Corporate Event Planning Checklist: How to Plan a Fantastic Team Gathering

Is your company working remotely, or at least hybrid? Do you have team members or employees in another city, country, or time zone? If the answer is yes to at least one of these, planning a corporate event is a foolproof way to get your people together in the same place and build social connections.

While there are many common types of corporate events, some of which are aimed toward customers, prospects, and investors (like trade shows, conferences, seminars, board meetings, or award ceremonies), in this article, we’ll focus primarily on external, employe-facing corporate events and how to make them memorable and effective.

Challenges of planning a successful corporate event for remote teams

After several years of not seeing each other in person, most of us have come to miss serendipitous encounters, non-work-related chats, and socializing with our peers.

Travel Perk did a survey last year that showed that 88% of companies are back to planning in-person events, and 50% say the first events they will host are team building and offsites.

We’re seeing this firsthand at Gable, as we’re soon heading to our first-ever company-wide offsite. But planning and executing a thoughtful event comes with unique challenges. So we asked our own HR & Operations Manager, Amit Maymon, to share what she sees as the most significant pain points to solve:

The challenges of planning an engaging event are twofold. Obviously, there is the logistical aspect of booking flights and hotel rooms for an international team and ensuring everyone is taken care of in the best possible way.

And secondly, there is an agenda to plan for three full days, which needs to be balanced. We wanted to ensure we fit just the right amount of fun, bonding, working together, and flexible time so everyone can connect while staying energized.

Finding that balance sometimes requires superhuman abilities, but seeing the programming come together and making the team happy is incredibly rewarding.”

Event planning checklist: Where to start

We’ll walk you through some of the essential pillars you need to cover in your event planning checklist, but before we do, you need to know something. Planning events for an internal audience — your employees — must be as high-level as any public event.

As in-person meetings are one of the rare opportunities for global, distributed teams to meet each other and enhance the organizational social fabric, feeling supported along the way is non-negotiable. Our advice here is to plan purposefully, just as you would a public-facing conference.

Assign the project timeline and ownership

You’ll likely need the collaboration of several departments and team members to organize a successful company event, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a clear owner and project manager.

Our best tip is to stick to seeing events as part of the overall employee experience. In this scenario, what you deliver to employees is similar to a new product, and events are unique employee-centric product launches.

With this mindset, it’s easy to see why every team gathering or corporate event needs a project management team, a leader (or product owner), clear roles and responsibilities, and a detailed timeline.

Define the purpose of the event

Start your event by returning to the drawing board and asking the essential questions: Why are you organizing this event? Who is the event for?

Your game plan will differ substantially depending on what kind of event you’re planning. For example, an external event like a trade show, a small team retreat, and a company-wide offsite have different purposes, organization levels, and areas to plan for.

On top of that, defining your “why” goes beyond logistics: it sets a goal the event wants to achieve, like productivity or team building. The agenda and programming also vary widely based on the driving purpose of the event you’re planning.

Research your audience

Let’s use an example of organizing a company-wide offsite event for a remote-first, globally distributed team. In fact, at Gable, we’re just organizing an offsite like that for our team.

Our HR & Operations department dived deep into the research, and instead of concluding that the target audience of the event was simply “our employees,” they came up with a list that looks more like this:

  • A remote team coming together from several different countries and continents
  • Employees of different ages and demographics
  • Folks from different cultures

The conclusions from a list like this inform the rest of the planning process: some of our team members will need visas to travel to certain countries. Some folks will travel for an hour or two, while others may fly overseas for the first time.

Having a clear list of who’s joining the event helped our team think more granularly and accommodate everyone best and most efficiently.

Budget and logistics

As most HR, Workplace, and Events teams already know, the logistics is where the fun starts with event planning. Reconciling everyone’s travel and accommodation, finding a place to work together, and ensuring the event's purpose is always front and center can be exhaustive. Still, our HR & Ops team broke it down into chunks to make it more manageable:

Budget

Corporate events are usually very resource-intensive: they take up a lot of time to plan and execute and bear high costs. Therefore, setting event budgets ahead of time is essential, as it helps event planners set realistic goals and standards and get better at planning the next events.

Budgets for team events should be baked into the annual company budgets, especially if you plan for smaller team events during the year in addition to company-wide gatherings.

Divide the event budget into categories (administrative costs, travel, accommodation, events and programming, catering, swag and promotional materials, miscellaneous) and ensure to assign a bit more to employees who have to travel a longer distance.

Date and place

When settling on the date and place, our team opted for a mid-month event and decided to fly the entire team to the U.S. To ensure everyone had enough time to align their personal plans, family care, and international travel plans, the event was announced three months in advance, and the logistics with the team started immediately.

When choosing the city for your team to get together, there are many different routes to take: from big cities where there’s something for everyone to scenic destinations and unique locations. We’ve opted for a big metropolitan city for our first team offsite, but we know teams who had their meetups in Tuscan villas, Sri Lankan beaches, or Cancun resorts and had the most fantastic time.

Choosing the event venue

As a globally distributed team, our company offsite aims to get us to meet each other in person, connect, and build even stronger relationships. And one of the coolest things we did while planning our offsite is to use our own product as an integral part of designing a great experience.

We recently launched a fantastic feature called Gable Events that makes it easy for teams to organize events. You simply choose a place to work together, invite your team, and book — all through Gable.

And well, as you can guess, we used Gable Events to create and plan our offsite. We booked the most incredible workspaces for our event, from meeting rooms and coworking areas to lecture rooms, and were able to reduce the event management load for our team, at least in the domain of choosing where we would meet and work.

Learn how companies organize, host, and manage events easily with Gable >>>

Accommodation and flights

Leaving the best for last, in this part at least, we come to the most intensive part of logistics: the travel and lodging planning. Depending on the size of your event and the locations of your team members, booking flight tickets and hotel rooms can be anywhere from moderately demanding to a logistical nightmare.

We highly recommend running price checks in multiple places for booking flights, especially if your team members travel internationally. Some airlines are cheaper than others, and your employees might know about local airlines that provide better and more affordable flights to a destination.

Regarding hotels, you can always request a discounted price when booking multiple rooms but check with your team members beforehand on any special requests, from accessibility to space-sharing preferences.

Pro tip: Leave some room in the budget and space in the agenda for last-minute expenses and changes. Planning for unforeseeable changes makes you better equipped to tackle them!

The agenda

The agenda isn’t the most demanding part of planning corporate meetings but it is the most important. It ties directly to the event's purpose and goals, so it needs to be carefully thought out.

In the case of Gable’s team offsite, it is primarily envisioned as a team-building event. So we’re heading to a gathering to see each other (some for the first time!), bond, build relationships, and brainstorm on creative things we want to do together, inter and cross-department.

Unsurprisingly, team-building activities comprise a significant chunk of our event agenda, but we found time for workshops, lectures, work time, and, most importantly, flexibility. After several years of pandemic-induced working from home and explosive growth of fully remote teams, most people get exhausted quickly in intensive in-person environments like team events.

To avoid fatigue and exhaustion during company events, some teams use frameworks that help them plan balanced, people-centric agendas for their gatherings. A great example is Chase Warrington, Head of Remote at Doist, who plans his company retreats with a 20/30/50 framework:

  • 20% of the time is dedicated to working: Brainstorming sessions, meetings, hackathons, and strategy workshops are examples of time dedicated to getting work done together.
  • 30% of the time goes into activities: Scheduled offsite activities like escape rooms, yoga sessions, and cooking classes comprise a third of the time Doist employees spend together during a retreat.
  • 50% of the time is free time: Leaving half the time for employees to plan out sounds like a staggering amount, but in Chase’s experience, that’s when the magic happens. Offering your team options to choose from is a great way to nudge them, but leaving it up to them opens up opportunities for organic conversations, ad-hoc brainstorming sessions, and building solid and lasting relationships.

Virtual and hybrid events

If you’re hosting a virtual event or hybrid meeting, you’ll need to dedicate more attention to the agenda, as well as ensure that your technical support is flawless. Spotty wifi, insufficient breakout rooms, and a format that doesn’t make virtual attendees feel included are just some of the things that impact the overall event experience.

Check out our guide for planning inclusive and effective hybrid meetings >>>

Communicating the plan with employees

Okay, the heavy logistics is done, and you have an agenda — congratulations! Now what?

This is when you can move to the phase where you (over)communicate everything with your team (also known as your event stakeholders), another crucial aspect of your job as an event planner.

Robust event documentation

First, you want to ensure your team is up to date with essential information, so it’s a good idea to create event documentation where necessary information will be stored. This doc can include things like:

  • Basic event information, like dates and location
  • A table for all employees to fill in with the arrival and departure times of their flights
  • Weather information for the location of the offsite
  • Tips on how to get from the airport to the accommodation if you don’t already have transportation aligned
  • Agenda and timeline for the entire duration of the event from arrival to departure
  • Additional information on items attendants should bring with them to the event

A document like this helps you keep all information in one place and easily accessible to everyone, but it also helps reduce anxiety in your team members.

For example, if you’re planning exercise sessions during your company event, tell employees to bring the appropriate workout clothes. Likewise, if you expect your team to get a Uber or taxi from the airport, let them know the best way. Small things like this make a huge difference in ensuring everyone has a smooth experience.

Bonus tip: Create individual, private forms for each employee and ask for any special accommodations they may require, like allergies, dietary preferences, accessibility, etc.

Getting people excited

When you host an external-facing event, this is the phase where you promote it, get people to sign up, and raise the hype. How do you do that with an internal event? With these few simple steps:

  • Encourage your team to share their event impressions on social media, if they want to
  • Prepare company swag for all attendees and special event signage — and share your prep process with the team to get them excited
  • Keep attendees in the loop with all the exciting plans you have for them
  • Assign each team sponsorship over an item on the agenda (for example, the sales team leads the escape room visit)

Ensuring participation

The best company events usually have one thing in common — the employees who are taking part had a chance to shape the agenda and their own experience. Leave time on the agenda for members of different teams to get together as they see fit, engage in icebreaker activities, or even hold presentations as keynote speakers.

Ask your team for input and help them schedule time together and make the best of in-person collaboration, but make these encounters time-bound and structured. This helps you reduce delays, spillovers, and disruptions to the whole event programming.

Measure the success of your company event

After wrapping up the event, corporate event planners’ job continues: measuring the success and reporting on the key metrics.

You should leverage technology to help you track and report on the success of your event, so you can use an event management software that will help you track milestones like attendance, budget spending, and participation in event programming.

To stay on top of your core goals and measure whether the event was successful, design and create a post-event survey. Follow up with employees and ask them to rate their experience in all aspects, from travel and accommodation to programming.

Then, ask about the effectiveness of your activities: for example, ask engagement-related questions if the goal of your event was to get people together to collaborate and build relationships and trust.

Once you have the results, evaluate your success and report on it — and create an actionable list of items to improve for the next event... and then rinse and repeat!

Memorable events have long-lasting positive effects

Nowadays, successful company events aren’t that much about what you achieve in those few days together. If your team is used to working in a remote or hybrid manner, being together in person has much more to do with improving social cohesion, building trust across teams, and getting to know each other better.

Team vents pay dividends in the months after with improved employee morale (even in a recession), a strengthened sense of company culture, and better team connections and trust. So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your next corporate event and create memories that will last a long time!

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Andrea Rajic