Corporate retreats are an ideal way for team members to relax and recharge, brainstorm ideas and work through problems, and generally get a break from the distractions of daily work life. Of course, in our new hybrid world, not every employee will be comfortable being on-site. But yes, hosting a hybrid corporate retreat is possible, with a little extra planning and the help of a strong audiovisual partner and carefully selected venue.
Here are six quick tips for creating an effective hybrid corporate retreat.
1. Don’t try to replicate the exact in-person experience.
“When planning a hybrid corporate event, you need to plan the event and the experiences for three different groups of attendees: the in-person experience, the virtual experience and the combined experience,” notes Lisa Schulteis, founder of virtual event management company ElectraLime Marketing as well as YourEventMarketPlace. “Be sure to focus on each of these to make sure the experience you are providing is engaging and considers the needs of the employees. Don't try to give virtual attendees an exact replica experience of being on-site, because it simply is not possible.”
Jenna Linnekens, chief strategy officer at experiential events agency Total Brand Experience, a member of Global DMC Partners, agrees. “It isn’t just about streaming the content from your in-person event to your virtual audience—so it isn’t just about bandwidth or filming in-person presenters using green screen technology and getting that content online,” she explains. “What you need to think about is, how do you bring your virtual audience into the live event? Think about in-person emcees, virtual panels, or a way to bring your virtual audience together with the in-person audience by visually curating meetings between virtual and in-person attendees.”
2. Humanize the experience and prioritize quality content.
And don’t forget that connection should always be a main goal of a corporate retreat. “Whether the participant is attending in person or digitally, it is important to humanize the experience,” says Linnekens. “Use this opportunity to reinvent your retreat! Meet with your team and leadership, and survey your participants to hear their vision, desires and wants. Look at the reasons why you are holding this retreat with a fresh lens, and use what you find to take a deeper dive into your brand, the messages and overall goals.
And don't neglect the content! “People attend events for two main reasons: to network and to learn,” notes Rachel Andrews, senior director of global meetings and events at event tech company Cvent. “Virtual attendees should feel engaged and inspired—just as those meeting in person do—and both audiences will expect compelling content with information they need, delivered in a way that fits their viewing experience.”
3. Pay close attention to a venue’s audiovisual capabilities.
Part of the charm of corporate retreats is that many take place in remote areas that allow employees to take a break from their daily lives and work schedules. But don’t assume that these idyllic spaces come with access to high-speed bandwidth. “Choose your venue wisely,” advises Andrews. “Venues that offer the right technology like on-site experts, audiovisual equipment, reliable Wi-Fi and streaming capabilities can help up the production capabilities and engagement levels for both the virtual and in-person experience.”
Linnekens agrees. “Look for hotels that embrace the conferences of tomorrow with built-in hybrid conference and meeting options,” she says, noting that elements she looks for include live web-streaming capabilities and seamless virtual and live event integration, hi-def video and streaming capabilities, or even a true turn-key hybrid studio if needed. “It should offer a safe and fully customizable space to prerecord presentations as well as to assist with live webinar and livestream production,” she adds.
Schulteis suggests bringing in an LED wall where virtual attendees can be projected. “This allows the primary speaker and the live attendees to see the virtual attendees, as well as the virtual attendees, seeing themselves as part of the event,” she explains. “The venue will also need to be able to support a larger AV production team. Since hybrid events involve a mix of virtual and live programming, there are additional AV production staffing needs and equipment for the virtual side of the event.”
4. Send swag to virtual attendees.
Your in-person attendees are being treated to all the luxuries of a corporate retreat—which means your virtual attendees should get a little pampering, too. Consider sending them meals or meal kits, along with any gifts that in-person attendees are receiving.
At-home mailers can also be a fun opportunity for team building. “Look for team-building activities with kits that are shipped to participants, wherever they will be participating,” says Jayne Hannah, assistant director of corporate events for virtual, in-person and hybrid team-building event company TeamBonding, citing activities like her company's mixology or gingerbread house kits, which send materials to participants’ homes.
5. Connect the in-person and at-home attendees whenever possible.
“A key objective for any corporate retreat is to help attendees network and build meaningful connections,” notes Andrews. “In the planning process, think about how to facilitate ways to bring together in-person and virtual attendees—for example, through interactive activities and breakout rooms that encourage smaller group collaboration.”
Linnekens suggests creating "innovation lounges," where curated conversations can be held with virtual participants. “It's important they do not feel like their experience is a passive one and that they have special moments with keynotes and execs," she says, adds that curated, one-on-one brain dates can also be a great method for connecting attendees.
In terms of team-building experiences that incorporate both an in-person and at-home audience, Hannah recommends avoiding activities made for large groups. “Break large groups into smaller groups made up of both in-person and virtual participants, and use video conference tools to connect,” she advises, suggesting that one person from the in-person team can be charged with holding an iPad or laptop so remote team members can be included. “When doing hybrid activities, connection is key.”
Above all, be strategic with any games or team-building activities you choose. “You’ll want to create events where every person feels equally included, so anything that requires physical activity to participate won’t work,” notes James Green, co-owner of Build a Head, which creates life-size cardboard cutouts for events. “Instead, stick to things like games and breakout groups where everyone can participate.”
6. Be strategic with your schedule.
A major benefit of a hybrid retreat is that all staff members can participate, regardless of their location—but that means you’ll need to carefully consider time zones and other scheduling issues.
“One of the main purposes for retreats is the in-person team building that occurs throughout the entire time there, so you won’t be able to completely replicate that for virtual attendees,” says Green. “The best way to make sure that everyone feels equally involved is to plan out specific and time-sensitive events. At-home employees won’t want to sit at their screen the entire day, but they will be more inclined to tune into events that are scheduled to take a designated amount of time.”
And for those preplanned hybrid events, adds Hannah, “Allow time for in-person attendees to get settled before the video conference starts so virtual guests do not get confused by chatter/movement or feel out left out of the conversation. Similarly, make it clear when the event has ended so people do not wonder when it is time to leave.”
Ready to get planning? Read on for a look at 13 luxury properties throughout North America that have standout features for both in-person and virtual retreat attendees.
1. Lakeway Resort & Spa in Lakeway, Texas
2. Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa in Santa Ana Pueblo, N.M.
3. Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center in Roanoke, Va.
4. Streamsong Resort in Bowling Green, Fla.
5. Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa in Honolulu, Hawaii
6. The Cloudveil in Jackson, Wyo.
7. Conrad Punta de Mita in Riviera Nayarit, Mexico
8. Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in Jasper, Alberta
9. Inns of Aurora in Aurora, N.Y.
10. San Diego Mission Bay Resort in San Diego, Calif.