I’m a senior engineer at Merit, a software company initially based in the San Francisco Bay Area but now 100% remote.
Working from home is convenient but can’t always substitute for the fast iteration and serendipity of being face-to-face. After 18 months of video calls with my team, many of whom I’d yet to shake hands with, I suggested an offsite – a working vacation – and got instant buy-in from my manager. Yes, I do know how lucky I am to work for that kind of company.
A few months later, we converged on Utah, heading for our Park City rental. We focused on Merit projects during the day, then played board or video games and ate our way through local restaurants in the evening. Long lunch breaks exploring the surrounding area rounded out our activities. It might sound tame, but the trip was seriously successful. Merit projects progressed, but more importantly, strengthening team culture set the stage for more cohesive collaboration in the future.
5 Simple Steps
I want to share the five simple steps that helped us pull this off, and I encourage you to give some thought to investing in a similar experience.
- Discuss work and team-building goals as well as the kind of trip you want
- Create a spending plan
- Book dates and accommodations
- Develop a flexible schedule (or don’t!)
- Check local COVID-19 guidelines
Discuss offsite goals and the kind of trip you want
Determine your offsite goals. Maybe morale is flagging – it happens to everyone! Perhaps you want to unblock team creativity or nail down technical details. In our case, we wanted to reunite the team and introduce members who joined after we went remote.
Once your goals are clear, decide the kind of trip you want. Maybe you want a fun-only weekend “team building” trip. Fly out for 1-2 days and spend the whole time being a tourist. Be sure you’re not imposing “mandatory fun” on your team. It’s probably best to do this offsite during the workweek, so everyone feels they’re having more fun than the alternative.
You can add a few extra days to your “team building” trip and focus on organizational tasks. Planning, brainstorming or negotiating tough decisions benefit from in-person time, especially if disagreements are likely. Then, do some fun activities, so you remember that you don’t hate your co-workers!
My team made a week-long trip. Specifically, we arrived in Salt Lake City on Sunday afternoon and left Saturday morning. We had a typical work week but in person. We enjoyed fun activities after work and in the evening.
Create a spending plan
Budgets will vary based on your company. I can tell you that our seven-person, seven-night trip, including a car rental and airfare for all, cost a bit under $9,000, which may seem expensive but is relatively economical. Plan ~$80 per day for a rental car and $200 per day per person for lodging. Keep in mind that some locations may be experiencing fluctuations in prices.
Book dates and accommodations
The farther in advance you schedule the event, the less likely you are to have scheduling conflicts. It may be challenging for everyone to find the same week off, so decide if you will still go offsite if one person can’t attend.
Lodging is a straightforward but sometimes intractable issue. There are two broad types of destinations – outdoors or urban. Is your team made up of foodies or museum aficionados? Consider a trip to Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, or Washington D.C. Will the team want hikes, biking, and thrill-seeking? Then try someplace like Colorado or Eastern Tennessee.
Once you choose a location, decide on renting a single house for everyone or individual hotel rooms with collaborative office space. If you rent a house, you can work in the common areas that become a lounge in the evening. The booking process is simple, just a single reservation! You do lose the privacy of individual hotel rooms and the boundary between work and play, so consider establishing these. We did this in Utah; it’s an excellent option for teams that like gaming in the evening.
If your team wants more privacy or doesn’t want a dinner-party atmosphere in the evening, consider hotel rooms and reserve a conference room for collaboration during the day. Keep in mind that without plans in the evening, everyone may end up staying in their own room. You should consider a hotel if your team won’t fit in a single house or would rather go out on the town than stay at home.
Develop a flexible schedule (or don’t)
It is vital to know if your team will like being booked solid with fun events or want time to relax? You probably have a mix of those who like to explore a new city randomly and those who prefer reserving activities months in advance. I recommend planning a bit of each to keep everyone happy. We were light on explicit events, which was fine, but we did miss some of the great recreations in Park City.
I was caught off guard by the different sleep schedules, and it’s great to think about this in advance. If a co-worker doesn’t wake up until 11 AM, do you schedule a morning hike up a mountain or a coffee brainstorming session before they are up? Or will an “early to bed” worker feel excluded if the team stays up until midnight? Define working hours during the trip, so everyone is awake and in the room together. After all, that’s the reason for the offsite.
Check local COVID-19 guidelines
There are national, state, and local COVID-19 policies. Be aware of guidelines for all the locations through which you’ll travel. You don’t want half your team stranded in a state because they don’t meet the criteria.
Once you’re at your destination, have fun! The offsite made a massive difference for our team and was worth the effort. We weren’t particularly more productive than usual, but I definitely refreshed my “well of patience” and enthusiasm. So follow these five steps, talk to your leadership and co-workers, then plan to get away together. Your whole company will feel the benefits long after you’ve returned home.