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How to Use Offsite Meetings to Manage a Remote Team

Offsite Meetings

Many businesses are currently incorporating remote workers into their staff, a move that has tremendous value: incorporating remote work cuts down on office costs, allows employees to work with more freedom to manage their time, and brings in new hires from around the world rather than in one specific city. But as the old adage goes, no person is an island, and so it’s always worthwhile to consider holding offsite meetings for remote teams on occasion. Although people who work remotely are often fine with the lack of social atmosphere to their workdays, it’s a good idea for managers to take the initiative to plan offsite meetings where these employees can gather, exchange ideas, and put a face to names.

Whether it’s brainstorm sessions, team-building exercises, or simply a happy hour with colleagues who can finally come face-to-face, here are a few reasons why offsites are so important to help a remote team in particular, and how you can make these meetings happen.

The Importance of the Offsite

Even though working remotely makes the work-life balance easier, it can also bring up a series of new challenges for both managers and employees. Chief among these nagging issues is the feeling of being disconnected from one’s colleagues; after all, it’s called “remote” for a reason. As a blog post from Trello puts it, “The goal is to make sure everyone on the team feels connected and is productive. Just because employees are ‘remote’ doesn’t mean they’re meant to feel like they’re on a deserted island.”

That’s where offsite meetings come in. Although they don’t need to be held every week — it’s a far better practice to have weekly check-ins with a remote team via Skype or Google Hangouts — it’s a great idea to put together a meeting held at a specific location (preferably one that’s relatively close to all remote workers). It’s an even better idea if you can make an event of it —  think a weekend conference, or an employee getaway. Anything that can be a little more fun and out of the ordinary will definitely bring some life to a day of hard work and meetings.

Another bonus of holding offsite meetings is the fact that colleagues will get to meet each other face to face, when in some cases they may have only communicated over email or messaging. Workers may find that they have an immediate connection with their coworkers who they haven’t met in person before. Meeting face to face also often helps to build solid relationships, which can only help when trying to get work done.

If you’re still not convinced that offsite meetings are important, consider this: Making an in-person connection is valuable for building trust between coworkers. An article at SkilledUp quotes Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, as noting that “even fully virtual organizations do meet occasionally in person.” She says, “Research shows virtual teams can be just as effective as co-located teams if they have already developed that bond of trust in working together on a face-to-face basis. Once you’ve got that it doesn’t take much to keep it going.”

How You Can Make It Happen

So, say you’re a company with a large remote division, or maybe you’re a business that’s completely remote with no brick-and-mortar office. Your team seems to be working away at a good pace, but you want to make sure that people really get to know one another beyond lengthy email chains and a weekly Skype meeting. You’ve decided to hold an offsite meeting – but you want to make it something that your employees will look forward to, rather than dread.

In their ebook about working remotely, Zapier includes meeting in person at offsites as one of their most important processes, but puts an exciting spin on it. “There is definitely something unique that happens when teammates can work on something in person. As a result we strive to bring the team together two times a year somewhere cool.” This refers to the notion of “company retreats,” a much cooler way to say “offsite meeting,” conjuring up mental images of vacation destinations and resort hotels. The Zapier ebook also adds that, “In addition to the all-company get togethers, small groups of us might get together on an ad-hoc basis throughout the year to coordinate the start of a major project or feature.”

The ebook even briefly assuages the fears that any manager might have about cost. It’s likely a given that an offsite meeting or “company retreat” will be a large expense, but Zapier’s ebook reminds managers that they’re likely already saving money by not having to pay for a physical office. Making sure remote workers have a place to bond and exchange ideas together is a worthwhile reason to dip into company expenses. In a readwrite piece, Fan Bi of Blank Label describes their company retreat and how it benefits their remote workers: “Although it’s expensive, it’s one of the best culture investments we’ve made. It’s a two-day event, although remote employees often work from the office a couple of days on either side of the retreat, and we take a deep-dive into the company strategy, financials and major milestones. But work is only 25 percent of the retreat, with the rest of the time is carved out for small-group and company-wide games, meals and hikes.”

If you’re looking to scale down from a blowout weekend adventure, you could consider scheduling one-on-one meetings with remote employees who live in the area, or inviting them to join weekly meetings in person rather than over the phone. “If the outside-office employee is telecommuting or not far away, getting them into the office to join the team for this meeting is also an excellent move,” states a blog post at Soapbox. “Parallel to this are monthly 1:1 meetings between the employee and their immediate superior, an on-course check-in that doesn’t have to fall by the wayside with offsite employees.” Even if they’re reticent to take part, do your best to encourage them to drop by where their fellow employees are gathering, whether it’s a co-work space or an actual office.

Keep Your Offsite Workers Engaged

Even if employees are working outside of the office, they’re still part of a larger team, and sometimes it takes a little more than email and instant messaging to bring that feeling home. Giving offsite workers that sense of being part of a team is crucial to building trust and reliability, and whether you go big with the resort hotels or small with the coffee-shop check-ins, holding offsite meetings is a vital part of the remote working experience.

What’s the most memorable offsite meeting or company retreat you’ve ever attended? Tell us about it the comments.

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