8 Tips for Hosting a Great Virtual Offsite For Your Company

For distributed teams and international companies whose staff is dispersed across the globe, company-wide offsites are always a great chance to gather in person and have some much-deserved fun.

The pandemic and 2020 disrupted our everyday routines, and team retreats, like everything else, had to move to Zoom. Some companies took this challenge as an opportunity and jumped into planning creative and engaging virtual offsites.

Over a year later, there are many ways to organize an amazing virtual offsite for your team members. Here are some tips on how to pull it off:

Virtual offsite vs in-person retreat

Team retreats and company-wide offsites are the most effective way to maintain the company culture. Regardless of their format, they should increase the employees' feelings of belonging, inclusion, and appreciation.

And while gathering in person is surely the preferred way for most people to catch up with colleagues, virtual offsites can be just as interesting. Companies can organize them as replacements for yearly retreats and as smaller quarterly events to engage their remote, hybrid, and distributed teams.

Virtual company-wide events can give your employees a chance to showcase their interests, cultures, and everyday life even better than live events. The array of sessions you can have virtually can be even wider than in person, so there is no reason to think virtual events are any less cool than live ones.

Think about the whole experience

The focus of any team gathering is on the employees, not the leadership or the company as a whole. These events exist to center the experience and well-being of your team in a fun way and recognize their great work during the year.

When planning a virtual offsite, start by exploring the perspective of your team members - how they would feel most engaged, amused, and recognized. Sometimes, the leadership teams can have brilliant ideas that don't resonate with the rest of the company or are just too burdensome and complicated to do.

The virtual offsite should be an individual experience for every team member, so you should approach it that way. Design and execute different chapters, so they fit the overall vision and culture of your organization. You may be tempted to use a "template" from another company, but it's always best to organize the event so it matches your company values and your team.

Plan your offsite way ahead

As with any company offsite, you'll need to start planning the virtual event months ahead. There are no plane tickets and hotel rooms to plan for, but there's a myriad of other things to consider.

If your team spans across time zones, try to plan for events and sessions so that everyone can participate while still maintaining a normal daily rhythm as much as possible. If the team members are in so many time zones that this isn't possible, try to juggle the weird hours so they don't always fall on certain teams.

The duration and agenda are critical for a successful virtual offsite. Attention spans are much shorter on video calls, so make sure to disperse the activities over several days and cut the agenda for each day in half, compared to live events. This way, your team will be less exhausted and more engaged in the meet-up.

Get your entire remote team to participate

In in-person events, it's usually the leadership team who is in charge of planning and executing most sessions. The employees are present in person, so engaging them isn't too hard and is usually done on spot.

With online offsites, things are a bit different, especially if you're doing one for the first time. You don't want your offsite to be a days-long Zoom call, but a fun employee experience. To achieve that, you need to assign roles for as many employees as possible. Every successful online event needs a facilitator, a moderator, one or more hosts, and several content owners. These roles help with moderating chats, screen sharing, polls, etc.

Including everyone not just in the agenda and program, but the execution as well as a way to increase collaboration and team bonding before the virtual offsite starts. The leadership should brainstorm activities that include everyone's participation and engagement.

Include an icebreaker in the agenda

You know how all live events have a kickoff session, where the agenda and program are announced? Well, your virtual offsite should have an intro session too, followed by icebreaker questions.

Adding an icebreaker is a great way to relieve the anxiety your team may have about attending a virtual offsite for the first time. Some people may not be familiar with video conferencing offsites, while others are more introverted by nature. Effectively onboarding remote workers into the event ensures everyone is on the same page about how the gathering will take place.

Apart from the icebreaker, you might want to consider check-in sessions at the start of each day, to make sure everyone is up to date and feeling good about the planned activities.

Don't forget the tech support

As with all things virtual, there's a high probability someone's internet will cut off in a critical moment. Many of your team members will probably talk while muted, and if they're at home, a pet will appear on screen for sure.

This is all okay and to be expected, but there are some steps you can take to prevent more serious disruptions to your event.

  • Include the full tech stack you need for the virtual offsite in the planning phase
  • Make sure all employees have access to all channels in which the offsite will take place, such as Zoom, Slack channels, or any other tools you plan to use
  • Ensure IT and tech support for the whole duration of the offsite, even when you're sure everything will go according to plan.
  • Consider if all events need to be in real-time and if some sessions can be pre-recorded
  • Pro tip: Plan for some team members to have a real, non-virtual whiteboard at their location. You should use virtual whiteboards as well, but you never know when a physical one might come in handy for brainstorming.

Get creative with virtual team building activities

Virtual company events are a chance for your creativity to shine, as your team-building options are limitless and can delight employees everywhere. Approach these activities with the same goals you have when they are happening in person, but give the circumstances some thought.

While it is great to have some activities that happen real-time with the entire company involved, those sessions may quickly become too high-level, or too confusing for everyone to take part in. Implement sessions for small groups, ideally in Zoom breakout rooms, so people can actually get a chance to talk, participate, and show their engagement.

Next, give your team a chance to showcase parts of their daily lives and cultures, especially if your team is international. One of the coolest team-building activities is a culture show, where employees from different parts of the world talk about their country, language, or culture. It helps their colleagues know them better while also gaining some knowledge about other parts of the world.

Of course, throwing in a happy hour or two won't hurt your team, and there could also be a competition for the best drink involved. It doesn't have to be a cocktail - you can do a coffee brewing happy hour or the best protein shake contest.

Trivia contests are a great team-building exercise, especially if they relate to the everyday work environment. Creating questions about how many dog photos a colleague sends every week or what music they listen to is a great way to compete while having fun.

Don't shy away from the classics, like a virtual escape room, a company bingo, or online games. Take a popular game or format and adapt it to fit the daily life at your company and it's guaranteed to make your offsite unforgettably fun!

Capture employee feedback & engage the team after the virtual meeting

Employee feedback is critical for any company offsite, virtual or not. During and after each session, you can organize polls and activation questions to measure the pulse of employee engagement and their satisfaction. This feedback will give you direction for the next events and insight into how employees feel.

Once the event is over, plan on sending a recap through an internal newsletter or even recording a dedicated video that employees can enjoy as a keepsake. Finally, a great move is to send offsite-specific company swag to everyone after the event is over. It's a great way to bridge the virtual gap and make everyone feel recognized - plus, who doesn't love swag?

Evaluate and plan for the next event

Upon getting employee feedback, it's good to take notes about the things you would want to do differently next time or start planning the following event already. For some companies, the possibilities that video conference events offer can be used in live events in the future, while others may decide that retreats will be hybrid going forward. Whatever your company's take on virtual offsites is, the skill of being prepared for the event in advance is a handy one to have up your sleeve.

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Andrea Rajic