Beyond Trust Falls: The Future of Company Retreats

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Part of the NewCo team near the Undertow roller coaster in Santa Cruz, Calif. Photo Credit: Hayley Nelson

It was during the dancing Tuesday night. That’s when I thought, “This is the company I work for. This is amazing and I’m exactly where I need to be.”

The NewCo team wrapped up our retreat, in Santa Cruz, Calif., on Wednesday. It was a chance to learn more about one another, challenge our convictions, and bond. We cooked together and enjoyed great food, reflection, brainstorming … and dancing.

Not long ago the company retreat was seen as irrelevant, dull, and a stereotype of the crummy things that defined corporate culture. Today they’re a big part of how some companies think big about the future while relaxing and bonding. They’re also big business.

Several hotel and travel companies told The New York Times they’ve seen significant increases in incentive travel and company retreats. There are even startups that sell startup retreats. There’s no exact model for a retreat to be effective and companies do retreats for different reasons.

Increasingly important is bringing together, in person, employees who primarily interact with their colleagues via video. All employees for the social media scheduling app Buffer work remotely. That’s why the company paid more than $100,000 to bring everybody together to connect and reconnect in places like Thailand, South Africa, and Lake Tahoe. Baremetrics did its first retreat in Palm Springs to bring together employees who had never met in person before. They did regular work but did so from a rented vacation house in Palm Springs. Baremetrics wrote a blog post and recorded a podcast, “How to Pull Off a Startup Retreat.”

Burning Man stopped calling its retreat a retreat. It calls its get-together a summit, and it’s part spiritual journey, part evaluation of company goals.

The payroll startup Gusto went on its first workation with 10 employees for a week in 2013. Now Gusto has more than 300 employees in San Francisco and Denver but it still does retreats. They have become a part of company culture, a way to brainstorm about the company’s future, relax, and reward employees who are asked to work long hours.

Retreats are often meant to get big picture thinking out of employees while rewarding them, but it’s also an investment. Trips to vacation destinations keep people happy, but for companies on a mission, retreats help employees bond, recommit to company values, and dive deeper into the purpose beyond profit that we crave. And no trust falls.

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Originally published at stories.newco.co on January 14, 2016.

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