When was the last time you went on a team building event? Hopefully, it wasn’t the time you had your life’s worst hangover, or when you accidentally kissed the colleague you’d never spoken to. Of course, it could end up better than that, with new memories and deeper friendships with your co-workers. Even if you thought: ‘’this was the best team building ever!’’, I guarantee there is something even better – a company retreat!
We had a chat with Peter Fabor, founder of Surf Office, a company that helps other companies organizing their retreats. Events that are filled with fun activities and a very productive work. Surf Office has been bringing value to companies like Automatic, Stripe or Shopify for over 3 years now. Here’s why you should organize a company retreat instead of a team building event too.
Here’s how Enhancv’s last company retreat went.
1. Peter, what’s your main mission at Surf Office?
Make people happy. Make employees of the companies that come for a retreat happier and more productive. We believe that the one thing successful companies have in common is investing in their employees.
2. What’s the difference between a retreat and a team building event?
Team building is a cost, retreat is an investment.Click To TweetA team building usually means that your team goes somewhere for a night or two, have dinner together, drink a lot of alcohol, and play some games. During a retreat, team building is involved, but it’s just a side activity. The main purpose of a retreat is to work and be more productive. But ”to work” doesn’t necessarily mean to sit in a closed room. Most of the time it’s something different.
The most common type of activity companies do during a retreat is a strategy meeting. They brainstorm and analyze what to do in the next 6 to 12 months. Because you just never have the time in the usual work environment. A retreat is a time to stop and really think about the business. Then, a lot of companies do hackathons – they brainstorm new features for their product or service. And after they return from a retreat, they work on those ideas.
Besides that, you can go surfing or hiking with your colleagues. A lot of teams also do just some regular things like cooking a meal together. But that’s after the work and it’s not the main purpose of a retreat. Sometimes, we have companies that simply want to switch their regular work environment and work from the beach.
3. How long should a good retreat last?
The longest retreat we’ve organized was 3 weeks. But usually, it’s around 3-5 days. It also depends on the location. If you travel for a long time to get to the place you’d like to do a retreat at, it’s better to stay for longer.
The length is another difference between the team building and a retreat. No company would invest in a 5-day team building event.
4. How often should companies organize a retreat?
It depends on 2 things – the size of a company (it’s easier from the organizational point of view). For a large company, it’s enough to do it once a year. Secondly, it depends whether you’re in an office or you’re a distributed company. If you’re a distributed company, then it’s good to do retreats more often.
For example, one of our best clients is Automattic, they are 100% distributed and they communicate mainly on Slack. They have the need to meet in person more often and that’s why they organize retreats every 3-4 months. They save money for the office rent, and they use the saved money to invest into retreats, e.g. their employees.
WordPress has over 400 employees and they do a whole company retreat once a year. They have 2 full-time employees to organize that. Surf Office helps them organize the partial team retreats mentioned above (6-10 people).
5. What does the package you offer to companies include?
The core service includes organizing the accommodation, workspace, meeting rooms, projector, flipchart and anything your team might need to work efficiently. We also build a calendar for you and it comes from the basic schedule you send – we use Trello for that and you can see it, add information, delete things or further develop it. So if you send us a basic schedule, then we recommend you some options (e.g. seafood restaurant on the arrival day, and we will suggest the best one and book it for you.) We want you to spend a minimal amount of time to organize everything.
Sometimes, we organize meetups, as we have great connections with the local communities. We can also invite guest speakers on different topics during your retreat. Sometimes we create the content for companies, such as pictures and video for their social media channels. Then you can put it in about and hiring page, to show that you do some cool stuff and you have a great company culture.
Every retreat is very organized and transparent. Like that, everyone knows what the plan is, what you’ll be doing.
6. What kind of activities can people do at a retreat organized by Surf Office?
We want to offer experiences that are authentic and high quality. Also, it’s usually something that makes people get out of their comfort zone, which secures personal growth. We also want to make sure these activities are natural and people are excited to try them. Surfing, for example could be a scary one for some. That’s why before surf, we let the whole team watch youtube videos, they do warm up together and get motivated by each other.
It’s important to mention that our team tried all the activities we offer and we have close relationships with people managing those activities. Except for surfing, we also offer paddle boarding, e-bike tours, combined sightseeing around Lisbon (which include checking secret corners 🙂 ). With e-bikes, there’s always a healthy competition between the team members which is always fun. Then we also offer hiking and trips around the island of Gran Canaria.
But of course, companies can organize activities themselves as well. In case they are interested in some particular sport or activity, we’re always happy to help them find the best providers around.
7. Do some teams bring partners or families with them to retreats? Would you recommend that?
It depends on the company. If your employees are older and have families, it’s good to bring family and kids. Also, to bring your partner. But then it’s harder to do all the team building activities. What happens if you bring your partner is, they go exploring the city while you work. And after you finish work, you have dinner together with everyone. Then, it’s a good idea to have a retreat for 3 days and then the partner comes for 2 more days which is not a part of a retreat anymore.
But if you’re a startup (usually with a quite young staff) – it’s OK to go somewhere for 5 days. I mean, you don’t have a family yet, etc. Don’t get me wrong, though. We have a lot of people who are around 40-60 and they do the same experiences, they still come without partners or families. It really depends on the company and the team.
8. Do you remember the very first retreat you organized? How was it different from the most recent one?
(Laughing) The first one was a team of 4 people. They stayed for 2 weeks in Gran Canaria and I spent most of the time with them. I organized everything myself and did all the activities together with them. We became very close friends and we had a really great time together.
Today, there’s a lot of automation within the process. I try to meet some of the groups that come and have a chat with them. So the main difference is that I don’t have to invest most of my time in being with our customers during retreats, but they still have a great time!