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What is the virtual and remote offsite?
Strengthen your team
Offsite meetings are different from regular meetings and conferences in that they provide an opportunity to exchange opinions without being bound by position or title frankly. The participants can deepen their understanding by talking about their true feelings, which are usually difficult to see due to differences in roles. It can be expected to strengthen the cooperation and coordination of the entire team. In operations that require teamwork, this can also lead to improved work efficiency. It isn't easy to hold meetings in a virtual offsite environment, but cohesiveness can only be cultivated in a remote setting.
You can focus on the discussion
When meetings are held in-house with only internal members as participants, there are many cases where the person in charge is called away to attend to a visitor, a phone call, or other business that needs to be handled urgently. However, if the meeting is frequently interrupted, it may be challenging to keep the meeting going. However, in an environment where sessions are frequently interrupted, it isn't easy to hold calm discussions, and the meeting quality tends to deteriorate. Virtual offsite meetings are free of such interruptions, allowing for focused and deliberate discussions.
New ideas are easily generated
Offsite meetings are characterized by the frank exchange of opinions regardless of position in an environment different from the tight space of an in-house conference room. When people see something, they are not used to seeing, or when they are placed in an environment that is different from what they are used to, they tend to concentrate more and become more creative. By meeting in a different environment and in another way, people tend to focus on points they may have overlooked in previous discussions, and new ideas are often born from this. It is essential to create the kind of tourism that sparks new ideas, even in virtual offsites.
Why is virtual offsite important?
COVID-19 has hugely impacted our global community and its work, but it is nothing new for remotely distributed teams. Some companies have always considered their dispersion an advantage and have done a great job leveraging many tools and technologies. At the same time, we value our time once a year to come together as a team. 2020 and 2021 are crazy years with much movement, and it was clear that traditional offsite team activities would not be possible. However, the team leaders felt that they needed to find a way to bring the team together. Despite the distance, the time difference, and the challenging world, we had a very successful year, so it was essential to bring the team together, even if it was virtually.
How can we host a virtual offsite? It's fun, doesn't waste time, allows us to prepare for the coming year strategically, and achieves the ultimate goal of bringing the team closer together. How do you strengthen your team instead of just spending the day in a series of video calls and long presentations about strategy? How can we improve our teams and increase their sense of belonging and safety in these unprecedented times? Face-to-face offsites allow for more human interaction, real innovative serendipity, and fluid team networking during regular sessions. It's harder to create the same atmosphere online, but by no means impossible.
The number one challenge is that we don't know how to engage people. Here are the fun virtual offsite ideas. You can use Zoom to get social, play bingo on your own time, attend game shows, or participate in escape events such as Squid Game. After socializing, members can meet in person. A variety of online events can be organized. For more ideas, see our experiences page.
How to run an effective virtual offsite?
The basics of effective virtual offsite ideas are essential for meeting management:
- Clear objectives
- A well-developed agenda
- Concise pre-conference materials
- Well-chosen attendees
- Documented decisions
- Concrete next steps
In addition to the basics, we have outlined several methods that can be employed to run an offsite effectively.
Cut your agenda in half.
Compared to meetings in a physical space, virtual offsites are a whole new ballgame. It is important not to overcomplicate the agenda, as people's attention spans are easily reduced online. Could you keep it short and straightforward? For example, we'll take a typical day-long program and structure it into three 60-minute blocks of content. Start the most informative session on corporate strategy in the morning when the team is still fresh, and continue after a long break.
Use more extended, more frequent breaks.
Even if you keep your content blocks short, don't forget to include long and frequent breaks. People need to recharge before they can process new information. Otherwise, they will suffer from "zoom fatigue" and will not be able to get the attention of their colleagues. Therefore, have one 30-minute break between the two-morning sessions and one more extended break at lunch, such as 75 minutes. We also made it possible to start a new content block anew by walking away from the screen. Another 30-minute break might be a good idea before the evening's fun party when the official part is over.
Decide on roles.
To have a successful virtual offsite, you need a team. To do that, you need four key roles.
- Content Owner
Typically, the CEO (or someone else on the executive team) owns the key messages. You will need to coordinate with them on the agenda, main content, and overall flow.
A good moderator is essential for an engaging offsite. Their job is to facilitate the opening, monitor engagement, vocalize questions for the team, and help the speakers get their message across.
The coordinator is the silent hero. They give instructions to the team, chase down missing slides, monitor the chat, and manage everything else that happens between the team and the moderator.
- Tech Support
Technology should be running like a well-oiled machine. To prevent this from happening, invite an IT manager to oversee your tech stack.
Set up a remote studio.
If possible, set up a small studio in your office and deliver offsite from there. The audio and video quality is much better, and the energy and overall atmosphere of the event will be improved. It also makes the whole event look professional. Seeing a presenter standing in your office is a big difference from sitting at your desk at home.
Have the right tool stack.
Regarding technical setup, another big hack that changed our game was to use one master deck that we shared with all the speakers before the offsite to paste in their slides. It is most useful when sharing content on-screen during a video call, as you don't have to switch between presentation decks and can have all your content running in one place. As with any other meeting, with Google Slides and Slido for Google Slides integration, you can put your vote directly into the presentation and vote seamlessly from one place.
Rehearse with all team leaders.
The day before the opening day, invite all team leaders to a rehearsal. Have everyone participate in a conference call to review all of the content that will be shared offsite. There are two reasons to let your internal leaders know about the content: first, to get their honest opinions, and second, to share it with everyone. The second is to get the key messages across to everyone. This way, the entire team will agree, and if there are any glitches, they can be checked before having the offsite.
Create a fun opening.
An offsite is not a regular meeting. It's a video call that brings everyone together. Make it special. Try inviting a colleague with a unique talent, such as a musician, comic, or dancer, to the opening. Imagine the constant smile on your team's face.
Poll your team to see if they are following.
Even with a well-crafted story and engaging content, it can be challenging to "read the crowd" at a large-scale online event like this one. This is when polls come in handy. You can easily see if your team is following the main message and get their feedback instantly. In a matter of seconds, you can collect data from an entire group of a dozen, a hundred, or even a thousand people.
Put a moderator to smooth the flow.
Just as a soccer game needs a commentator, an offsite event needs a moderator to keep the whole event lively and to move. The offsite moderator is responsible for guiding colleagues through the meeting, getting them back on track after a break, watching over the handover, asking impromptu questions of the team to the speaker, and pulling fun comments out of the chat. You may want to ask a colleague with facilitation skills to moderate the offsite, or if you don't have such a person, ask a professional to do it. Either way, it should be worth it.
Use the Zoom break room for small group discussions.
New information raises many questions in the second content block. Set aside 20 minutes for small group discussion. The second content block was 20 minutes of small group discussion, where Zoom's breakout room came in handy. The teams were randomly divided into groups of three or four. "Share your thoughts and discuss the new strategy. And if you are unclear, think of questions to ask" was a simple one. For some of us, that was the highlight of the meeting.
Set aside space for socializing and fun online activities.
Offsites don't have to be just about coordinating company strategy or in a business sense. Make room for social activities such as quizzes and online games so that your team can relax and let their hair down a bit - even online; hold a rookie quiz after lunch to pull everyone back together for some friendly competition. Gather exciting information about the new employee, quiz them on it, and have your team members guess. A nice prize for the winner would also be fun for all participants and further enhance unity.
An excellent offsite requires everyone to be actively involved, but this is even more difficult in a virtual environment. Offsite leaders need to consider the following points.
Display a welcome screen when participants join the meeting.
When participants sign in, welcome them with specific instructions and reminders on the screen to help them prepare for the session. For example, at a recent offsite using Zoom, the following message was displayed to participants: Welcome! Please deactivate the full-screen view, open the chat window by clicking on "Chat" in the toolbar, and raise your hands by clicking on "Raise Hands" in the toolbar.
Make it interactive from the start.
It is recommended to do an activity or ice-breaker at the beginning to connect the participants and get them used to the virtual environment. One client asked each person to take a minute to talk about what was going on in their professional and personal lives. She began by describing how a loved one had become ill and how it had affected her, setting an example for the tone and candor of this exercise. The rest of the group followed suit, and the group soon felt connected and comfortable with each other.
Set clear ground rules.
With any remote offsite, you need ground rules. The typical restrictions used in face-to-face offsites still apply:
- Always return for breaks.
- Be open and honest.
- Use headings for comments.
- Use tips for separating people.
Some things are unique to virtual meetings. For example, "raise your hand" instead of jumping in, keep watching the video throughout, and mute whenever possible.
Take more frequent breaks.
Since participants are sitting in front of a screen the entire time, taking a 15-minute break every 90 minutes will give them time to reset, attend to other business needs, or deal with issues at home. One client has a 60-second "pit stop" every hour to stretch, do jumping jacks, or take a walk in the living room.
Minimize presentations, and maximize discussions.
Long presentations can kill the momentum of a meeting. Pre-edit and provide background information whenever possible. If a brief presentation or update is needed, use screen sharing to display the material and allow everyone to work through it.
Use technology to maximize participation, engagement, and interactivity.
Visual cues are complicated to read, so it's essential to gather input during virtual offsites constantly. Video conferencing software and the features included in the easily accessible survey and collaboration tools provide several easy-to-use techniques for seeing faces, interpreting body language, taking everyone's temperature, and capturing their thoughts on the meeting platform. And, when used correctly, they can help all participants put their ideas on the table more quickly.
While not available in all systems, breaking participants into small virtual groups can help smooth the flow of the day and provide a more intimate environment for problem-solving. One client was amazed to find that a 20-unit conference room was moved into four five-person video conference rooms with facilitators moving in and out of the conversation with the push of a button. Participants spent 20 minutes thinking about their approach to the problem, wrote it down on PowerPoint slides, and then were sent back to the larger group. While breakout sessions need to be well planned, they can be a part of a virtual offsite as a traditional offsite.
Get people to vote early and often. With the technology built into most video conferencing systems and phone-based tools like Poll Everywhere, participants can answer questions anonymously in real time. However, these are not just "yes" or "no" questions. Questions that ask participants how much they agree on a scale of 1 (disagree) to 5 (agree completely) can help elicit opinions virtually.
Just like dots on a wall chart in a face-to-face offsite, annotations and stamps on a shared screen can be a powerful way for all participants to give feedback, indicate preferences, and raise questions. At a recent offsite, one of our clients shared a slide with 20 potential products and asked each participant to stamp (in this case with a star) five products that the organization should pursue over the next 12 months. Then it quickly became clear where the group agreed and where they disagreed.
Most video conferencing systems have a chat function. While ground rules may be necessary to ensure that conversations are not disrupted, chat provides an additional forum for participants to express their opinions directly to the group as a whole or the meeting facilitator. For example, in one exercise, we asked participants to submit new growth ideas to the entire group via chat, creating a consolidated list for the group to consider more efficiently.
It is impossible to replicate a face-to-face, off-site experience online. However, with proper preparation, good meeting practices, careful use of a variety of tools, rehearsal, and a willingness to experiment as a team, it is not only possible but relatively easy, to conduct a virtual offsite that can productively tackle even the most challenging problems. And that may be the case for some time to come. The best virtual offsite ideas we've produced were better than the ones we've produced in-house. To get a sense of the variety of gigs we've done, go to our experiences page.