Filling up your social batteries: A recipe for successful team offsites for remote teams

By Julia Reis and Silvia Tosatto

As we made our way back from Braunschweig at the end of our very first Julia Reis Consulting offsite last Saturday, we reflected as a team upon the importance of these events in remote teams and on why ours was as successful as we felt it was. 

During three days of working and living side by side, we got to know each other on a deeper level. Remote teams like ours in fact often do not have the opportunity to do so during their normal routines. While as a team we structure online chats and team calls to support personal and open exchanges, in-person interactions are difficult to replace. They can help you form a sense of camaraderie and enhance our productivity in the long and in the short term.

Regular offsites are a great way to deal with this!
During ours we decided to focus not only on strategy and learning and development, but mainly on having time to get to know each other on a more personal level while walking, eating or sightseeing together. How do you strike the balance between the two? 

Here are our top 5 tips on how to organise the perfect offsite for a remote team based on our own experience:

#1 Team planning: setting priorities and picking activities 

Our team began very simply by creating a brainstorming virtual whiteboard where we shared ideas for activities and goals for the offsite. In this board we not only reflected and posted ideas for strategic activities, but also ideas for social activities that could get the ball rolling to help us get to know each other a little better. We specifically decided to think of activities that would benefit from being carried out in presence. 

After the brainstorming, we selected four key goals for the offsite. We did not want to overload ourselves with too many goals and objectives to ensure an enjoyable experience for all of us. In accordance with these priorities, we created a schedule that could allow us to work productively and without too much pressure. 

#2 Collaborate on strategy and non day-to-day tasks 

We wanted to take advantage of the time together to work on tasks that were sometimes neglected in our day to day, and that could help us think of our work at a more long-term strategic level. For this reason we decided to have strategy sessions (for example on our mission), work on our company’s current quarterly OKRs and focus on improving our knowledge of German labour law and online marketing knowledge. The progress we made in these areas left us feeling very energised and aligned within our team. 

#3 Choose a location and activities that match your culture and be aware of individual energy levels

Each team and organisation is different. Make sure to match your location and offsite plan to your specific culture: Are you a team of foodies? Then treat the team with a fancy restaurant visit or cook together. Are you nature lovers? Then you might prefer a “cabin in the woods” to a nice city apartment. 

In most jobs, you rarely spend virtually the whole day with your colleagues. Be aware that some of your team members might have introverted personalities. Especially for them, it is crucial to block some slots in which everyone can decide what they do: be it having some “me time” walking or in their room, having a 1:1 chat with a colleague or visit a sight in a smaller group. You might also consider making some agenda points optional if your schedule is particularly packed. If your budget allows for it, letting your team members sleep in individual rooms can also help them to stay motivated.

#4 Focus on social aspects and schedule in personal exchanges exercises  

As part of our offsite, we prepared a personal “5 picture” presentation in which we each shared 5 pictures showing persons / memories / places or objects who or which shaped us in some way. This, along with our mealtime and hiking conversations allowed us to learn more about each other’s experiences, aspirations and characteristics. 

#5 Take the time for sharing individual thoughts and concerns

At the very beginning of our offsite, we conducted a check-in round to share our individual hopes, concerns and questions. Whether it was having enough personal time, or feeling intimidated by being invited to expensive restaurants, sharing our worries allowed us to be open, and helped us be more aware and mindful of each other’s personal boundaries.

On our last night, we took the time to sit on our apartment sofa, and reflect upon our offsite. We began by sharing what went well, and we quickly ran out of space on our Miro board! We realised that we naturally felt like a well-established team, and that our communication throughout the offsite had been easy and enlightening. We also discussed tricky moments that we experienced, and derived some key learnings to take away and implement in a future offsite. 

You now want to start planning your next offsite?

Here is our Step-by-Step Checklist for making organizing it easier for you: 

  • Check the available overall budget and decide on the organizing team 
  • Consider any learnings from your last offsite (if applicable)
  • Align with your team on the most suitable time frame (usually between 2 and 5 days)
  • Choose a suitable location
  • Check which of your team members can make it to book transportation (ideally by train) and hotel / apartments accordingly
  • Share key information on timeframe, location and travel arrangements with your team as early as you can (if it shouldn’t be a surprise), so that people can make any necessary preparations (e.g. concerning childcare)
  • Start planning your agenda, ideally discussing goals and possible activities / agenda items with your team 
  • Book any necessary tickets for special activities (e.g. climbing, special tours etc.)
  • Select and choose any external facilitators / coaches you might want to bring (optional)
  • Decide if and how you want to document the offsite for marketing / employer branding purposes and if necessary, book photographers etc.
  • Reserve any restaurants (depending on location, budget and your culture)
  • Prepare the program - ideally spreading the load across different shoulders in the team
  • Make a packing list for any needed workshop material etc.
  • Double-check any open questions on transport, internet access, available equipment etc. with your hotel / apartment owner
  • Share final information on agenda, logistics, any special items to pack, dresscode etc. with your team
  • Once arrived, do any necessary grocery shopping (with a prepared detailed shopping list)
  • Conduct a check-in round to exchange on your hopes / expectations, concerns / worries and open questions about the offsite
  • Make sure to strike a balance between a fixed agenda and free slots for personal use / individual work
  • At the end of the offsite, do a check-out round in which all participants share what went well, what could be improved next time and take-aways / key learnings

We wish you a great time with your team!

August 25, 2022