5 Things To Do Instead of a Remote Team Retreat

Mercer Smith-Looper Mercer Smith-Looper · 5 min read

While retreats are a great way to appreciate your remote team and talk one on one, don’t wait until the next time you’re all together to show appreciation.

One of the biggest events in your company’s annual calendar might be your team retreat. Whether you’re a global team, remote-first, or just looking for a chance to get to know each other outside of the office, the remote retreat has always been a fun and productive way to bond.

With more teams working remotely, the need to come together as a company has never been stronger. Unfortunately, with the global pandemic ongoing, it’s unwise to plan a big gathering, even if we could travel to see each other.

Don’t just cancel your retreat though: replace it with activities and initiatives that result in the same benefits. Here’s how.

Have fun together

One of the biggest priorities of an off-site retreat is to have fun. Taking the time to gather together and get to know each other without the pressures of the office can lead to stronger connections and more engaged employees. Enjoying your work, and the people you work with is key to a happy, meaningful life. After all, we spend a significant amount of our time at work. Not only that, but lonely employees are more likely to quit – and that trend increases the younger your workers are.

If you’re not going to be able to have fun in person, find ways to bring these activities to life remotely. A surprising 65% of remote workers say they’ve never had a group bonding session with work colleagues. We’ve got to change that statistic.

Need inspiration? These three lists have a wide range of activities, so you’re bound to find one that will work for your team’s style:

Our favorites: team yoga time and a Eurovision style song contest

Our favorites: GIF wars, and Scavify’s virtual scavenger hunt

Our favorite: creating informal spaces to chat and socialize

Note: it’s important to occasionally schedule these during work time so that everyone can participate. While movie nights might be fun, not everyone wants to spend their downtime with their colleagues. Some employees might need this time for other responsibilities, such as taking care of kids or another job.

remote teamWork together better

The BBC recently published an article stating that working from home has eroded trust across remote teams. Employees find that the distance makes it difficult to empathize and build connections with coworkers. For both types of trust (competence trust and interpersonal trust), this is a problem.

Remote retreats were often thought of as a time to build this trust. Without the time away spent forming bonds, how do teams replicate this boost of connectedness?

One way that experts suggest is to invest in inclusive leadership skills. Rather than excessively monitoring and micromanaging employees, leaders need to make people feel included, make sure their ideas are heard and empathize when they’re stressed, anxious or burned out,” says Bhushan Sethi, a principal and joint global leader in PwC’s New York-based People & Organization practice. Along with expressing empathy, managers need to recognize their employees’ skills, letting them know that they are trusted and valued. This appreciation can go a long way to building mutual trust.

Another way to work together better is to spend time working separately, together. Noel Pullen, CXO at Commit spends time on a Zoom call with colleagues just working, bouncing ideas off of each other, and enjoying the camaraderie.

remote team

Spend the budget

Bringing your whole remote team together for a retreat can be expensive. If you’re not going to fly your employees somewhere, pay for their accommodation, food and activities, you should find something meaningful to do with the money.

  • Vote on causes to donate money to. This is a tough year for many people, and your donations could make a big difference.
  • Give bonuses to your staff. See above! This has been a tough year and many families are struggling to make ends meet. If you can send financial support their way, you can ease some of their stress.
  • Invest in more training and professional development opportunities. Pay for courses that emphasize inclusive management practices, diversity, communication skills, etc.
  • Improve your teams’ remote workspaces. Invest in ergonomic chairs, monitors, desks, microphones and webcams.
  • Show appreciation to your employees. See below!

remote teamShow appreciation

Remote workers often feel less appreciated and more invisible than employees in an office. Without the opportunity for casual check-ins over coffee breaks or off the side of the desk, it can feel hard to feel the same level of appreciation or recognition. In fact, compared to in-office employees, remote workers are 29% less likely to agree that they’ve reviewed major successes with their manager recently.

While retreats are a great way to appreciate your remote team and talk one on one, don’t wait until the next time you’re all together to show appreciation. Schedule time proactively to review your team’s success. Use the retreat budget to show appreciation in more material ways (gift cards, food delivery, etc).

remote teamTake time away from work

With the increased stress from living through a pandemic, your employees are at a higher risk of burning out. Retreats can offer a breath of fresh air that renews your teams’ motivation. But just because you aren’t all taking a break together doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a break at all.

Find ways to encourage employees to step away from their work, even if they aren’t able to take their usual vacations. For example, agents on AppCues customer support team have been able to take one long weekend each month since the beginning of the pandemic.

Setting boundaries starts with management. It’s all too easy to work overtime and not take vacations when we’re all stuck at home anyways. Try to maintain normal working hours, and disconnect for “vacation” days. Then, when you’re all back together in the office, share your staycation stories. Taking time away from work is critical to staying productive and healthy.

remote teamSkip the retreat. Don’t skip the benefits.

The benefits of meeting in person are plentiful. That’s why so many remote-first companies swear by their annual retreats. It helps teams get to know each other better, have fun, show appreciation and work more effectively.

But just because we can’t (or shouldn’t) jump on a plane and fly to a big group retreat doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t still seek those benefits. There are many ways to foster trust and camaraderie remotely – you might just need to be a little more creative!

How did you like this blog?


Mercer Smith-Looper Mercer Smith-Looper

Mercer is the Head of Support at Appcues, a yoga fanatic, and strives to make the world a little bit happier one customer at a time. You can find her at mercenator.com and on Twitter at @mercenator.

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