Business travel used to mean sending employees from their home offices to other locations — to meet clients or colleagues in other offices. But for many remote-first companies, that means the opposite: bringing employees together from far-flung homes to work and meet.
These so-called “off-sites” — the reserved term for when these companies have actual sites — have the potential to change the face of business travel.
While consumer travel will pick up in 2022, business travel will rebound more slowly. Companies off-site may have a larger share of this budget than they have in years past.
Doist, a software company with employees around the world, wants to make a difference in its company-wide retreat in July.
“We rented a small village in the Austrian Alps,” said Chase Warrington, head of remote control at Doist. “We had a leather pants party and then went to a traditional hut for dinner.”
Warrington said the goals of these off-site gatherings are markedly different from those of traditional business travel. These retreats are designed for connection and fun, not a desire to meet to get work done. That means ditching the traditional business travel brochure.
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Business or pleasure…or whatever?
Many see remote retreats as an emerging trend rather than a replacement for traditional business travel.
“Business travel is still there, it’s just going to look different,” said Bruno Muchada, head of real estate partner expansion at Surf Office, the company that manages corporate retreats. “You’re going to meet your company just like you’re going to meet a client.”
As the line between business and pleasure blurs into so-called “fun” travel, off-site organizers are recognizing the relative importance of traditional meetings and scheduling. In this upside-down situation, employees now work from home and play with colleagues in the “office,” rather than the other way around.
“I have this theory about how the day is structured,” said Warrington, who also manages off-field events for Doist. “It should be 20% work, 30% activity, and 50% free time.”
This free time allows for the kind of spontaneous connection and conversation that back-to-office apologists laud. It fundamentally changes how and where these offsites are organized.
“Don’t take us to the big downtown hotel, give us a big itinerary,” Warrington said, channeling staff emotions.
That could spell trouble for traditional convention centers and hotels that rely on steady business travel. However, it created a new small business ecosystem designed to help remote businesses manage employee morale through retreats.
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Investments poured into the nascent over-the-counter sector. software company Salesforce CRM,
A dedicated health sanatorium has been established in the redwoods of California for team building activities. Workation Village is a custom-designed venue for corporate retreats in Italy, launching in 2021.
However, remote companies are finding that while company-wide gatherings of hundreds of employees may help boost morale, it can be a pain to organize.
“Many companies are introducing travel manager positions,” Muchada said. “But they realise that it takes a lot of work to organise everything and that’s why a lot of companies are reaching out to us.”
Surf Office manages global retreat locations from Santa Cruz, California to Tuscany, Italy, and is designed to take the guesswork (and paperwork) out of travel managers and HR teams. Similar businesses are emerging to deal with this sudden surge in demand.
“When the vaccine started rolling out, I started to realize that the world was changing,” said Hunter Block, founder of Offsiter, which offers Airbnb-like ABNB.
Market or retreat location. “People will never go back to the office.”
Block quickly realized that organizations needed more than a location—they needed an organizer. As a result, Offsiter now offers full-service management, from catering to collecting T-shirt sizes for corporate gifts.
“We can handle all of that, right down to holding a clipboard and telling people where to go,” Bullock said. “Then the whole team can get involved and not be distracted by the details. We’re a lot like wedding planners.”
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Despite the sudden rise of the off-site industry, it is still in its infancy and there are still many problems to be solved.
“I’ve tested some tools designed to serve this market, but they’re pretty primitive,” Warrington said. “They’re making planes when they fly.”
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Sam Kemmis writes for NerdWallet. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @samsambutdif.