We set out to celebrate all our successes, foster stronger connections, and share a unified vision for the future - and that’s just what we did. It was incredibly rewarding to see colleagues building on the relationships they’ve created remotely and sparking new connections too. We came back from the retreat energized and ready to grow an even stronger business as we look towards the next stage of our growth.” - Guenther Eisinger, Co-Founder & Co-CEO
So, you’ve decided - an offsite is just what your team needs. But there’s a lot to do, so where do you start? Let’s break it down.
Before you start planning the logistics of your offsite, it’s important to understand what you want to get out of it. These objectives will help you determine all aspects of the trip. For example, is it primarily an offsite to discuss business goals and overcome blockers, or is it a retreat to help your colleagues connect and unwind? Often, a balance between the two is best. That’s what we did at Omnipresent. Our OmniRetreat goals focused on celebration, connection, and looking ahead to the future. So while the majority of the time was spent celebrating our achievements and building relationships, we did set aside some time for colleagues to hold work meetings and collaborate.
Internal & External Personnel
As we’ve said, planning and executing a successful company offsite or retreat is extremely complex and time-consuming, so it requires a lot of people power. While it can be tempting to use internal resources for all of the planning, we’d recommend against it if you don’t already have a dedicated events team with experience in organizing offsites. Partnering with an experienced offsite agency frees up more of your colleagues to focus on their core roles in the lead-up to the event. If you do go down this route, be prepared to allocate around 20% of your offsite budget to this.
“One of my biggest takeaways from planning our 2022 OmniRetreat was the importance of using an agency. I highly recommend it for anyone else organizing an offsite without an experienced in-house team. For example, agencies have in-depth knowledge of destinations and hotels, which saves your team hours trawling the internet trying to find the right one. It also means that everything will run much more smoothly once you're there because the agency can organize all the on-site logistics, decorations, and activities. Just be sure to pick one that can book hotel rooms, buy travel tickets on behalf of employees in bulk, liaise with local tour operators, and handle all staff queries about logistics. That will save your internal teams so much time.” - Francesca Leivers, Executive Assistant
Speaking of time, how far ahead should you start planning? From our experience, it’s best to start preparations nine months prior to the offsite, especially if you have a large team distributed across the globe. Nine months gives you ample time to secure rooms (or whole hotels!) and tours before they’re booked up, purchase flight tickets at lower costs, and iron out any complex issues like visa applications. As for the timing of your offsite, that will depend on where you go, which we’ll cover soon.
Next, work with stakeholders to define a budget for your offsite. Ensure there’s enough to cover hotel rooms (ideally one per person), travel costs, food and beverages, activities, insurance, contingency, and any other extras you want (e.g., photographers). The reality is, company-wide offsites aren’t cheap - especially if your team is spread out across the world. So while there’s a sliding scale from budget to luxury options, you should typically expect to pay around $2500-3000 per person for a Monday-to-Friday offsite.
Once you’ve settled on an initial budget, you can start to look into the location of your offsite. This is a tough decision - but it’s one of the most important (and exciting!). So here are the main factors to consider:
- Where is your team based? Do you want to stay close to home (or at least close to the majority of your employees) or explore an entirely new location? Factor in the total time it will take for your team to reach the destination.
- What type of atmosphere do you want to create where you’re there? Is it a beach holiday, a city break, an adventure trip, or something in between? Consider what aligns best with your values and goals.
- Which locations fit your budget? This will be determined by travel costs to the location and the cost of hotels and food while you’re there.
- Which destinations have the simplest entry requirements? Visa application processes can be really complex, so choose a destination that doesn’t require visas for the majority of employees. Try to maximize the diversity of people that will be able to attend the offsite, and set aside a budget to cover the costs of visas. Remember, transit visas are equally as complicated, so factor that in when booking flights.
- Which hotels can facilitate your offsite needs? Consider the number of rooms needed, catering options, meeting room availability, proximity to excursion sites, and spaces for downtime. Your agency should be able to help you find and secure the right hotel.
For us, Panama was the ideal location because it’s a country where none of our staff members are based. Everyone was experiencing something new, which helped to even the playing field. On top of that, one of our company values is “Curious,” so we wanted to reflect that in our location choice. Panama was an adventure for us all.
Putting DEI at the Heart of Your Offsite
Remote, global teams are typically diverse teams. This is the case at Omnipresent; we have over 450 team members located in 50+ countries worldwide. They come from all walks of life, so diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a vital part of our culture. That’s why DEI played such a huge role in our retreat planning, too - from choosing the location to deciding on team activities.
So here are just some of the ways you can prioritize DEI during your offsite or retreat:
- Pick a location that enables a diverse group of people to join. Consider entry requirements, safety for marginalized groups (e.g., LGBTQ+ colleagues), and accessibility.
- Host pre-trip training sessions on DEI and expected behaviors. Inform your team members of cultural differences - both at the destination and within the team.
- Ensure any dress codes are inclusive of all cultures and genders. For example, if you’re hosting a formal event, don’t outline a typical Western, binary dress code.
- Minimize the reliance on alcohol-centered activities so that everyone can participate whether they drink or not.
- Offer a wide variety of excursions to suit different people. For example, we had options including ziplining, a cable car tour, a spa day, a bird walk, and sloth spotting!
- Schedule plenty of downtime so that more introverted members of the team can recharge and unwind. Providing one room per person is important for this reason too.
- Inform your hotels and venues well in advance of specific dietary requirements and preferences so everyone is catered for throughout the trip.
- Organize a separate remote-friendly agenda for all those who can’t make it for whatever reason. Do virtual team-building activities, give them a budget to have their own celebrations, and send them a recording of key events and speeches from the offsite.
“I love Omnipresent’s values, and the leadership team truly lived up to them for the retreat. They really prioritized inclusivity, making sure as many people as possible could make it to Panama. That was no easy feat - especially for those of us based in India. Visa processes are really long and complicated, so at first, it looked impossible. But the team were super helpful, and we eventually found a solution, and I’m so happy we did. As a result, Omnipresent managed to curate the most supportive, caring, and wonderful atmosphere for us all. The retreat was truly like no other!” - Ashutosh Agarwal, International Benefits Specialist
Building Stronger Connections
Bringing together your remote team in person is all about building stronger connections. So how do you achieve that? There’s no one answer, but here’s how we went about it.
Firstly, we scheduled informal activities and group excursions, allowing people to meet and connect in a casual, pressure-free environment. We did scavenger hunts, poolside games, and jungle walks.
We then organized various team dinners. On the first night, everyone had dinner within their departmental teams. Meeting up in person for the first time with 350+ other people can be really overwhelming, so going out for dinner with close colleagues allowed our team to ease into it. The next night we created table plans and mixed everyone up so they could get to know colleagues from other departments. Our final night was an awards evening, so it gave everyone a chance to solidify those connections and celebrate one another.
We also set aside lots of free time so teams could meet up to discuss departmental goals and objectives or collaborate on upcoming projects if they wanted. Many chose to have one-to-one meetings with colleagues that they worked closely with online but had never had the chance to meet in person.
Our main recommendation for effective team building is to give colleagues ample opportunities to meet new people in a variety of environments while respecting their individual personalities and desire for quiet time.
Maximizing Impact Through Employee Communications
Nailing your communications before, during, and after the offsite is key to maximizing its impact and getting the most out of your investment.
Firstly, set expectations of what the offsite is and isn’t. Is it a holiday? A team-building trip? Are employees expected to carry out any work while there? Clearly outline what your expected behaviors are based on the objectives you set for the offsite as well as your company’s code of conduct. This ensures everyone’s one the same page from day one, and it should help reduce issues later down the line.
In addition to setting expectations, it’s equally important to build excitement and keep the energy high in the lead-up to your offsite. If you need inspiration, here are some things we did in the months leading up to our retreat:
- Tease the destination using hints before making a big reveal in a company-wide meeting.
- Release a teaser trailer showing all the incredible things to look forward to.
- Host quizzes to learn fun facts about the destination.
- Hold a photo challenge with the promise of prizes during the offsite.
Once your colleagues have arrived at the offsite, it’s important to keep up the excitement and create strong, motivating, and inspirational memories that will stick with them long after the trip is over. Speeches are a great way to do this. Get team members up on the stage to create more excitement, reinforce company values, celebrate achievements, and look ahead to the future. If they’re not used to public speaking or don’t feel comfortable in the limelight, it can be really helpful to provide training in advance.
After the offsite, keep the energy high by getting everyone to share their favorite photos and memories of the trip. You could even turn these into a video to share with the team and prospective candidates on your careers page.
And finally, send out a data-driven engagement survey to measure the impact of your offsite and gather learnings for next year.
We hope you’ve found these tips useful, and we wish you good luck with organizing your own high-impact company offsite!