22 Jul 2020

Planning Your Virtual Summer Retreat

Planning an off-site for our teams is a summer ritual for many.  It’s a chance to kick back at a scenic spot, reflect on the past year, thank everyone for their hard work, learn together, and plan for the year ahead.  In our new remote work world, should we still plan a summer retreat or simply take a pass this summer?  We believe there’s never been a more important time to bring your teams together to reflect on the past few months, to share concerns in a relaxed and supportive setting, to celebrate what you have accomplished, and to look ahead together.

The best retreats combine team bonding, opportunities for informal connecting, with team building, opportunities for learning and planning. Both of these can effectively be accomplished, even within the constraints of our virtual world.   The benefits of your retreat begin with engaging your team members in planning. .  Pre-retreat, seek input and tap the talents of team members by assigning manageable tasks (e.g. planning a fun virtual scavenger hunt, a virtual museum tour, or creating a signature summer drink that you ask everyone to make at home).  While we don’t need to worry about the logistics of finding a great location, food allergies or other fears, phobias and preferences (no boats or ropes courses this summer), do  consider the obstacles people have working remotely (kids who need to be fed, dogs who need walking) and be cognizant that people’s Zoom attention span is about 90 minutes. Consider small manageable blocks of time with breaks or suggested activities interspersed.

High-impact retreats incorporate three key elements:  (1) the chance to re-charge or re-invigorate; (2) opportunities to learn together (re-tool); and (3) a shared sense of hitting the re-set button and looking ahead.  There are many creative ways to make your retreat memorable.  Consider sending a gift bag or box to every team member in advance.  Include some fun summer items (packet of lemonade, sunglasses) as well as one or two items that will be used as part of a team building activity (e.g. conversation starters, team values cards, materials to create a team logo, etc.). Re-charging can include a facilitated yoga or meditation zoom session or have some fun completing the statements:  The last time I stopped at a Starbucks…., commuted by train…, went to the movies…., was in my office…., had a haircut!

Regardless of how you design your retreat, the most important aspect is allowing people to have the informal connection and conversation we have all been missing.  This summer’s retreats should be opportunities to catch up with colleagues and feel a greater sense of team and connectedness.  While much of the work continues to get done remotely, people are craving the sense of being part of something bigger as well as the countless informal social interactions they typically had in a given day.

Lastly, don’t forget the post-retreat follow up.  Remember to thank the participants, acknowledge anyone who helped with the planning and logistics, and summarize key takeaways and next steps.  A quick survey to everyone is always a respectful way to seek input and be sure to ask if there’s anything that they wished had been covered, valuable input for planning your next team retreat.  Your team will appreciate the thought and care you invested in designing a terrific day and will feel re-energized to face the challenges ahead.  And, perhaps send everyone a postcard recalling a memorable moment as a fun, post-retreat follow up.



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