As the world continues to move in a remote-first direction, it's important to consider how to make your company's in-person events remote-friendly.
Even if you don't always do remote events, the remote option is great for anytime your team is spread around the world.
But, a virtual offsite meeting? Sounds oxymoronic. How can you have an offsite, that doesn't feel like work, virtually?
In this post, we'll take a deep dive into how these brands thought about virtual offsites in a creative way. And didn't just ask everyone to be on Zoom for 8 hours.
1. Loom VR Virtual Offsite
At the end of 2020, Loom decided to host a virtual offsite. What made this different than attending an 8-hour Zoom meeting?
Well, first, the company sent VR headsets to their team to allow employees to feel like they were leaving their homes for a large company meeting they used to travel for.
We just announced our @loom offsite being done in VR and us shipping everyone an Oculus headset. The smiles. 🙂— Vinay Hiremath (@vhmth) December 10, 2020
According to Loom, "with virtual reality, we were able to send everyone an Oculus Quest 2 headset to bring the virtual world to them. Plus, we were able to limit Zoom content to only two hours per day to keep the content engaging."
Once they got started with virtual reality, they had to find virtual reality apps to host their events. But they also included their employees in the planning process. The company sent a Google Form to employees to share any ideas for activities and sessions they could do during the virtual offsite.
Loom worked with a partner to create a virtual reality island where team members could go for watercooler conversations, ice breakers, and happy hour.
Interestingly, the virtual reality component was not mandatory. Any events that were VR exclusives were optional. And the VR island they created was also accessible via desktop, so everyone could participate.
It's important to remember that when you're creating a virtual offsite experience, you want everyone to be able to show up. Hopefully, the tools you use will be available on several devices or you can make those events not mandatory if it takes a special device.
The team also created unstructured time during their day so that people working from home could still do their normal work and activities.
2. First Round Review Interactive Virtual Offsite
Another company thinking about virtual offsites creatively is First Round Review.
First Round Review held a virtual offsite and had activities including group meals, cooking competitions, self-reflection exercises, group presentations, unconference events, and more.
The company knew that they wanted to use all different kinds of formats for their activities so that they could keep people's attention.
Before they planned the event, they wrote down their objectives, breaking them into task- and team-focused outcomes. Then, they came up with ideas to achieve those outcomes.
Again, First Round Review knew they didn't want to spend all day on Zoom. A few things they did to make their virtual offsite interactive and successful were:
- Send an interactive surprise: The team sent everyone a kit that they were instructed not to open beforehand. The kit included candy, a chalkboard to write on, coffee, and a kombucha starter kit. This was a fun way to kick off the virtual offsite.
- Get in costume: The team was all sent special hats and everyone showed up to the meeting wearing their merch.
- Cooking challenge: Groups were split into breakout rooms so each group could cook together live. Then, everyone presented their meals together and people voted on creativity and presentation.
- Unstructured time: This is huge. Don't make people spend all day on the computer. Include unstructured time and breaks.
- Playtime: Include team bonding events such as trivia or virtual escape rooms. First Round Review even hired a magician to join them for a group dinner.
- Show gratitude: First Round Review spent an entire meeting having everyone write out gratitude for every team member and then emailed everyone their list of comments from their coworkers. For each teammate, they had everyone spend one minute answering by writing a line or two in response to the following questions: What's something you admire about this individual? What's something this person did recently that you appreciate? Why are you grateful to count this person as a teammate? Answers are anonymous. After they're all in, the meeting owner will round up the lines for each individual and share them in a private email.
One of the biggest takeaways from this virtual offsite is that you can have several formats, different sessions, interactive and engaging content, and still get work done in strategy sessions.
3. Wikimedia Product Team Virtual Offsite
The Wikimedia Foundation Product team also had productive virtual strategy sessions and meaningful team bonding in a remote environment across various time zones.
To achieve this, a lot of planning went into it. The team first decided what story they wanted to tell during their offsite. To ensure this was discussed throughout the virtual offsite, they revisited their product roadmap to understand where the team had been and where they're going. On the first day, they held a retrospective to accomplish this.
Ultimately, the creative way that the company thought about this offsite was in the agenda and planning.
If there was a presentation or low energy session, they wanted to make sure it was followed up by a high engagement interactive session.
Additionally, the timing was important. They decided that instead of having 8-hour Zoom meetings, they'd have four hours of virtual sessions a day, broken into 2-hour blocks with a break in between of about 1.5-2 hours.
The offsite included low energy sessions including a Q&A with the Chief Product Officer, where they prepared questions ahead of time and used a thirty-minute window to go through their questions. But followed up those sessions with interactive activities.
One session even had team members create a homepage for newcomers based on previous features built by the product team. This had the team actively working in the tool so they could see what features stand out.
They also had a session with a specialist that was a step-by-step process of the Wikipedia editing process so employees understand the user experience.
Other fun sessions included friendly games online.
When planning a virtual offsite, it's important to consider the timing and energy levels of the event. Spending all day on a video conferencing tool isn't going to be effective for most people.
Hosting a virtual offsite doesn't need to be an overly complicated process. And it doesn't need to be a boring, 8-hour long Zoom meeting. You can host interactive sessions, presentations, and truly engage with your employees.