How to Host a Memorable Virtual retreat?
You must be familiar with physical retreats that your company plans at regular intervals. Oh yes, you’ve been at home for the last so many months. Remember when remote team members and your own team used to fly to a commonplace and have a nice week of activities and engaging debates? Well, now that you’re not flying anywhere and working from home, retreats are going virtual as well.
The atmosphere of relaxation and company bonding will now be done through conferencing platforms. A challenge, yes, but we have you covered!
Step-by-step process to Plan a Virtual Retreat
Step 1: Set the Date
Now that you are working from home, your retreat also needs to be from home. It implies that there is absolutely no need for you to plan everything in haste and maintain backups for last-minute transportation or catering problems. All you have to do is set a date for your retreat.
If your team meets once a week for an update meeting, make it your retreat for the next week. Keep the schedules easy after the retreat hour, so that you don’t have to ask the team to stay behind and the memory of a happy day will not be ruined with extra work later.
Your retreat can last for a couple of days or even for a week, but that will entirely depend on what kind of activities you want the team to engage in.
Step 2: Plan it thoughtfully
If you thought planning a virtual retreat is a cakewalk, well, consider the icing to be extra slippery. A big catch when you plan a virtual retreat is the time zones, across which your remote team is divided. You don’t want to barge in on their mealtime or have them doze off in the meeting, or see them walking in pajamas. Before you block the hours, check the time zones carefully and plan the event accordingly.
You don’t want your retreat to mimic the hectic days of meetings and work, hence leave the tedious presentations aside. Plan a schedule that will keep your team engaged. If there’s too much trouble, consider organizing asynchronous activities that they can do while fulfilling their daily responsibilities. Yes, we meant letting them eat in between!
Along with the fun, the retreat also has a program. Design it on your own, or plan it along with the teams in case they have something they want to address. Chalk out the activities you want to try or just outline your plan for the event. The point is to be prepared beforehand.
Step 3: Set a Clear Agenda/Intention
Organizing a retreat comes from the need to take some time off your strenuous schedule, relax and think. It also means that while you are not ripping your brains out with the excessive work, you also want to plan ahead and review things. This is your intention/agenda.
When you admit to your intention clearly, you can base your activities and discussions around it. In the light-hearted frame of mind, your team will actually be encouraged to voice their thoughts and opinions.
If you are working with a remote team, it’s extremely important to trigger the feeling of belongingness among the team members. So, organize events and conduct activities that boost communication and allow them to build relationships even while working remotely.
If you have been facing too much disorganization and you think your team has lost standing, use the retreat to bring them on the same page. Working towards the same goal is crucial in business and you can all brainstorm collectively and decide how to move ahead.
Step 4: Frame the Expectations
If you have stuck around for a while, you must know how your physical retreats have been like. You have fun, there is bonding, there is happiness and then there is work. Glorious or not, every team member has a perspective about the retreat that stems from their experience.
However much we talk about communication online, it cannot replace the feeling of comradery that comes with meeting face-to-face. You will definitely not have that level of cheerfulness irrespective of how much everyone is looking forward to this. Screen fatigue destroys everything.
Seek inputs from your team members and design your retreat accordingly. You can start by changing the name of the event to give it a good feel, well because you aren’t actually going for a retreat. Do stuff that will send out a statement saying that it would be different for the virtual mode.
Keep the same objectives but change the way you achieve them. Set the right kind of expectations so that they’re not disappointed later. Don’t forget to solicit feedback from the team so that you can improve the experience the next time – because well, “virtual retreats” are here to stay.
Step 5: Edit Down
Retreats are meant to be used like breaks where you catch up with your colleagues and have fruitful discussions about things in the office atmosphere. They are not supposed to resemble your average office day in ANYWAY.
When you are planning for a retreat, keep in mind that long and uninterrupted periods of events and even discussions will desiccate your team, preventing them from engaging in the retreat.
If you have activities and games planned, there will be a lot of content that you need to put out there. This can and will result in an information overload for a team spread across various places. To prevent that, practice editing your content.
If there is something you can do without, do without. Keep the ‘I cannot do without this’ and delete the rest of it. You want your audience to focus on the necessary and not bore them with what is not required.
Step 6: Outline the Retreat Agenda with …the following!
1. Begin with a warm Welcome
You’ve always received warm welcomes from your team. You can feel the warmth in the good mornings you received in the office. Now it’s your turn to pass it on. Join the retreat meeting early and welcome everyone as they start joining. You can also ask a welcome question that helps break the ice and immediately puts them at ease.
2. Introduce yourselves
Now that everyone’s here, set the ball rolling with a quick introductory session. Along with it, summarize the intent of this retreat. It gives them an idea of what to expect. Acknowledge the difficulties and surroundings- the noisy backgrounds, messed up tables, incessant chores, etc.
3. Run Icebreaking session
Most of your team members have met each other in formal settings. They will not suddenly feel comfortable out of the blue, especially the remote workers. Organize a short session or a game to help the team open up. Keep one for the introduction and one handy as a disaster backup.
4. Start your core discussion
Now, it’s time to get to the point. If you say it upfront, you will find them looking blankly at their screens. Use subtle questions that will power them up to voice their opinions. Based on what you called the retreat for, ask questions that will give them an opportunity to reflect and speak. Just set the ground rules so that it doesn’t go out of hand!
5. Give a break and then follow up
For the nth time, they are here to relax and take some time off. A retreat is not meant to keep them at the edge of their seats. After the first hour of discussion, it is advisable that you take a break, let them go snack or pee, and come back for another round. Conclude your event by reflecting on what you discussed and how to take it forward.
6. Express Gratitude
In the end, keep a few minutes to let your team express their gratitude to their colleagues. You can also ask for their participation with a message like “If anyone wants to share or say anything, now is the time… the floor is all yours!” It strengthens the bond between members of your team. Finally, take a couple of minutes and thank everyone for joining in the retreat.
So, How are you planning your Virtual Retreat?
Virtual retreats are new territories; you are not the master and you don’t know how well they will turn out. Of course, it is scary and intimidating, but you have to take the leap.
Follow this simple map we built for you and it will not seem as difficult as you thought it to be.
But don’t forget that the map does not end here. You are working with a remote team and keeping them bonded while staying in different time zones is definitely not an easy task. A virtual retreat is just one piece of the puzzle, you need to keep adding similar activities and events to keep your team happy and satisfied!