In-person team building makes more sense than you think. Here’s why

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Recently, a member of my team took a few days off to recover from an illness. And normally this wouldn’t be an issue—just hand your urgent work to a colleague and go get some rest. After all, one of the hallmarks of working at RingCentral is our incredibly flexible policy

But this time, she ran into some issues. She had an insanely busy week ahead with several reports and presentations due. She also had a full week of important meetings and other assignments. And though she wasn’t feeling great, she worked through it.

 


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While we’d never suggest working while you’re sick—health should always come first—this blog isn’t about that. It’s a cautionary tale about one of the big risks of working remotely as a team: individual silos.

The truth is, as her teammates, it didn’t occur to us to proactively shoulder some of her workload. It’s not that no one wanted to. It’s that when working apart, it’s too easy and natural to take an out of sight, out of mind approach to teamwork.

And no one is really to blame for that. With our workdays as packed as ever, and none of the persistent physical cues that keep us attuned to each other in the office, it’s hard to remember to look outside ourselves.

Along with the rise of remote and hybrid work comes an inherent risk of our jobs becoming solitary endeavors. It’s a lost opportunity, and one that companies need to overcome to make remote work a success.

 

Why in-person team building?

Diverse group of young workers sitting in a circle socializing and laughing

In-person team events play an important role in how groups of coworkers function and work together as a unit. They provide:

  • A break from usual routines that enable the whole to get together and focus on the same goals—rather than being distracted by usual tasks and routines. 
  • An opportunity to step back from the day-to-day and focus on the big picture for the company and for the team.
  • A chance to build connections—especially for teams that onboarded during the pandemic and don’t have previous shared experiences to lean on. 
  • For colleagues who used to share space, they’re an important way to reconnect and renew bonds.

 

But are offsites outdated?

Once a mainstay of work life, in-person team building has fallen off the radar the last couple of years. 

That made sense because of the need to distance and stay safe during COVID. And there are some good reasons you might think team offsites are gone for good.

1. We have communication tools like messaging and video meetings

Over the last two years, most businesses deployed better video conferencing tools that make meeting virtually seamless and interactive. 

Given the easy access and use of video conferencing tools, it’s understandable that foregoing in-person team building and continuing to conduct such events virtually seems like a “good enough” option. 

2. Offsites are expensive

It was one thing to invest in a day event near the office (or even on campus) when everyone lived within commuting distance. But many teams don’t reside as close to each other as they used to.

Nearly 20% of workers have moved or are planning or considering moving 50 or more miles from the office permanently, according to research from PwC. A similar number have relocated or plan to relocate 50 or more miles from the office on a temporary basis.

Many remote and hybrid businesses have also made new hires these last couple of years who may not live near the office at all.

This means the costs associated with meeting up in person have increased. It’s no longer just about a venue, food, and activities. Companies now have to shell out for travel, accommodation, and other expenses.

3. Many offsites don’t have clear goals

Let’s face it—many offsites weren’t that great to begin with. Unclear goals, poorly defined next steps … there are lots of reasons offsites may feel like a waste of time—and a workplace tradition that should be left behind.

 

Why meeting face to face still makes sense

There are also some very compelling arguments for why team offsites are more important now than ever.

1. Many teammates have never met face-to-face before

Employees who worked together in person before the pandemic are connected by a shared history. But many companies have brought on new employees these last two years, and many teammates have yet to ever meet in person.

2. Video doesn’t always replicate in-person interactions

Video is an excellent conduit for working together remotely—and new features are only making video meetings more engaging and interactive.

But there will always be scenarios where in-person offers an advantage. When it comes to relationship building, there’s no substitute for taking it offline occasionally.

Woman on iPad standing in an office with coworkers chatting behind her.
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3. You don’t have to do it often

Perhaps one of the best benefits of in-person teambuilding is that you don’t have to do it every week, or even every month. Whether you meet in person once a quarter or once a year, the connections you build enhance day-to-day working relationships.

 

How to have productive offsites

In re-envisioning work for a long-term hybrid and remote world, many organizations are questioning old ways of doing things, and this includes team offsites.

While getting together as a team in-person can have tremendous benefits, it’s important to consider what works—and what doesn’t—when it comes to offsites to make these meetings most effective.

Here’s how to do them right:

1. Set clear goals

Why are you having a team meeting, and what do you want people to get out of it? Before disrupting the day to day, it’s important to have a clear goal in mind. 

Establishing a clear objective (or objectives) for a team offsite will inform an effective agenda that drives up to these top-level goals.

Being able to give people a clear sense of what they’ll get out of the offsite is also helpful for obtaining buy-in from workers, who will experience some disruption to their routines to attend. 

A woman on video conference in RingCentral chatting with colleagues. Overlaid with bubbles showing the team messaging and phone call features.
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2. Get everyone involved in planning

Another important way to get workers on-board with a team offsite is to get them involved in the planning. 

From enlisting team members’ insights on the goals and priorities for the day to planning sessions and activities, giving colleagues ownership over the offsite will also help cultivate enthusiastic participation.

3. Optional social time

For many introverts, the last few years have brought a welcome reprieve from forced socialization. That’s a good thing to keep in mind when planning an offsite agenda.

Not everyone likes feeling forced to socialize. And that’s ok. A well-planned offsite should be sufficiently interactive and involve lots of cooperation and team work so relationships can grow without people feeling forced to go to happy hour.

4. Skip the weird activities

To that effect, let’s put an end to weird activities that amount to forced fun. The return of offsites doesn’t have to mean the return of silly games that make everyone roll their eyes.

In planning activities, it’s a good idea to keep in mind the personalities and preferences of team members, and to schedule things people will enjoy doing together. If you’re unsure what that might look like, ask or take a poll. 

 

Don’t force it

The most crucial advice of all when it comes to planning in-person team events? Don’t force it.

The benefits of team building come from colleagues sharing a relaxed break from the norm. But if workers aren’t comfortable with the plan, or don’t want to participate, it’s an exercise that can backfire.

As such, one of the most important parts of planning a successful offsite is considering everyone’s needs and comfort levels. People’s level of busy-ness, external needs such as childcare, and—yes—the COVID situation can all play a role. 

To connect teammates and grow bonds and trust, there’s no replacement for the occasional offsite. But only if you plan it right.

Originally published Feb 17, 2022, updated Mar 09, 2022

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