For firms that need to strategize but are now more geographically diverse (or are just not ready to meet in-person), a virtual retreat can be the solution that unifies and strengthens the organization.
Firm retreats are a practical and effective method for discussing important issues, mapping plans for firm goals, and fostering relationships, ideally away from the busyness of day-to-day office life. Because getting attorneys out from behind their desks and gathering everyone together is a rarity, it is important that significant, strategic planning goes into the retreat in order to maximize the effectiveness and productivity of the time together.
When COVID-19 entered the landscape, it pushed everyone out of their offices and into a new-to-most virtual workplace and, by extension, the unpredictability of the past six months required more frequent discussions and meetings than we have ever experienced before (enter Zoom fatigue).
As some offices are returning to work in varying degrees, planning for the remainder of 2020 – even into 2021 – is a primary priority for many firms. For firms that need to strategize but are now more geographically diverse (or are just not ready to meet in-person), a virtual retreat can be the solution that unifies and strengthens the organization.
Participants join in discussions from their own spaces and all experience the retreat in the same way, avoiding the isolation and division that can result when only a portion of the team participates remotely.
When Society 54 facilitates a live, interactive retreat, our mission is to provide a positive experience for all participants through discussions, encouraging teamwork, answering concerns and questions, and assisting in the planning and implementation of goals. We also aim to make sessions fun and memorable to foster positivity and gain buy-in. How can we all do that in this new virtual reality?
Here are three main aspects that must be thought through and well executed for all of the virtual events we produce.
You must start somewhere.
Meet with your executives and ensure all planners and vendors involved have a clear idea of the theme, tone, goals and purpose of the retreat.
Designate responsibilities so that each person involved in the planning knows their duties and roles, and can be accountable for their contribution to a successful event. Feel free to use any of the Society 54 event planning checklists to help guide you through your planning phase.
*Pro Tip: Circulate in advance firm-branded virtual background images that attendees can use during the meeting. Or, as a fun networking component, have everyone select their own background images and give each attendee an opportunity to explain why they chose them. Be sure to share required image dimensions and provide step-by-step directions on how to upload the images so they can come prepared with their branded backgrounds.
Your agenda will make (or break) your virtual retreat, so think through every aspect of it.
It is important to be respectful of everyone’s time, especially when attendees are virtual (people are still balancing multiple roles when working from home with other family members around), so keep things moving and stick to the scheduled times for each session.
Begin the retreat with some technical directions while you have a captive and attentive audience. Be sure to schedule breaks for all things (phone calls, breaks, meals, and even just a mental time out) and have everyone return at a specified time. As a rapport building exercise, you can restart the meeting with a virtual coffee and have everyone bring their favorite mug. Those willing can share the story behind their mug and/or the type of coffee they are enjoying while you wait for everyone to return.
Schedule interactive components like polling and breakout sessions to foster additional engagement and to create more intimate discussions around planning or problem-solving. This time also allows the host or moderator a break and encourages more interaction for attendees who have been relatively silent or distracted. If you include speakers on the agenda, select speakers who are energetic and may ask your audience to do something during the event. Additionally, don’t forget to utilize that chat box! Ask attendees throughout the retreat to submit questions in the chat tool. Chances are, the people who ask questions are going to pay more attention to see if they get answered. To help facilitate this, select a Master of Ceremonies.
*Pro Tip: The Master of Ceremonies should be someone with the technological experience to run interference with anyone having tech issues, can field questions in the chat, has the ability to organize and send the group in and out of breakout rooms, and can inform the host or moderator when questions are raised. Be sure the Master of Ceremonies is not also a host or speaker, so their focus is not pulled away from the tasks needing attention.
When planning activities, think outside the box!
Activities should focus on each individual’s need to feel connected and be conducive to creating a safe and fun environment for the participants. Keeping people engaged for long periods of time online is difficult, as there is scientific evidence of fatigue from virtual interaction.
Make your time together as accessible and inclusive as possible. Use clear and precise language, have presentations that are colorful and visually appealing, and design activities to enhance interpersonal trust and foster team collaboration and communication.
*Pro Tip: A reduction in traditional retreat travel expenses may provide the additional budget for a well-planned and executed virtual retreat. Consider shipping or mailing something fun to attendees ahead of time to generate interest and excitement, such as a bottle of wine or sparkling cider for an end-of-the-day wine tasting or happy hour with colleagues.
A virtual team retreat is the perfect way to strategize and prepare for post-pandemic operations.
As organizations have learned over the past six months, working remotely is likely to be an ongoing scenario, at least to some degree. This modernized arrangement proves that even leadership meetings need to morph and adapt.
With thoughtful planning and by keeping an eye on predetermined goals and desired outcomes, firms are now presented with new and unique opportunities to foster vulnerable and genuine team building, success planning and social events from anywhere in the world.
Jill Huse is president of the Legal Marketing Association and partner at Society 54, a consulting practice for professional service firms.