How To Design a Virtual Retreat That Your Team Will Love

Cassy Aite
April 1, 2021
How To Design a Virtual Retreat That Your Team Will Love | Hoppier

As organizations push their return to work dates further and further back, it's vital to foster a healthier remote culture by creating opportunities for your team to take a break.

Corporate retreats are traditionally a staple of a positive company culture because they foster team-building. But 2020 brought some interesting challenges that we continue to grapple with — chief among them was forging and celebrating human connections in a virtual world. After all, "trust falls" don't work on Zoom. Here's what will work as you plan your virtual retreat.

How To Design a Kick-Ass Virtual Retreat

Sure, you have team building activities, virtual happy hours, and holiday parties planned, but they are more one-off activities that don't have the same outcome as a retreat. The idea behind designing or hosting a virtual corporate retreat is to create an enduring experience that begins before the event, gains momentum during the retreat, and sustains after the retreat, allowing you to achieve business alignment across teams.

While in-person or physical retreats often run for a couple of days, virtual retreats are different. Let's face it, no one wants to sit glued to their computer screen for days on end, especially with dwindling attention spans and Zoom fatigue. Hastily put together virtual retreats can contribute to digital burnout instead of reinvigorating your remote team.

Here's how to engage your team during your virtual retreat.

1. Lean Into Digital Experiences

Team members enjoy a team call as part of a virtual retreat

We can't stress this enough: The goal of designing or hosting virtual experiences is not to replicate in-person events. Virtual retreats offer a completely different value proposition over in-person corporate retreats. So, your aim shouldn't be creating an event that mimics an in-person retreat.

Instead, you need to do an Amazon. Remember how the company transformed the experience of buying a book? It didn't seek to replicate the social and physical aspects of purchasing books. It flipped the script on its head and offered customers the opportunity to access the largest bookstore from the comfort of their homes. Similarly, virtual retreats allow employees to relax, recharge and have fun, all while being closer to their families and homes.

These tactics will help you use your digital platform effectively.

Avoid Screen Sharing

Are virtual events even possible without screen sharing? Yes! Screen sharing is the virtual equivalent of a PowerPoint slide — it turns a dynamic session into forced content consumption. Your team members become tiny thumbnails, and you can't see anything on the screen except the content.

If you'd still like to share content with the team, email it to them in advance with instructions to print it out before the retreat begins. With physical materials on hand, your team members are much more likely to engage with their colleagues and the discussion.

Create Personalized Gift Baskets

A Hoppier virtual card used to send gifts during a virtual retreat

Use tools like Hoppier to create goodie bags or personalized gift hampers that you can have delivered to all of your participants during the retreat. Think company-branded goodies like fitness trackers, tees, cocktail kits, artisanal cheese tasting kits, or Hoppier virtual cards with designated amounts that participants can spend at your pre-approved list of vendors.

You can also send other fun stuff — like whistles, buzzers, masks, costumes, Rubik's cubes, and more — to create physical sensory experiences for team members during group activities.

Plan Virtual Team Building Activities

While this may seem like a no-brainer, you'd be surprised how many organizations approach team-building as an obligatory activity that needs to be checked off the list. We recommend integrating virtual team-building activities into the theme of your day or the entire virtual retreat.

For instance, if you're looking to promote better communication practices, design experiences around virtual improv, storytelling with CCSG, back-to-back drawing, or giving feedback in the "I" mode. Similarly, if you're looking to promote relaxation and wellness through your virtual retreat, guided yoga or meditation with thoughtfully curated gifts (scented candles, massage balls, essential oils, yoga books, personalized yoga mats) can be a great addition.

2. Crowdsource Planning

Regardless of whether you have a full-fledged event planning team at your disposal or are planning the event all by yourself, the best ideas always come from the people participating in the virtual retreat. Schedule a brainstorming session to understand what your team members want out of the experience and how you can best align their needs with your organization's needs.

Crowdsourcing will not only bring you unique ideas but also provide new perspectives on how you can structure your virtual retreat. The more engaged your organizers are, the more likely you are to succeed.

3. Host a Fun Awards Show

Virtual retreats are the best time to celebrate your team members for the value they bring to your organization. Host a fun virtual awards show to recognize the contribution of your team members and celebrate success. Get creative with unique trophies or gifts for the winner.

Help Scout CEO, Nick Francis, used a fun and powerful video presentation to host an impromptu award ceremony at the company's virtual retreat. In addition to goofy cameos in a reindeer suit, Nick presented a roll of toilet paper to one of his employees as a symbolic trophy — this was during the peak of the pandemic when stores were running out of toilet paper.

In this case, the choice of the trophy made the award show a hit with the team. You can send out personalized, fun, and unconventional gifts to your employees using Hoppier.

The idea is to combine video presentation with creative gifts. Send the awardees a pizza or a box of cookies — don't let the distance rob you of a great awards experience.

You can host the award ceremony yourself or hire a professional MC to conduct the show. But regardless of who does the hosting, make sure the spotlight is on your employees.

5 Best Practices to Elevate Your Virtual Retreat Experience

Now that you're done with planning, you need to shift your focus to ensuring that your virtual retreat experience is accessible to all your team members and that you achieve your retreat goals. These five best practices should help you take your virtual retreat from good to great.

1. Mix It Up

With remote teams spread across geographies and time zones, it's important to strike a balance between synchronous and asynchronous activities so that everyone can participate. Pre-record videos and sessions that people can watch at their convenience. Limit video conferencing or synchronous meetings to a few hours per day and keep these meetings short and intentional.  

2. Define the Mission and Set Expectations

Even before you begin planning your virtual retreat, write down the goal and intended outcomes of the virtual retreat in a sentence. Share the big idea with your team. For instance, the goal could be to foster relationship-building and reenergize the team.  

Next, decide on the structure and timelines: How many days will the event run for? What will be the timing for synchronous meetings?  

3. Over-Communicate the Schedule

A calendar for planning a schedule

Share the schedule of the retreat in advance with your team and send frequent reminders before and during the retreat. Help Scout found success by documenting their schedule in a spreadsheet, creating calendar events, and using daily Slack reminders.

4. Plan Activities With Smaller Groups

Smaller groups are more effective for relationship-building. This is especially true for random people, or people who've never interacted before. Of course, you can create opportunities for different teams to connect, but remember that larger groups can quickly alienate quieter participants.

5. Keep the Momentum Going

Team building doesn't stop on the last day of your virtual retreat. Keep the momentum alive with follow-up happy hours, team building activities, and fun social events after your virtual retreat. You don't build a stronger culture over a week or even a month. It takes consistent and regular effort to foster and promote a high-performance remote culture.

Host Your Own Virtual Retreat

We hope this article helps you elevate your virtual retreat experience and build a remote culture that everyone enjoys. These are interesting times and there is no perfect formula yet. In fact, we believe that the best virtual retreats thrive on spontaneity. It's all about finding new ways to create and foster human connections in a virtual world.

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