A successful company retreat should outline the retreat’s goals, including networking, relaxing, or brainstorming.
Company retreats can help combat the isolation of remote work and inspire colleagues’ creativity.They can also promote team-building and provide networking opportunities outside the typical office.Experts told Business Insider how companies can plan a successful employee retreat. This article is part of “Business Travel Playbook,” a series about making the most of work travel.
With more workplaces implementing remote- or hybrid-work models, planning a company overnight retreat can have huge benefits.
A 2023 report from Perceptyx, a platform that provides employee analytics and leadership coaching, found that “more than four in ten employees reported feeling ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ lonely at work.” Along with offering opportunities to brainstorm and collaborate, an annual company retreat can help combat loneliness, boost morale, and motivate employees.
Business Insider asked four experts for their best advice on planning and executing successful overnight company retreats.
The benefits of a company retreat
For many employees, the new setting that comes with a company retreat is a welcome change and can boost motivation.
“An overnight retreat can cultivate a great environment for team-building, offering extended time for collaborative activities that enhance communication and trust among team members,” Brittany Dolin, a cofounder of The Pocketbook Agency, a boutique recruiting firm, said. “The change of scenery can spark creativity by providing employees with a break from routine to foster fresh ideas and perspectives, and the retreat becomes a shared experience, contributing to a more positive work atmosphere.”
Brittany Dolin, a cofounder of Pocketbook Agency.
For employees scattered across the state or country, a company retreat is also a chance to bring everyone together and reinforce a positive company culture.
“If your goals include fostering community, an overnight ‘off-site’ retreat is a great idea,” Alex Barrett, the senior director of strategy and innovation at The Knowledge House, an organization that provides digital-skills training for underserved communities, said. “During our last retreat, we welcomed all of our C-suite staff members to New York from our expansion cities: Atlanta, Newark, and Los Angeles. Our out-of-town staff members got to experience NYC for three days after attending our daily retreat.”
Alex Barrett, the senior director of strategy and innovation at The Knowledge House.
A company retreat can also provide casual, low-stakes spaces for senior and junior-level employees to socialize.
“A retreat can provide an informal setting that allows colleagues to get to know each other better without the focus being on deliverables or meetings,” Leanne Mair, the CEO of Benefactum Consulting, said. “It can also offer powerful networking and career opportunities, and employees can showcase their thoughts and ideas to senior staff members.”
The importance of including employees in decision-making
To run a successful retreat, employees need to be on board early and feel included in the process.
“When I planned a retreat, the biggest challenge I faced was persuading people that the retreat was worth traveling for,” Mair said. “I had to outline why a retreat would deliver a different outcome than brainstorming in an office. It was also important to define why their participation was important and what benefits it presented to each participant.”
Leanne Mair, the CEO of Benefactum Consulting.
Barrett said that though it’s not possible to please everyone, it’s important that employees feel heard.
“Any event planner knows that there will always be something that doesn’t go as planned or a detail that gets missed, and that’s OK,” she said. “Planning a retreat comes with trade-offs that won’t make everyone happy or allow for everyone to be accommodated. It’s the HR or business leader’s job to make decisions that will serve their team and company best, knowing that sometimes that means there are people you will disappoint in the process.”
How to choose a date and location
All the experts BI spoke to recommended limiting a retreat to two or three nights and choosing a location convenient for most employees. Depending on your budget, a local hotel or lodge within driving distance of the office may be ideal for a first company retreat.
“Accessibility is paramount, as a convenient location ensures the entire team can easily travel to the destination,” Nicole Dayan, a cofounder of the recruiting firm The Pocketbook Agency, said. “Budget considerations will also play a crucial role in deciding your location, and you’ll need to do a realistic assessment of all costs related to travel, accommodation, meals, and planned activities.”
It’s also important to consider the time of year for a company retreat. A slow time at the office doesn’t always coincide with getting the best travel rates.
Nicole Dayan, a cofounder of The Pocketbook Agency.
“While aligning the retreat with the slow business season can help mitigate operational disruptions, you should also consider employee preferences and budget constraints,” Dayan said. “Weather conditions must be taken into account, particularly if outdoor activities are on the agenda. Scheduling the retreat during favorable weather ensures an enjoyable atmosphere, particularly for destinations with seasonal activities.”
But if your company can travel any time, aim to travel during a low or shoulder season, which can provide more options.
“Traveling offseason for a couple of days means getting better package deals and having more flexibility with your budget,” Mair said. “I usually pick the end of February or mid-end of June. It’s just outside of peak season, and you have plenty of choices for locations and accommodations.”
How to choose retreat activities
While some companies fill retreats with outdoor activities and wellness treatments, other companies use the time for meetings and workshops. The key is to establish the purpose of the retreat early on.
“Retreats should have a mix of fun activities, business-related sessions, and learning opportunities,” Barrett said. “Balance out business-related work and ensure there’s time for unplanned relationship building, cultural realignment, and professional development. Employees will leave with not only a sense of accomplishment but a sense of belonging and investment from their company.”
It’s also important not to overschedule a retreat and to provide a few hours of personal time each day.
“I like a mix of group and individual activities and the option of wellness treatments to give everyone space to recharge,” Mair said. “Remember that planning too many activities is counterproductive to creating an atmosphere where everyone feels engaged and motivated.”
The Knowledge House’s 2023 retreat class photo.
The Knowledge House
With so many moving parts, it’s also wise to consider hiring a third-party company to plan a retreat or to coordinate the retreat activities, Dolin said.
“Consider leveraging the expertise of facilitators or event planners if you have a large staff or employees traveling from different cities,” she said. “Many event-planning companies offer services tailored to corporate retreats and can help with various aspects of the retreat, including venue selection, itinerary planning, team-building activities, catering, and logistics.”
Barrett said to consider sending out a survey after the retreat and using that feedback to plan the next retreat. Ultimately, your employees will feel they spent their time well if the experience lines up with the outlined expectations.
“When it comes to hosting an intentional retreat, being able to clearly articulate why a company is choosing to gather and have leaders align what they hope to accomplish together is the key ingredient for success,” Barrett said. “Remember that the magic is in the details. The small ways you ensure all participants are cared for throughout a retreat do not go unnoticed.”