How Offsite Meetings Are Playing a Crucial Role to Connect Teams Post-Pandemic

In-person events and activities are finally coming back in large numbers this year, but after two and a half years of a global pandemic, the world has settled into a new hybrid reality, particularly when it comes to work. Many companies went fully remote and stayed that way, while others are offering increased flexibility and hybrid working arrangements.

This increase in remote workforces — which are often scattered across the country, and may even include team members around the world — is leading to the growing popularity of offsite meetings, in particular, as they allow organizations to gather remote employees and stakeholders that don’t necessarily see each other and interact on a daily basis.

“Once the pandemic became a little bit more manageable, we started seeing companies really trying out small group offsites,” explains Ben Hindman, Executive Chairman and Head of Strategy at event tech company Splash. “They were about 20-30 people at most. Over the past couple months, we've seen an explosion in large group offsites as people feel more compelled to meet in person.”

While offsite meetings are nothing new, Hindman notes that a key difference in many offsites happening now is that companies are incorporating them into their work processes and placing more value on these meetings than in the past.

“We're seeing organizations, groups, and departments, focus on these moments of connection the tempo of their work in each quarter — they're seeing these offsites as a core part of their work function, not just a boondoggle or a treat anymore, so that's been really exciting. It's a brand new era of offsites,” he says.

Hindman also shares that he has been seeing two broader trends emerge within offsite meetings: those that are focused on productivity and getting work done, and those that are closer to retreats, where the focus is more on teambuilding and connection. “We’re seeing those being prioritized differently,” he says. “The space that I'm most interested in is right in the middle of those — the meetings that are productive because they're connected.”

Moving forward, he expects that there will continue to be a “renewed understanding of trust building as a form of productivity,” and “a shift in people's understanding of what is productive.” In addition, as companies figure out how they mange offsites and how to incorporate them into their work structure, managers will likely be increasingly expected to be able to design effective offsite meetings and bring their teams together to achieve desired outcomes.

Another growing trend, according to Hindman, is that meetings and events in general are focusing more on attendees and the connections that people will be able to make onsite as opposed to other aspects of the event. “We’re seeing attendee lists being published far more often, so people can see which leaders plan to be onsite, for example,” he says.

This shift in focus also indirectly boosts the sustainability of these meetings, since swag, which is often very wasteful, isn’t as important. “It’s not about what you take home, it's about the people that are going to be there. What you buy for the event doesn’t matter so much.”

When it comes to organizing offsite meetings in our current climate, companies and teams are still having to manage lingering Covid-related obstacles, especially as the pandemic is far from over, and not everyone is ready to move on. “It’s an ever-evolving challenge right now,” says Hindman.

In order to accommodate employees’ comfort levels as much as possible and still achieve business goals, many companies are incorporating hybrid elements if the meeting content is imperative in order to include team members who may not feel comfortable traveling yet. Hindman notes that on the flip side, “if it's not possible to have a hybrid component, then it's not okay to make the work imperative. That’s the way to create some equanimity.”

Some companies may decide that they don’t want to include digital components because it detracts from the experience and from the goal of uniting everyone in person, so they’re also having to determine how important offsite meetings are to their culture, and some employees may feel obligated to attend even if it isn’t technically mandatory. “’Is in person important sometimes?’ is the question that a lot of organizations are asking,” notes Hindman.

Ultimately, Hindman notes that the most important aspect of offsites is to have a clear objective and reason for employees to come together.

“You're potentially risking a lot by going to an offsite as an employee — risking time, productivity, and also potentially your health,” he says. “There needs to be a very clear reason why you're going to that offsite, and that's another piece that I'm seeing organizations really focus on. ‘Why are we holding this and what are we hoping to accomplish here? And how do we communicate that?’

“This may have been obvious before, but moving forward, you need to be clear about the purpose of that offsite, and I do think that that's going to color how and why offsites are hosted in the future.