Make your next meeting a 'destination'
By Ivy Hughes
November 1, 2012 --
Imagine horseback-riding at a dude ranch with the head of marketing or backpacking with that life-saving IT staffer.
Quasi-work-related corporate getaways are an increasingly popular way to bring a team together.
Whether training employees, getting to know them, or thanking them for a job well done, off-site corporate events are viewed as a way to increase productivity and improve team dynamics.
Where to stage such an event is, of course, a big question.
"Like they say in real estate, location is everything and if you're going to take people away physically in order to get them away mentally, you need to carefully consider sites," said Matt Helmer, executive director of CSU Events and Constituent Engagement.
Restaurants can be a great venue for employee appreciation, while venues such as the Budweiser Event Center in Fort Collins might be a better option for companies wishing to mix business and pleasure — many of its rooms have audio/visual capabilities as well as a bar.
A corporate retreat, on the other hand, might be better spent in a casino, at a dude ranch or aboard a cruise ship.
Whatever the case, location will dictate the tone of your event, so before you get too far, determine whether you want rested employees, educated employees or a little bit of both.
Taking care of business
Getting away from the office for a few hours or even days isn't a new idea, to be sure. But the reasons to do so seem more compelling than ever.
"In the office, there's a lot of things that can get in the way," said Tim Gumm, conference services manager at St. Julien Hotel & Spa in Boulder. "People have access to email and phone and other distractions they may not have access to if they come to a property like ours. They also have distractions outside of work like soccer games, but when you're meeting somewhere else, you're entirely with the team."
It's important to visit whatever venue you are considering before booking.
"Before you go, you need to look at meeting space," Gumm said. "If they're sitting in a meeting room from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., they want to be as productive as possible, so it's important to know, say, where they want to eat their meals."
Sometimes, mealtime isn't a primary concern for meeting planners. But not providing breakfast or lunch means potentially "losing" employees for longer than you'd like while they get something to eat. On the other hand, letting employees choose their own dining destinations gives them a break and the opportunity to explore.
Cost, of course, is always a consideration. A daylong event with one meal or light refreshments can start at as little as $10 to $20 a head. Events that include all three meals might start at $50 to $70 a person.
"Cost really depends on the menus, the room and whether you want to bring in a guest speaker," said Amanda Miller, director of details and owner of Fort Collins-based The Place Setting Co.
Kicking the cube
The duration of a non-traditional corporate event depends on destination and budget, but Gumm said St. Julien guests typically like a three-night, four-day set up. After travel, this gives everyone two full days to enjoy the outing, Gumm said.
The cost of a dude ranch, cruise, spa, golf resort, ski trip or casino depends on the destination and number of people attending. Gumm said Colorado retreats that include activities and light food and beverage can start at $100 to $150 a person a day. Room rates depend on hotel and number of attendees.
Regardless of cost, duration of getaway, or intent of the event, effective planning is the key to success.
It might sound obvious, but "if you're looking at a ski area, you probably want to go there in January, February or March so your employees can ski," Gumm said.
Corporate retreats are a good way to reward employees or incentivize them. However, due to cost, they're often best suited for smaller groups. So before inviting the entire company, think about the end goal. Is this a reward for a productive sales team or a C-level getaway?
Gumm said one drawback to fun retreats is indecisiveness.
"With these events, people change their minds constantly," Gumm said. "They sign up for hiking, but all of a sudden want to go mountain biking. You have to expect this."
Fortunately, most hotels and event planners can help businesses organize these events.
Companies that can't afford a resort-style getaway, but want a team-building atmosphere might want to try a local challenge course. Universities like CSU, which operates the Pingree Park Challenge Ropes Course, often manage ropes courses ranging from $22 to $30 a person. They can incorporate team-building into a daylong or two-day local corporate event.
"Any time a team is first forming, these team-building exercises are good because it helps people understand working styles," Helmer said.