Previously, business travel meant sending employees from their home office elsewhere, to meet clients or colleagues in other offices. But for many remote businesses, that now means the opposite: bringing employees together from their remote homes to work and meet in person.
These so-called “off-site” locations – a term inherited from when these companies had actual locations – have the potential to change the face of business travel.
While consumer travel has exploded in 2022, business travel has been slower to rebound. Off-site businesses could represent a larger share of this budget than in the past.
Doist, a software company with employees spread across the globe, wanted something different for its company-wide retirement in July.
“We rented a small village in the Austrian Alps,” says Chase Warrington, remote control manager at Doist. “We did a lederhosen party and went to traditional lodges for dinners.”
Warrington says the purpose of these offsite gatherings differs markedly from the purposes of traditional business travel. Rather than rushing into meetings to get the job done, these retreats are about connection and fun. That means throwing away the traditional business travel playbook.
Business or leisure… or something else?
Rather than replacing traditional business travel, offsite retirement is seen by many as an emerging trend in itself.
“There will always be business trips, they will just look different,” says Bruno Muchada, expansion manager for real estate partners at Surf Office, a corporate pension management company. “You travel to see your business as much as you go to see customers.”
And as the line between business and pleasure blurs in so-called “leisure” travel, offsite organizers recognize the relative insignificance of traditional meetings and schedules. In this upside-down scenario, employees are now working from home and playing with their colleagues in the “office”, instead of the other way around.
“I have this theory about the division of the day structure,” says Warrington, who also manages offsite events for Doist. “It should be 20% work, 30% activities and 50% free time.”
This free time allows for the kind of spontaneous connection and conversation that back-to-the-office apologists have praised. And that fundamentally changes how and where these offsite sites are organized.
“Don’t take us to a big hotel in the middle of a city and give us a big route,” Warrington says, channeling employee sentiment.
This could create problems for traditional conference centers and hotels that depend on a steady pace of business travel. Yet it has created a new small business ecosystem aimed at helping remote businesses manage employee morale through retreats.
Enter Offsite Startups
Investments flowed into the fledgling off-site industry. Software company Salesforce has built a dedicated wellness retreat in the California redwoods in which to host team building events. And Workation Village, a bespoke site in Italy for corporate retreats, launching in 2021.
Yet remote companies are finding that while company-wide gatherings with hundreds of employees can help boost morale, they’re difficult to organize.
“Many companies are introducing a travel manager position,” says Muchada. “But they realize that it’s a lot of work to organize everything, and that’s why many companies contact us.”
Surf Office runs retreat locations around the world, from Santa Cruz, California, to Tuscany, Italy, and aims to cut the guesswork (and paperwork) for travel managers and HR teams. Similar companies are springing up to meet this sudden increase in demand.
“When the vaccines started rolling out, I started to recognize that the world was changing,” says Hunter Block, founder of Offsiter, which offers an Airbnb-like marketplace of retirement places. “People will never go back to the office.”
Block quickly realized that organizations needed more than just a location: they needed an organizer. Offsiter now offers full management of everything from catering to collecting t-shirt sizes for company loot.
“We can handle everything, down to holding the clipboard and telling people where to go,” Block says. “Then the whole team can get involved, rather than being distracted by the serious stuff. We’re a lot like a wedding planner.
Despite its sudden boom, the offsite industry is still in its infancy and has many problems to solve.
“I’ve tested some tools intended to serve this market, but they’re very crude,” says Warrington. “They build the plane while they fly it.”
By Sam Kemmis of NerdWallet
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