Let’s escape the office: a guide to pulling off the ultimate corporate retreat

An office is a team. It’s a group of people all working together to achieve a common goal, and when teammates are stressed or burnt out they stop working together. One great way to relieve workplace stress, re-energise a team and reconnect them with their common goal, is to organise a corporate retreat. Sounds enticing, right? Well, planning a great out-of-office experience is no easy task, so we have put together a comprehensive guide to make sure you get the most from the team’s time away from their desks.

Why corporate retreats?

Corporate retreats are time consuming. They take people away from work for an extended period of time and require lots of preparation. But the benefits of a trip away from the office can greatly outweigh the costs.

Cooperation is the cornerstone of a well-functioning office. Each department is a cog in a larger, well-oiled machine and in order for that machine to run smoothly and efficiently, all those cogs need to fit together. A corporate retreat separates the cogs for a while and reminds them how to work together to keep the machine running. A shared group experience outside of the office gives people an opportunity to work together on something that isn’t related to the job. Completing goals and objectives as a team will help build strong working relationships that can be used back in the office. A good retreat will also open lines of communication and create moments where people can bond on a more personal level.

“A stunning natural setting, or an invigorating experience can spark people’s creativity and motivation”

When morale is suffering it hurts teamwork, and boosting it in an office environment can be tricky. A corporate retreat will strip away the workload dragging people down, and help remind them of the aspects of their job which they enjoy the most. A team returning from a successful retreat will have a refreshed outlook on their jobs, and can focus more on the parts they enjoy while avoiding being overwhelmed by the parts they don’t.

Corporate retreats are also a great way to reward hard work. They aren’t just a solution to burnout, they can also help prevent it. If a sales team exceeds their target, or if a large company-wide project is completed, a corporate retreat can act as a reward for a job well done. The retreat will give hard working guests a break, giving them time to relax and reflect on their work.

A stunning natural setting, or an invigorating experience can spark people’s creativity and motivation. This goes particularly for executives. They are supposed to be focusing on the big-picture, but these days they are often caught up in the day-to-day operations of their organisations. A brainstorming retreat for an executive is an excellent way to inspire creativity while forcing them away from operational matters. But to achieve the desired effect, a corporate retreat must be planned thoroughly and executed well. Now that we’ve covered the ‘why’, let’s get stuck into the ‘how’.

Establish a goal

The first step in planning a successful retreat is working out an end goal. Retreats take up valuable working days, so they need to have an overall result. You can’t expect an efficient trip if it doesn’t have a clear purpose. If the end goal is for an executive branch to brainstorm new ideas or to reset a team with low morale, then it should be identified before the retreat is booked and planned.

That way, you can take your goal and apply it to every part of the planning stage. Keeping your goal in mind will help you choose which planned activities, experiences, venues and locations will best justify the time and money, and serve your intended outcome.

Build a budget

When planning any event, staying within budget is a top priority. Expect to spend well above $500 per person, per day. Corporate retreats are about creating a memorable and holistic experience, so the budget needs to factor in accommodation, food, drinks, venue hire, experiences and all associated costs. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for concessions to drive down costs. Venues and other event suppliers will offer discounts and deals for corporate bookings (particularly for return customers).

Choose a memorable venue and location

For a retreat to achieve its goal, it needs to be memorable. Attendees need to take the experience back into the office and apply it to their work. This starts with location and venue choice. Remember, the setting should serve the trip’s overall goal. An executive brainstorming retreat in the middle of a busy city might not inspire creativity as effectively as a quiet escape to the scenic countryside.

The venue also has to accommodate the technical requirements of the retreat as well as the experience. It should be appropriate for planned activities, the size of the group, the budget and for the guests’ personal requirements (such as disabled access).

If you have the time, visit the venue. While a photo gallery can give you a good idea of what the venue looks like, a personal visit will allow you to experience the atmosphere of the venue, which is vital for a retreat. Most venues will be happy to give you a tour of their spaces and offerings.

Make an agenda

A good retreat should strike right in the middle of relaxation and productivity. Guests will need recreation time to feel like they aren’t ‘working’, but will also need to participate in planned activities to achieve the trip’s goal. Build an agenda that outlines key activities and also allows time between and after them for guests to unwind and reflect. Don’t plan every minute, a retreat is more relaxed than a meeting or a conference.

An agenda should be written before the trip and handed out to all the attendees. Not only does this help during the retreat, but it will also help guests know what to expect (and what to pack).

What EAs have to say

To help build this guide, we surveyed EAs that have experience organising corporate retreats. Here are some of their key takeaways:

“Make budget the first question. There’s no point spending time enquiring about your grand plans if the budget won’t allow. Take everyone’s suggestions and try and find a middle ground. Even those who don’t think they’ll enjoy joining always do on the day! Reach out to your network, get recommendations from others who have ran successful breaks.” Bethany Brewer, CPF

“Ensure you have a clear understanding of the profile of your attendees and that you plan the event accordingly. What do they want to get from the event? What are their expectations? What to do they value?” Cecilie Algie, Monash University

“The most successful events that I have created in my tenure bring together three elements: education, team building, and adventure. Building a platform for learning and training is vital to success.” Lucia Stetson, Form Technologies

Organise transport

Not everyone has access to a car. Hiring a bus or shuttle to the location is a good idea. It will allow everyone to gather before the event in a convenient location, and travel together. A communal journey is a nice way to kick-off an experience, you can organise games and activities for longer trips that help set the tone for the rest of the retreat.

Make sure everyone is comfortable

A corporate retreat is all about taking people out of their work environment, but it’s also important that attendees feel comfortable and safe. A retreat shouldn’t push people so far out of their comfort zone that they feel like they shouldn’t be there. Understand what kind of people will be coming along, and what their capabilities are. Physical restrictions are an obvious example, so make sure every activity is achievable for everyone. A 10 kilometre hike might be great for a younger team, but an older group might not be comfortable with that much physical stress.

This also goes for social activities. Not everyone feels comfortable in a group setting, and creating divisions between the introverts and extroverts won’t help build cohesion. Planned activities and social events should have something for everybody.

Hire a facilitator

A good retreat breaks down the formal barriers and hierarchy of a company, and encourages people to get to know one another on a personal level. Having someone from the company running the show and telling people what to do confuses this objective. To make sure that everyone is on equal footing, hire an external facilitator. These people are experts in managing groups of people, and will be able to create the experiences that a co-worker can’t. An external facilitator is a neutral party and won’t bring along baggage or play office politics. As an added bonus, these professionals are generally trained in first-aid and emergency response, which is particularly handy for remote getaways.

Have fun and enjoy!

A corporate retreat can boost a team’s productivity, create genuine connections between employees, inspire creativity and reduce office tensions. Planning is the hardest part, but by using this guide you can plan the ultimate getaway and harness the benefits of an escape from the office. If it’s time to get the cogs running smoothly again, never underestimate the power of a well-planned corporate retreat.

A word on safety

While a corporate retreat is meant to be a unique out-of-office experience, ensuring everyone’s safety is just as important as it is in the office. Recreational activities and remote locations also put everyone at greater risk of injury, so here are a few things to consider when planning a retreat:

  • Health approvals: put together a health form for attendees to fill out so you have a detailed list of everyone’s needs and special requirements
  • Allergy and diet: make sure you know that your chosen location and venue cater to the dietary needs of the guests
  • Know the area: make a note of hospital locations, emergency service details and response times, and main routes to and from the retreat in case of an emergency