May 17, 2022 - Economy

The future of retreats

Illustration of a vintage postcard that reads "corporate retreat"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

This week, the 500 employees of Axios will get together in person — for our first company-wide retreat since the pandemic hit.

Why it matters: A staggering 75% of our colleagues joined after March 2020. So most of them will be experiencing Axios in person for the first time. They've never set foot on a piece of Axios real estate, and they've never met most of their coworkers in real life.

  • This is the reality for companies all over the world.

Zoom out: In our work-from-anywhere world, the company retreat is more essential than ever.

  • Remote work has a slew of benefits — from flexibility for workers, to a limitless talent pool for employers
  • But it strips away the togetherness and serendipity that makes companies stronger and bolder.

Zoom in: Very early in the pandemic, the leaders of Axios decided we'd be remote first, forever. That was based on two hunches, both of which have proved correct:

  1. Offering remote work to all hires gives you an edge in the battle for talent — the whole game for a growing company.
  2. Whatever return-to-work plans an organization made, they'd have to change them. So why not just start with an employee-first approach?

Our thought bubble: Our staff, like most, has proved incredibly productive and resilient in shutdown. But we started warning early that employers were taking a false signal from the success they were having with work-from-home.

  • Yes, there were advantages, including the time saved from not commuting. But there was a real price in culture and creativity — the intangibles that come from spending unstructured time together, without the transactional, agenda-driven structure of a Zoom.
  • In a new study, researchers found that people are less creative in virtual meetings than live ones.

What's next: Schedule innovation. Bring teams together at retreats to germinate the next set of great ideas.

  • This doesn’t have to be in person. Bosses won’t get anything out of forcing people to show up when they’re concerned about child care or health. The standard video meeting may stifle brainstorms, but you can retreat in the virtual world.
  • The new world of work has spurred a whole industry around remote creativity — including virtual golf outings via VR headsets.
  • Most will do what we are doing: a mix of team, regional and all-staff gatherings to spark human connections — and fresh ideas.

The bottom line: Pre-pandemic, 8% of U.S. office workers were fully remote. Now, 32% either are remote or want to be, per Gallup polling. And most others want hybrid work.

  • That's a third of your workforce that relies on well-organized, fun retreats to soak up company values and forge friendships.
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