Virtual retreats have become increasingly popular in recent years as a way for people to come together and participate in activities and discussions that are focused on personal or professional development, mindfulness, or other goals. This is typically more organized and “bigger” than small team get-togethers like movie night or having a virtual dinner together.
These online events allow participants to connect with others from anywhere in the world and can be a convenient and cost-effective alternative to in-person retreats. They may include activities such as meditation, yoga, workshops, and group discussions, and may be led by a facilitator or host.
Virtual retreats can be a valuable opportunity for people to take a break from their daily routines, disconnect from technology and distractions, and focus on their own well-being.
What is a Virtual Retreat?
A virtual retreat is an event or program that is held online rather than in a physical location. It is a way for people to come together and participate in activities and discussions that are focused on a particular theme or goal, such as mindfulness, personal growth, or professional development.
Virtual retreats can be held using video conferencing software, social media platforms, or other online tools and can be attended from anywhere with an internet connection. More and more, remote-first companies are using virtual retreats as a way to keep their team connected emotionally and build rapport with each other outside of work time.
What Are the Benefits of a Virtual Retreat?
Convenience: Virtual retreats can be attended from anywhere with an internet connection, so participants don’t have to worry about travel or finding accommodation. This includes the comfort of their own home or their coworking space. Both of which eliminates the need to adjust to a new environment or unfamiliar surroundings.
Cost-effectiveness: Virtual retreats will almost always be less expensive than in-person retreats, as there are no costs associated with travel, accommodation, or food. That extends to time savings as well. Travelling takes time, and time is money. This is especially true when multiple team members may be coming in from various places around the world. The time lost in transit may even be more than the actual physical event itself!
Accessibility: Virtual retreats can be more accessible to people with mobility issues or those who live in remote areas. This is a big one for anyone who doesn’t live in a city with easy access to a major airport. In those cases, it can be an absolute chore just to get to an airport.
Personalization: Virtual retreats may offer more flexibility in terms of the types of activities and sessions that are offered, allowing participants to choose those that are most relevant to their needs and interests. This also extends to a custom timetable for team members all over the world. Many virtual retreats can be at different times or on different days to accommodate various time zones or schedules.
Networking opportunities: Virtual retreats can provide opportunities for participants to connect with others who share similar interests or goals. This can be especially true if you’re part of a large company with several different departments that don’t often speak to each other. Virtual events offer benefits for cross-pollination even within the same company!
Sustainable: Virtual retreats are naturally more environmentally friendly, as they eliminate the need for travel and the associated carbon emissions.
Keep an Objective in Mind
Whether you’re hosting the virtual retreat or a participant, you’ll want to remember why you’re participating in the first place. Your “why” will likely fall into one of these categories:
- Connect with your fellow team members and learn more about each other outside of work.
- Preparing for a big company-wide push toward an objective
- Celebrating a significant “win”
Creating the Virtual Retreat
Depending on how large the group is, and how involved the retreat will be, there may be several people that are involved in creating and running the event. You may or may not need all of these steps, but this is what the planning process for the virtual retreat might look like:
1. Assign Event Managers
The virtual retreat is probably going to be a shit show if there isn’t good planning involved. For that, competent team members will need to be tasked with taking the lead in organizing the retreat. Depending on the size of the company, this will likely be between 1-4 people.
2. Choose a Theme
The theme should reflect what you’re wanting to accomplish at this virtual retreat. It will help influence everything from the feel of the retreat to the games that everyone plays.
For a super basic virtual retreat, something like Zoom or Google Meet will likely do fine. But if the plan is to incorporate games, breakout rooms, or contests, you’re going to need to choose software to help. you accomplish this.
4. Create the Agenda
Start with a loose agenda at first so you can have plenty of flexibility to move things around as you work through the various stages of planning. This loose agenda will help keep the planning contained based on time and budget.
Choosing Virtual Retreat Activities
The activities at the virtual retreat will arguably be the backbone of the event itself. Don’t just think “games” automatically, but any activity that can be used as a catalyst to promote the goals of the retreat itself.
Meditation – This is a popular activity at virtual retreats, as it can help everyone release some of that keyboard stress, improve focus and clarity, and build up feelings of calm and relaxation. Even better, virtual meditation sessions can be led by a trained instructor, allowing everyone to relax and let someone else plan that portion of the virtual retreat!
There are often mindfulness practices as well, which is great for team building, as it creates opportunities for employees to ask questions or share their experiences.
Yoga – Similarly to meditation, yoga is often a popular activity at virtual retreats, as it can help to improve physical and mental well-being, increase focus and productivity, and build team cohesion and communication. Also led by a trained instructor, they may include a combination of physical poses, breathing techniques, and relaxation or meditation practices.
Depending on the goals and theme of the retreat, the instructor may also incorporate communication exercises into the session. The virtual yoga sessions can be tailored to the needs and abilities of the group and are easily done via video conferencing software or online platforms.
Movie nights – A movie might only be possible if you have plenty of time in your virtual retreat, or if you have different virtual rooms that employees can go in and out of. Also, keep your goal in mind and make sure that this fits into what you’re hoping this retreat accomplishes.
Book club sessions – This would need some advance planning and buy-in from the employees themselves, but it’s certainly worthwhile. Simply choose a book before the retreat starts, and set aside a timeslot in the agenda to discuss the book. If the idea is popular, it could even become a regular event amongst those in the company that enjoy it.
Virtual escape rooms – These can be great team-building activities, as they require teamwork and communication to solve the puzzles (often under pressure!). They can also be customized to fit a specific theme or to incorporate company-specific elements, such as inside jokes or references to the company culture.
Virtual cooking or baking sessions – Cooking together can be a great way to build camaraderie and a sense of community among employees. Even though everyone is cooking separately, the shared experience of following a recipe and working toward a common goal can bring people together.
A cooking class can be a great way to promote teamwork and communication. Employees may need to work together to divide up tasks and make sure everything is ready at the same time.
Cooking classes can be very hands-on and interactive, which can help to keep employees engaged and focused during the event. It also allows for more flexibility and comfort for the participants, they can cook from their own kitchen and not worry about dress code or even travelling. It can be a great way to learn new skills or improve existing ones, employees may learn new cooking techniques, and recipes, or even try new ingredients.
Art or craft projects – Craft projects can be a fun and engaging activity for a virtual retreat, as they can provide a way for team members to connect and bond while doing something creative. They can also serve as a break from more traditional virtual meeting activities and provide a way for participants to relax and unwind. That said, consider if all participants would enjoy an arts and craft project and if the materials would be easily accessible to all attendees. Additionally, providing clear instructions and guiding the process can ensure a successful experience for everyone.
Music or dance sessions – Dance lessons can be a fun and engaging virtual activity for a company, what’s better than bonding with colleagues while dancing?! It’s a great way to break up the monotony of virtual meetings and provide an opportunity for team members to move and get some exercise.
Similar to the arts and crafts idea, it’s important to consider if all participants would be interested in and comfortable with dancing and if the instructions would be accessible to all attendees regardless of their physical abilities. It’s also important to make sure that the dance instructor is knowledgeable, experienced, and comfortable teaching a virtual class.
Overall, having a dance lesson could be a great way to bring some fun, energy, and engagement to a virtual company event.
Virtual tours or experiences – Virtual tours can be a great idea for a virtual company retreat as they offer a unique and engaging way to explore new places and learn about different cultures, history, art, or industry without leaving the office. Virtual tours can be an opportunity for team members to learn and experience something new while still being together virtually. They can also be a great way to boost morale and provide a break from more traditional virtual meeting activities.
Virtual board games – Monopoly anyone? Virtual board games are something that almost anyone can get behind. A little bit of friendly competition and fun never hurt anyone. Virtual board games can come in different forms, from video conferencing apps with virtual board game integrations to web-based platforms. This can make it possible for team members to play together in real time, regardless of their physical location. It’s also worth considering if the game is easy to play, understandable and enjoyable for the participants.
During COVID, my agency started playing D&D regularly. I had never played before, but it was a blast! I was able to learn from other team members that were avid players.
Virtual mixology classes – Mixology classes could be a pretty cool idea for a virtual company retreat. It’s a fun way for team members to bond and connect while learning something new. Plus, who doesn’t love experimenting with different flavors and getting sauced together? 🤪 Just make sure to consider if it’s something that would interest and be accessible to all attendees (make sure to take beliefs and religions into account as well!). And also, if the company would be comfortable with the idea of making drinks and if it aligns with the company’s culture or brand.
Virtual painting or drawing classes – Painting classes have become very common in the physical world for date nights, anniversaries, and parties. Assuming it’s of interest to team members, there’s no reason it can’t be a good idea for a virtual retreat either! It’s a fun way for team members to bond and connect while doing something creative. Plus, it can be a nice break from more traditional virtual meeting activities. Maybe you can convince the instructor to paint the CEO!
Virtual language lessons – There are tons of online options for virtual language classes that can be customized to fit the specific language level and needs of your team members. These classes can be held on a video conferencing platform, where the teacher can give interactive and easy-to-follow instructions, live demos, and opportunities for your team members to practice and ask questions. If you have a multilingual team, they could even help teach other coworkers!
Virtual theater or acting workshops – Virtual theater workshops are a blast and can be a great way to liven up a virtual company retreat. They give team members the chance to bond while also being creative together. During the workshop, team members can expect interactive instructions, live demonstrations, and the chance to perform. It can focus on different areas like improv, theater games, script-reading, and character development, depending on the team’s experience and interests.
Virtual dance parties or music festivals – A virtual concert could be a fun addition to a virtual company retreat. It can liven things up and bring the team together. You can use platforms like Zoom to have the concert and there’s a wide range of performers to choose from. Just make sure it aligns with the company’s values and is appropriate for everyone. You could also make it interactive with Q&A sessions or games to make it more engaging for employees. Keep in mind that it could be expensive, but it can be a cool way to make the virtual retreat more enjoyable for everyone.
Virtual karaoke nights – Virtual karaoke is a great way for employees to have some fun and bond with their coworkers. It can be done on platforms like Zoom, and it’s a good way to liven up those long virtual meetings. To make it even more exciting, you can have prizes or make it into a contest to create a sense of friendly competition among employees.
Don’t Forget to Have Fun
Regardless of how many people are involved, what your goals are, and what activities you do, remember to have fun. The main goal of any virtual retreat is to make sure that all team members can come together in a comfortable environment and have some level of bonding with each other.