Neutral ground: Why offsite meetings will be the norm for hybrid workforces
Forget in-office or virtual meetings: The majority of collaborative-working tasks will take place at off-site venues in future.
That’s because offsites offer something offices don’t — neutral ground for employees who don’t want to work continuously from an office, but also don’t want to be entirely remote, according to Alexia Cambon, a director in management consultancy Gartner’s HR practice.
“We underestimate how much the office is an employer-controlled space,” said Cambon. “It was set up and designed by the employer. So while we’re headed towards an era where employees will be invited to help co-design those spaces, undeniably when you’re in an office space, you feel that it is an employer space and you are being monitored.”
Cambon has run extensive research, since the pandemic first began, to examine core areas that can improve employee experience, and in the process — their productivity. Numerous Gartner studies have shown that people want offsites — when they have a chance to gather outside of the office — to become more regular. Cambon believes regular offsite meetings will become the future norm because employees favor them and they represent neutral territory where workers can be their authentic selves within their teams.
Discovering the unknown together
The feeling of being monitored in an office by technology or a manager creates tension and means the employee does not feel comfortable. Indeed, only 14% of 2,336 hybrid and remote employees surveyed in Gartner’s Culture in a Hybrid World report, published in May, said that they can be themselves the most when working alone, but in an office. Meanwhile, 52% preferred working solo, asynchronously, and away from colleagues.
Hence, offsite meet-ups are a good middle ground. “When you remove employees from the employer-controlled environment and put them in a third space, this neutral space, a lot of interesting things can start to happen,” said Cambon.
For one, if people experience something together for the first time, it will create fun, shared memories that strengthen relationships and build connections between colleagues. “Discovery in a neutral territory is an essential activity for bonding because you’re asking questions, being curious, trying to figure out where we go, what do we do,” she added.
Sathya Smith, CEO and founder of employee management platform Piper, agreed. “In the coming years, conversation on the importance of creating more shared experiences and moments of connection within your workforce will intensify,” she said.
The rise of quiet quitting, burnout and general disengagement with work makes clear that leaders must enhance communication with their teams, and increasing offsite meetings will be a vital part of the mix, Smith added.
London-headquartered Omnipresent, a global hiring firm, recently flew roughly 350 employees to Panama. Co-founder and CEO Matthew Wilson extolled the virtues of offsites. “A neutral location creates a level playing field, a different rule book, where conversations with new people are embraced,” he said. “There’s no seating pattern, no normal scheduling; it’s a chance to gather, connect, create and find new opportunities for individuals and the organization.”
Enhancing reputations and being authentic
Wilson pointed out that offsite meetings are particularly beneficial to new and/or young recruits keen to build relationships and enhance their reputations. “It is useful to share experiences and insights via an organized workshop or group-training exercise,” he said.
However, it’s crucial to remember that staff members often give up their free time to attend offsites, which might span a few days. “It’s good to have a mixture of work and non-work activities,” said Wilson. “If they’ve traveled to another country, they’ll want to see a bit of it.” Further, he added that an offsite held at the back end of a working week allows employees to stay on for the weekend.
Xanthe Vaughan Williams, co-founder of tech PR agency Fourth Day, has held offsites since the company was launched in 2002. “Originally, when there were just four of us, it was essential to escape the day-to-day routine of the physical office to focus on the business,” she said.
And despite opening offices in Paris, Manchester, and Casablanca, the offsites continued. “Nothing beats real faces and time to discuss things other than client campaigns,” Vaughan Williams added. “We have found this is a bonding experience and a chance to foster understanding of ways of working.”
Uptick in corporate custom
Pleasingly, offsite meetings appear to be on the rise post-pandemic. Elliot Sparsis, head of U.K. at event space and workspace provider Convene, said demand has jumped 40% since 2019 in New York City. “We’re seeing clients that previously may have held one or two large meetings with us per year now book between six to 12 events annually.”
Family resort Center Parcs U.K. has experienced a 10% uptick in corporate custom at its two conference and event locations, set in almost 400 acres of natural woodland. The company offers approximately 200 indoor and outdoor activities, ranging from adrenaline-fuelled adventures such as aerial tree trekking and orienteering to relaxing in a spa.
“Offsite meetings, particularly in the great outdoors, are becoming increasingly popular as businesses realize the positive effects they can have on employee satisfaction, retention, productivity and general mental well-being,” said Center Parcs U.K.’s sales and commercial manager, Julia Green.