Jun 16, 2021 - Economy

Corporate retreats are now a must

Illustration of a vintage postcard that reads "corporate retreat"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

With more firms adopting remote or hybrid work practices, company-wide retreats are going from boondoggles to a necessity.

Why it matters: The pandemic showed that most white-collar employees can get their work done outside of an office, but a company's culture will wither without occasional face-to-face time.

If the idea of a corporate retreat gives you flashbacks to the time Michael Scott on "The Office" tried to put on his own in the Pennsylvania woods — and ended up nearly choking on poisonous mushrooms — you're not alone.

  • "Retreats have often been perceived as junkets that just let people blow off steam and have fun," says Edward Sullivan, CEO of the executive coaching company Velocity Group.
  • But in the age of hybrid work, "retreats have gone from 'nice to have' to 'must have,'" he adds. "They're critical to the culture-building at a company because it's the time when we come together and create that connective issue as a team."

What they're saying: At a Wall Street Journal conference last month, Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff — whose company already puts on the annual Dreamforce, one of the world's biggest corporate conferences — mused about the possibility of buying a large ranch to serve as a permanent retreat for employees to be inculcated in the company's culture.

  • That idea is “very different from what we were thinking a year ago before this pandemic began," he said.

The big picture: It can be easy to dismiss retreats as a waste of time that could be better spent working, or doing almost anything else.

  • But the chief challenge of a hybrid workplace isn't the work itself, but everything that goes around the work that can be difficult to create remotely: connection, comradeship, and culture.
  • That's especially true for the millions of people hired during the pandemic, says Kerry Goyette, founder and president of Aperio Consulting Group. "After over a year of working from home and not having these tiny little social interactions, people are starting to feel a crisis of belonging."

Between the lines: That might sound like a good reason to bring workers back to the office. But multiple surveys has shown that employees value flexibility in work arrangements. And a briefer period of concentrated interaction can be just as effective at building ties as spending day after day together in an office.

  • "If companies can get together even for a half-day retreat or a weekend upstate, those moments of physical colocation are like rocket fuel to the process of creating trust and a sense of belonging," says Goyette.

The catch: A more distributed workforce presents new logistical challenges to bringing everyone together at one place in one time.

  • But new companies like Troop and NextRetreat have emerged in recent years to streamline the process of designing and booking corporate offsites, down to keeping abreast of COVID-19 restrictions and tracking carbon emissions.
  • The corporate travel company TripActions is expected to launch a new product called Teams that will serve as a central hub for company retreat organizers.
It's a great time to own a retreat center in upstate New York or Sonoma.
— Edward Sullivan, Velocity Group

The bottom line: While we can't guarantee they'll be fun — and let's be honest, they probably shouldn't be too fun — corporate retreats are a necessity for the foreseeable future.

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