Why to organise your first company retreat?

There are many reasons why to organise a company retreat and we picked up a couple of stories which might inspire you to organise your first retreat.

1. Brainstorming a new product

One of the main reasons why companies host retreats is to brainstorm new ideas. Being stuck in the same routine every day can make your creative fire shine not-so-bright.

Killing that routine and mixing up your environment can get that creative genius inside you back alive and kicking again.

Twelve of the Sipgate team organised an off-site in Lisbon with the aim of brainstorming a new product; a new mobile operator brand based in Germany.

Their primary reasons for visiting us at Surf Office was for those listed above; brainstorming a new product requires a great deal of focus and creativity, and they felt that changing their environment would help with this.

Secondly, they wanted to try out a new brainstorming technique and thought that new surroundings would make this more effective. Known as Ritual Dissent, it is the process of challenging (ritualised dissent) or suggesting positive alternatives (assent) to an idea that has been proposed.

The idea of the process, which has the person who proposed the idea turn their back on the audience, is to de-personalise the brainstorming session so that members won’t be afraid to say what they really think.

This, coupled with the endless amounts of team-building activities and chances to unwind in a new location get team members thinking in a completely new way. It may seem like just a getaway to a sunny location, but this boost in team spirit helps to get team members brainstorming ideas they didn’t even know they had!

Sipgate is set to launch the product that they brainstormed at Surf Office in a few months – and we can’t wait to see it knowing that we were part of the process!

2. Designing a roadmap

Automattic is a well-established company with a team that spans pretty much the whole globe. They are the brainiacs behind the awesome WordPress.com, which powers many of the websites we use today, so they definitely know what they’re doing!

They are a fully remote company, with no offices anywhere. Yet, they make use of team and company retreats every few months to add the necessary in-person component to the mix, adding a little boost to the team and the projects that they are working on.

One of their teams, Hyperion, came to stay with us in Lisbon to help put together a roadmap for the next few months; both individual roadmaps and team roadmaps. Davide, the team lead, said that company retreats give them a place to socialise, clear their heads and easily structure the months ahead.

To plan their next few months, the Automattic team first use stickers to lay out their own individual roadmap of projects for the coming weeks. After this is done, they come together and join all the stickers to form a team roadmap. They also make post-it notes of the good and bad points from their last projects, so that they can brainstorm ideas on how to improve in each area.

This approach has many benefits, and it’s where remote team retreats really shine. It first gets individuals to break away from their usual routine, and from a new environment they can critically assess their usual workspace and projects to define their months ahead.

Being in person with the team also provides a faster and more intuitive way to pool ideas, especially hard ones that might lead to miscommunication. The change of environment offers a new boost of team spirit and creativity too.

Davide explains that workshops can be very powerful group activities, and suggests the book called Gamestorming, which he and the Automattic teams always use for their kick of creativity. It’s jam-packed with workshop activities to help generate new ideas and strategies, while also getting all those involved to communicate better and be more efficient.

The core message of Gamestorming is that great things never happen in a vacuum. For great things to happen, an environment that breeds creativity and innovation is required, but this sounds easier in principle rather than in practice. But, that’s what Surf Office is for! Leave the creative environment to us, and you just focus on that creative spark of yours.

3. Rebranding

WONDROUS, as a digital agency offering a host of different services to their clients, work pretty much around the clock. They decided they needed to take some time for themselves and so came to stay with us at Surf Office with the aim of implementing a new agency website.

Other than the desire to reshape their agency website, they had little else prepared. WONDROUS knew that they needed a company retreat to break the routine, cut out the distractions, and focus on undisturbed streams of productivity and creativity.

They worked extremely hard at Surf Office, focusing on content, design and coding for the new website. With our regular supply of coffee and trips out for when they needed a break, they were able to keep the energy going to achieve the successful rebranding that they were after in such a short space of time.

Being only a few meters from the beach, the team at Wondrous had the perfect space to getaway for a breather when the work got a little too much. The project was a challenge, especially with eight different members of the team brainstorming. But, the change in environment had them working together in unison in a way they hadn’t before, even when it came down to seemingly small tasks like cooking together.

In short, WONDROUS achieved the original aim that they set out to. But, thanks to the company retreat, they also came away having achieved something else entirely that they hadn’t expected; a much tighter bond between the team. Sure, it had been stressful at times, but living and working together, while taking part in team-building activities, created a new sense of trust and honesty within the team.

We at Surf Office didn’t even expect it ourselves! But after the success of bringing the WONDROUS team closer together, we’re starting to think we should rebrand ourselves into some kind of cupid service! Any takers?

4. Creating the first product prototype

8fit came to stay with us with a clear goal in mind; to launch the first prototype of their iPhone fitness app.

Since they came to stay with us almost two years ago, it’s safe to say they’ve moved from success to success. As well as raising millions in funding and growing their user base to three million, they’ve also become leaders in the fitness app market.

Now, being the modest people that we are, we, of course, don’t want to take all of the credit for this. Okay, maybe just a little, but the two founders, Pablo Villalba and Pedro Soládo attribute some of the success they’ve had to the company retreat they hosted at Surf Office.

The important thing is that Pablo and Pedro came to us with everything in place; they had the vision, the drive, the idea, the plan, and a basic version of the app. All they didn’t have was a place where they could get away from all of the noise, cut out the distractions, and focus solely on the task at hand.

8fit were the first company that hosted a retreat with us to launch a prototype, and it was an overwhelming success! Who says working company retreats can’t be exciting?!

If you’re looking for a fitness boost but are too lazy to leave the house (don’t worry, we’re the same), 8fit is available on iOS and Android.

5. Building a new internal tool

Hanno is a company that we follow closely; they’re good friends of ours and are an inspiring distributed company. They are always looking to do things differently, and can even be a little whacky at times!

They have their very own “Hannifesto”, where they commit to never settling, designing a better world, being authentic, taking responsibility, growing, and staying humble.

They told us about one particularly awesome retreat that they organised in Buenos Aires. They had invited a design thinker to join them all the way from Malaysia, and as a result of one of his workshops, they came up with a solution to one of the problems that they were having.

They wanted to build a new tool that the team could use internally to help remote employees from slipping into isolation. The tool, named “Oskar”, is a plugin that they add to Slack which asks each of their employees what their daily mood is like.

Our mood and stress levels often get overlooked in the office because we’re so focused on achieving our deadlines, and emotional well-being can be hard to measure. So much so that in the UK alone, over 50% of employees have suffered a burnout because of work. And then their work rate hits closer to 0%.

Hanno’s tool is genius and goes a long way in ensuring that their employees are happy, fulfilled, and satisfied with the work that they are doing. To create a ‘happy’ tool that is full of energy, they needed to be in this same mood themselves, and a company retreat is perfect for this.

They only spent two days of their retreat working on Oskar, after which time they returned to their respective remote locations to continue refining it (or him?!). But the company retreat gave them their initial place to come together, get a burst of innovation, and provide them with the energy and passion that they needed to create a brilliant internal tool which looks after the team in an inventive way.

Although we weren’t part of this process with Hanno, it’s a great example of awesome ideas that can be born from company retreats.

6. Strengthening relationships with employees

Trusted had already finished their big projects, their tough assignments, and even a company rebranding before staying with us.

Why were they at Surf Office then, we hear you ask? This wasn’t their first rodeo when it came to company retreats, and so they were already well aware of the benefits that it offered.

So, they booked a second retreat with us simply to reward themselves for their work throughout the year, to complete their daily tasks in a beautiful location, and to strengthen the bonds within the team.

Remote working offers a better work-life balance, a chance to explore amazing new places, the opportunity to meet new people and the discovery of new hobbies you didn’t even know you liked.

Trusted didn’t host the retreat with Surf Office to bring the next biggest thing to market. They came because they wanted to have fun while working, and they knew that we could provide that. The whole team learnt to surf for the first time, they tried stand-up paddle boarding, and they just enjoyed being able to relax away from the usual noise and routine.

This might have sounded like a holiday, but it wasn’t. The ties between the Trusted team grew tenfold; ties which have enabled them to work twice as well together now that they have returned to their own offices.

The important thing that Trusted made clear from the start was that this wasn’t a vacation, but a workation. They had a proper action plan in place to ensure that they followed a daily order of business and that this business always came before pleasure. The pleasure that came after was like a reward, and involved sunny-based rewards that were much harder to come by in Germany!

Trusted is an online business; their very nature allows them to work from anywhere in the world. Why not travel to sunny locations to try new foods, enjoy new experiences and meet new people, all while getting twice the amount of work done that you usually would?

7. Building a local community

Toptal is the definition of a remote company. With thousands of Toptalers all over the world and not a single office to its name, the company has nailed the remote working, distributed culture.

You may be familiar with other freelancing websites and platforms, but Toptal’s commitment to only offering the best of the best makes them stand out in a crowded marketplace.

Despite the size and spread of their organisation, they never lose sight of the one thing that matters to Toptal’s success: its core team. They always like to make sure that motivations are running high, personnel are happy, and that they’re building a real sense of community within their company. And what better way to do this than with a company retreat?

We’ve been proud to have hosted plenty of workshops and events with them before all over the world, in places such as London, Prague, and Berlin, but they decided they wanted to host their largest ever community gathering with us in Lisbon.

The event was a huge success, with over 50 Toptalers flying to Lisbon to finally have a face-to-face conversation rather than using Slack! But Toptal also wanted this company retreat to be a place where brainstorming sessions could happen, ideas could flow, and new projects could grow. And, of course, where the team could have a chance to explore Lisbon, surf the waves, and have some fun!

Toptal also hosted workshops with us for the local community, helping to build their brand name, share their knowledge with those that were interested, and just generally spread some good vibes!

It was a pleasure hosting them for this company retreat with a twist, and it’s helped to build a real sense of community between Toptal, Surf Office, and the wider remote working community in Lisbon.

8. Developing a new go-to-market strategy

Tellybug work with some of the biggest names in television, with everyone from the BBC to Warner Brothers. They help to bring the programmes that we see on our TV screens to our phones and tablets, allowing us to engage with them on a deeper level.

One such programme, Britain’s Got Talent, is one of the most popular and loveable British programmes that graces the UK’s screens annually. Tellybug are responsible for the mobile app which supports the TV show, which is currently rated 4* after over 6000 reviews. So, clearly, things have been a success in Britain.

They came to stay with us at Surf Office in Lisbon because they had bigger plans to scale their already successful app out, alongside their partner Fremantle Media, to other markets around the world. Other markets obviously have different rules, cultures, and interests, and what works in one market might not necessarily work in another.

They needed a change in scenery, culture, and country themselves to help them get their creative juices flowing to develop a solid, robust, and workable new go-to-market strategy.

Obviously, the culture in Portugal and Spain isn’t wildly different from that in England, but it is still a change. Hosting a company retreat with us pulled them out of their usual routine and comfort zones and got them thinking a little more openly and outside the box.

Tellybug, with the steady support that Surf Office provided, were able to achieve all of their aims, and successfully scaled the app out around the world. And they got to check out the awesome sunny city of Lisbon at the same time as well! After the success of the project with Britain’s Got Talent, we’d like to officially declare that Surf Office’s Got Talent!

Tellybug, based in the UK and founded in 2009, are a team of media and hi-tech professionals who work with TV producers, broadcasters, and distributors to help make TV shows more entertaining and engaging. This is primarily done through creating exciting apps, and they have worked with broadcasters such as the BBC, SKY, ESPN, ITV, and Warner Brothers on shows such as The X Factor, I’m A Celebrity, The Voice, and Britain’s Got Talent.

So now that you’ve seen that there’s absolutely no limit to what can be achieved at a company retreat and that they are a great opportunity to combine work and play, why not get in touch with us? We’d love to have a chat about how we can supercharge your productivity and take your company to the next level.

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How to plan your first company retreat

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