Looking for virtual retreat ideas? Planning an all-remote event can feel daunting, but the right virtual retreat activities will help your team build bonds and create a unique culture.
If you’ve only ever attended in-person retreats, hosting a virtual version will feel a little different. You’ll likely need to account for Zoom fatigue, time-zone differences, and employees who may not have interacted beyond conference calls.
That’s why it’s wise to consider new ideas for virtual retreat activities, which you can tailor to your company’s needs.
Remember that it’s tougher to stay focused during hours of remote meetings, so you’ll want to think about how to make the events constantly engaging—whether that’s through games, mindfulness activities, or virtual team building exercises.
The Purpose of Virtual Retreats
So why spend time brainstorming virtual retreat ideas anyway? The working world has changed significantly over the past few years, and virtual retreats often make more sense for everyone. Here’s why virtual retreats can win out over in-person retreats these days, whether you are a remote company or not.
1. Virtual retreats allow everyone to participate.
Got team members all over the world (or even just the country)? Physically bringing everyone to one location can be a logistical nightmare, but virtual retreats let everyone attend easily.
2. Virtual retreats save money.
Maybe your leadership team doesn’t want to shell out for a big conference room or countryside meeting location. Virtual retreats allow your company to bypass those costs entirely.
And typically you’ll be paying for or reimbursing flights, lodging, food, and anything else you need to pull off the retreat in person. That amount of money adds up quickly if you have a few hundred or thousand remote employees.
3. Virtual retreats keep everyone safer.
You may have colleagues who are immunocompromised or otherwise don’t feel safe in large groups. With a virtual retreat, these worries are off the table.
Additionally, others remote workers may have family commitments and are not a fan of traveling much, which can cause more anxiety and frustration.
11 Virtual Retreat Ideas
Pending the how often you plan on hosting virtual retreats, you may want to mix a few of these activities and ideas together. Or if you are hosting more frequent retreats, you can keep them shorter and focus on a few select ideas.
Either way, here is a collection of various ideas to make virtual retreats fun and more engaging.
- Better icebreakers: TINYPulse recommends fun, simple games like Two Truths and a Lie to help coworkers get to know each other.
- Breakout sessions: One giant company Zoom meeting usually means most people can’t participate, but breakout sessions give everyone a chance to speak up.
- Mystery games: A whodunit mystery makes teamwork more interesting.
- Hackathons: If your retreat is tech-focused, hackathons will get teams solving problems in a competitive but fun way.
- Mindfulness activities: Meditation and journaling are keys to decompression.
- Swag bags: Get everyone excited by mailing them themed gift packages. Virtual team retreat ideas might include shirts, mugs, pet bandanas, and more.
- Online field trips: Explore destinations like aquariums or historic sites together from the comforts of your remote workspaces.
- Brainstorming: Get everyone invested in your company’s future by workshopping new ideas as a group.
- Awards and prizes: Honor your team’s contributions through awards show-style sessions, using funny speeches and encouraging everyone to dress up.
- Escape rooms: Country Living lists a host of virtual escape rooms for your teams to try. I actually set one of these up with my team in my full-time job and was a lot of fun as a team bonding experience. But can be great for your retreat as well.
- Guest speakers: Special guests build excitement and can speak to special themes of your retreat.
How to Plan a Successful Virtual Retreat
Once you’ve nailed down which virtual retreat ideas make sense for your group, it’s time to begin planning.
Goals of the virtual retreat
Even though the sessions will look different from in-person ones, your goals for the retreat may be similar.
Do you want to review company profits, align on new goals for the coming year, or simply introduce new or far-flung team members? Consider these big-picture plans as you organize your retreat.
How often do you plan on doing a virtual retreat?
Key details about your virtual retreats will depend on how often you plan on hosting them. Do you need quarterly sessions to review team successes, or are you holding annual virtual retreats for the entire company?
- Quarterly retreats: If you hold retreats more often, you may want shorter sessions that incorporate new, interesting activities each time.
- Twice a year: Biannual retreats include the best of each world; you can review long-term priorities while also keeping things short enough to stay engaging.
- Annual: Yearly retreats often include bird’s-eye views of the past year’s work as well as larger themes for the upcoming year.
Address the challenges ahead
- Time zones: Unless you want some team members showing up in pajamas, plan ahead to ensure your retreat hours are appropriate for everyone’s time zones. Finding some overlap of hours is important. And if you are finding that to be a bit tough, you can always record the main items from the virtual retreat for anyone to watch later on.
- Zoom fatigue: Staring at a screen all day may not seem like work, but studies show it’s genuinely fatiguing. Offer breaks from screen time and non-screen-based activities.
- Keeping employees engaged: Even the most dedicated employees may struggle to maintain focus if your sessions are a snooze. Organize a mix of activities that take usefulness and team-member interest into account.
Choose your virtual activities
Once you’ve settled on virtual retreat goals, selecting activities becomes a lot simpler.
If you’re hoping to build bonds among your team members, for example, you may decide to focus on games and puzzles that help everyone get to know each other and cooperate.
If, on the other hand, you’re focusing on goals for the next fiscal year, you might want to use your time to engage employees in brainstorming sessions and Q&A discussions. And you can always mix and match session types in order to change the pace as needed.
Create an outline/process to stay organized
Retreats aren’t supposed to feel like one big meeting, but just like a workplace meeting, a virtual retreat without adequate planning can go off the rails fast.
Design an outline with everything you need to stay organized: timelines, decks, contact lists, session leaders, topic proposals, and more. This will keep you organized and be useful as you collaborate with others on the setup of this event.
Assign your team and do test runs
Figure out everyone involved in pulling off the virtual retreat—from session leaders to IT pros working behind the scenes. Then, try a practice run of the session together.
In-person retreats can be tough enough to pull off, but the technology component of virtual retreats means they require extra care. Ensure everyone involved is comfortable using technology and has a reliable laptop for Zoom (or your meeting platform of choice).
Review and gather feedback after the retreat
Once the retreat is over, you’ve still got some work to do. Survey your team to hear their opinions on what worked, what didn’t, and what they look forward to next time. Managers may also want to talk to their team members one-on-one to hear more detailed opinions on the retreat’s success.
Should Virtual Retreats Be Required to Attend?
Since virtual retreats happen via the internet and wherever everyone is working, it should be mandatory for your remote team to participate. It’s a great time to get distributed teams aligned, see where the business is headed, and have some fun with people they may have never met in person.
However, there are some exceptions where team members should not feel forced to attend. And a great company and leader will certainly respect and honor that for situations like the below:
- If an employee is already on vacation during that time.
- If an employee happens to be sick during the virtual retreat.
- If an employee requests a mental health day or is burnt out.
How Do You Make Virtual Team Retreats Engaging?
Nobody wants to attend boring virtual retreats, which means you’ll need to carefully plan to make it successful. In order to boost engagement and keep attention, you’ll want to include interactive elements, ensure time for audience participation (polls, surveys, etc.), and add breaks for rest to avoid video fatigue.
By following some of the virtual team retreat ideas and planning above, you’ll be on your way to strengthening your remote team and improving company morale.