As the world continues to move in a remote-first direction, it is important to consider how to make your company’s in-person events remote-friendly.
Even if you don’t always run remote events, the remote option is ideal if your team is spread around the world.
But a virtual off-site meeting? Sounds oxymoronic. How can you have an offsite that virtually doesn’t feel like work?
In this post, we’re going to take a deep dive into how these brands creatively approach virtual off-sites. And not just asked everyone to be at Zoom for 8 hours.
Creative virtual offsite meetings
- VR Virtual Offsite loom
- First round of interactive virtual offsite review
- Virtual offsite product from the Wikimedia product team
1. Loom VR Virtual Offsite
In late 2020, Loom decided to host a virtual offsite company. What made this different than attending an 8 hour Zoom meeting?
First, the company sent VR headsets to its team so that employees felt like they were leaving their homes for a large corporate meeting they had previously traveled for.
We just announced that our @loom offsite is running in VR and we’re shipping everyone an Oculus headset. The smile. 🙂
– 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. Also, we were able to limit the zoom content to just two hours a day to keep the content engaging.”
After starting 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 ideas for activities and meetings they could conduct during the virtual offsite.
Loom worked with a partner to create a virtual reality island where team members could have conversations with water coolers, ice breakers, and happy hour.
Interestingly, the virtual reality component wasn’t mandatory. All events that were exclusive to VR were optional. The VR island they created was also accessible via the desktop so that anyone could participate.
It’s important to remember that when creating an offsite virtual experience, everyone should be able to show themselves. Hopefully the tools you are using are available on multiple devices, or you can’t make these events mandatory if a specific device is required.
The team also created an unstructured time during the day so that those working from home could continue to do their normal work and activities.
2. Review of the first round of Interactive Virtual Offsite
Another company that is creatively thinking about virtual off-sites is First Round Review.
First Round Review took place virtually off-site and included activities such as group lunches, cooking competitions, self-reflection exercises, group presentations, non-conference events and much more.
The company knew they wanted to use all kinds of formats for their activities in order to get people’s attention.
Before planning the event, they wrote down their goals and divided them into task and team-oriented results. Then they came up with ideas to achieve these results.
Again, First Round Review knew they didn’t want to spend all day with Zoom. Some things they did to make their virtual offsite interactive and successful were:
- Send out an interactive surprise: the team sent everyone a kit they 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 start the virtual offsite.
- Get dressed: the team were all sent special hats and everyone came to the meeting with their merch.
- Cooking challenge: The groups were divided into group rooms so that each group could cook together live. Then everyone presented their meals together and people voted on creativity and presentation.
- Unstructured time: that’s huge. Don’t let people spend all day at the computer. Allow for unstructured time and breaks.
- Playtime: Include team bonding events like trivia or virtual escape rooms. First Round Review even hired a wizard to join them for dinner together.
- Show Gratitude: First Round Review spent an entire meeting with everyone posting gratitude for each team member and then emailing everyone their list of comments from their staff. Each teammate had to spend a minute answering a line or two to answer the following questions: What do you admire about this person? What has this person been doing lately that you appreciate? Why are you grateful to count this person as a teammate? The answers are anonymous. After they’re all in, the meeting owner rounds down the lines for each person and shares them in a private email.
One of the greatest advantages of this virtual offsite is that you can have multiple formats, different sessions, interactive and engaging content and still work in strategy sessions.
3. Wikimedia product team’s virtual off-site product
The Wikimedia Foundation product team also had productive virtual strategy sessions and meaningful team bonding in a remote environment across different time zones.
Much has been planned to achieve this. The team first decided what story they wanted to tell during their offsite operation. To make sure this was discussed across the virtual offsite, they revamped their product roadmap to understand where the team was and where they are going. On the first day, they held a retrospective to achieve this.
Ultimately, the creative way the company thought about this offsite was on the agenda and in the planning.
If there was a presentation or a low-energy session, they wanted to make sure it was followed by an interactive, high-engaging session.
Timing was also important. Instead of having 8-hour Zoom meetings, they decided to have four hours of virtual sessions per day, divided into 2-hour blocks with a break between about 1.5 and 2 hours.
The offsite session included low-energy sessions, including Q&A with the Chief Product Officer, where they prepared questions in advance and went through their questions in a 30-minute window. But these sessions followed with interactive activities.
In one session, team members even created a newbie homepage based on previous product team roles. As a result, the team was actively working on the tool to see which features stood out.
They also had a session with a specialist which was a step-by-step process of the Wikipedia editing process for staff to understand the user experience.
Other fun sessions included friendlies online.
When planning a virtual offsite, it is important to consider the timing and energy level of the event. Spending all day using a video conferencing tool won’t be effective for most people.
Hosting a virtual offsite doesn’t have to be an overly complicated process. And it doesn’t have to be a boring, 8-hour Zoom meeting. You can hold interactive meetings and presentations and really interact with your co-workers.