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3 Things You Need to Do to Host a Successful Company Offsite

Make sure that your time, resources and money are put to good use.

Photo taken during a team hike at Hint's company offsite in Scottsdale, Arizona last year. The author, Kara, appears fourth from the right.
Photo taken during a team hike at Hint's company offsite in Scottsdale, Arizona last year. The author, Kara, appears fourth from the right.

Even if you don’t listen to music at your desk, chances are you hear a lot of noises throughout the day. Mainly to the tune of the occasional…

*Email chime*

*Meeting reminder*

*Text*

*Slack message*

This onslaught of incoming emails, texts and never-ending pings takes an immense toll on our ability to focus. According to researchers at the University of California Irvine, employees are interrupted every 11 minutes. And it takes them 25 minutes to fully resume whatever they were working on before the disruption. If you do the math, that means that nearly two and a half hours of your work day is lost to these tiny interruptions.

All of these distractions make it nearly impossible to think creatively about larger, big-picture projects and feel truly connected with coworkers.

But a well-planned company offsite meeting can be a great way to shake off these never-ending interruptions, help the team realign, build relationships and brainstorm. A recent MIT study reported in the Harvard Business Review that team members who communicate directly with each other—and not just with management—are more productive and creative. Socializing away from workstations also played a significant role in boosting efficiency.

At Hint, we throw a company offsite every two years, focusing sessions on whatever problems our team needs to solve at that moment. After many years of planning and attending offsites, I’ve learned a few tricks to help make them as useful and efficient as possible, especially in today’s distraction-prone world.

1. Set clear goals for your offsite.

Don’t host a company retreat just because it feels like something you should do. To make sure your employees are getting the most out of this time away from their desks, experts say you need to be strategic when you’re coming up with the themes and programming for your offsite.

First, figure out why you’re hosting a retreat. Is your business pivoting and you want everyone to be aligned with the new direction? Did you grow a lot in the past year and want all the teams to get to know each other better? Reflect on where your company is right now, and what it needs to do to reach greater heights.

In the early days of Hint, our offsites heavily focused on strategy and brainstorming. Now, our offsites look a little different. Last year, our offsite came after a period of rapid headcount growth, so we desperately needed the time to bring everyone together on the same page.

Our goal was to disconnect from our devices and engage with each other, and the schedule reflected that. We focused on activities that would improve communication among new team members, held a session that’s helped people build a better understanding of how each role fits into the company’s overall growth and sustainability and created space for colleagues to connect.

2. Plan the right activities.

Once you’ve established the intention for your meeting, I strongly recommend you outsource the planning. For our last offsite, we headed to Scottsdale, Arizona, where I grew up. We hired an outside facilitator to plan activities that would align with our goals. And it was worth every penny. According to researchers at Harvard Business School, an outside facilitator can bring an impartial point of view and help you generate fresh insights.

Since connection and communication were our main objectives, we emphasized fun activities and outings, like whitewater rafting and team hikes, and left plenty of time for people to relax and get to know each other better. Research backs up the power of connection: Companies with disengaged employees experience 18% lower productivity and 16% lower profitability, according to the Harvard Business Review. Experts say working together on strategic initiatives contributes to a shared feeling of success and improves overall company culture.

As you map out the schedule, keep it varied and inclusive. Make sure that there is a range of things to do, so people of all ages and abilities can attend what interests them. All too often, offsites lean heavily on open bars and heavy drinking. At Hint, we want to encourage our employees to lead healthy lifestyles, so that’s why we offered a mix of more wellness-minded options as well as low-impact workshops. And according to a study from Stanford University, the double-duty combination of being active outdoors provides the biggest boost in creativity.

3. Schedule ample downtime.

The biggest offsite faux pas is a jam-packed agenda. Remember that downtime is as important as the activities themselves, especially if relationship building is one of your goals. A study published in the Harvard Business Review showed that predictable, required time off actually made teams of consultants more productive. If people are overwhelmed or exhausted, they aren’t going to be in the right headspace to open up, think of innovative ideas and connect with others.

Give people the time and space to recharge so they can be fully present when they need/want to be. We offered optional activities throughout the day, so that people have the choice to join in or sit out—sans guilt. The last offsite was such a hit that management is already thinking ahead to the next one.

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