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How company offsite is changing business travel

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Travel used to mean sending employees from their home office to another location. That is, to meet with clients or colleagues in another office. But for many remote-first companies, it now means the opposite. Gathering employees from far away homes to work and meet in person.

These so-called offsites — leftovers from when these companies had physical sites — have the potential to change the face of business travel.

Consumer travel has picked up momentum again in 2022, but the recovery in business travel has slowed. A company’s offsite may represent a larger percentage of its budget than in years past.

Doist, a software company with a globally distributed workforce, wanted something different for its company-wide retreat in July.

“We rented a small village in the Austrian Alps,” says Chase Warrington, head of remotes at Doist. “We had a party in Lederhosen and went to a traditional lodge for dinner.”

Warrington said the purpose of these offsite gatherings is markedly different from that of traditional business travel. Rather than immerse yourself in meetings to get work done, these retreats are meant to connect and have fun. This means throwing away the rules of traditional business travel.

business or pleasure or other

Rather than replace traditional business travel, offsite retreats are seen by many as a new trend of their own.

“We still have business travel, but it just looks different,” says Bruno Muchada, head of expansion for real estate partners at the company’s retreat management firm, Surfoffice. “I go see the company as much as I go see the customer.”

And as the lines between business and leisure blur, and so-called leisure travel, off-site organizers are beginning to realize the relative importance of traditional meetings and schedules. In this upside-down scenario, employees work from home and hang out with their colleagues in the “office,” not the other way around.

Warrington, who also manages Doist’s offsite events, said: “It should be 20% work, 30% activity, and 50% free time.”

This free time allows for the kind of spontaneous connections and conversations that return-to-work advocates celebrate. And it fundamentally changes how and where these offsites are organized.

“Don’t take them to a big hotel in the middle of the city and give them a grand itinerary,” says Warrington, channeling the employee’s sentiment.

This can pose a problem for traditional conference centers and hotels that rely on the constant heartbeat of business travel. Still, it created a new small business ecosystem aimed at helping remote businesses manage employee morale through retreats.

Enter an offsite startup

Investment rushes into emerging off-site industry. Software company Salesforce built a purpose-built wellness retreat in Redwood, California, and hosted team building events there. Also launching in 2021 is The Workation Village, custom-designed in Italy for company retreats.

But remote businesses are finding that while company-wide gatherings of hundreds of employees can help boost morale, they can be cumbersome to organize.

“Many companies are introducing travel manager positions,” says Muchada. “But they recognize that it’s a lot of work to sort it all out, and that’s why so many companies have reached out to us.”

Surf Office manages retreat locations around the world, from Santa Cruz, California to Tuscany, Italy, and aims to take the guesswork (and paperwork) out of travel managers and HR teams. Similar businesses are popping up to meet this sudden surge in demand.

“When vaccines started to become more popular, I started to realize that the world was changing,” says Hunter Block, founder of Offsiter, which offers an Airbnb-like marketplace for retreat locations. “People never go back to the office.”

Brock quickly realized that an organization needed more than a place. I need an organizer. As such, Offsiter now offers full-service management of everything from catering to collecting his t-shirt sizes for company memorabilia.

“We can handle everything from holding clipboards to telling people where to go,” says Block. “That way the whole team can get involved in it without getting distracted by the nitty-gritty. We’re like wedding planners.”

Despite its sudden rise, the offsite industry is still in its infancy and there are many issues to be resolved.

“We’ve tested some tools for this market, and they’re very crude,” says Warrington. “They’re building the plane while it’s flying.”

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