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5 Things You Need for a Successful Virtual Retreat

When we decided to become a completely virtual organization, we heavily relied on in-person quarterly retreats to connect, build relationships, provide acknowledgement, celebrate, and fuel inspiration for the next quarter. In these new times, we have had to find new ways to come together while staying in a virtual environment.  Our day-to-day virtual environment keeps us connected, but it just does not hold the magic that in-person interactions often provided.

When the decision was made to host our remaining 2020 retreats in a virtual setting, it required some strategizing to meet those needs via a 2-day video conference call. After this first virtual retreat, we surveyed members of the team and received fantastic feedback with some of the key words being connection, growth, inspiration, and even magic. We have identified five of the strategies behind our virtual retreat success:

  1. Go Back to the Beginning

Instead of jumping into the ‘how,’ our leadership team went back to the, ‘why,’ or the results behind our retreats. We did not let the details get in our way, we focused on what we wanted to feel like after the retreat and let those statements guide the agenda, platform, timing, topics, etc. We spent most of the planning time on this beginning strategy, which I believe greatly affected the positive outcome.

We selected topics and areas that were important for the team. Team members requested deeper dives into understanding cognitive bias, so we resourced an outside vendor to come in for that 2-hour session. We let go or tabled agenda items that no longer fit with our intended results.

  1. Platform and Timing Matter

One of the big revelations in this process was the need to carefully consider the timing of the retreat. Our in-person retreats were often 3-4 full days with fun activities in the evening. We could accomplish a lot in that time, but also celebrate during dinner where we would continue talking late into the evening. The same number of full days in a virtual setting would not be possible with an international team, so we opted for six 2-hour blocks over two days, with at least an hour break between each section. This schedule, with earlier start times each day, worked well with our global participants’ schedules and needs. We also used Zoom for our virtual platform, with everyone visible thru their cameras and utilizing breakout rooms when appropriate.

  1. Fun Outside the Box

We included a few five-minute fun activities before or after each of the six sections. These mini breaks allowed us step away from the retreat agenda and participate with our team members in a different way (prompting quite a few laughs). A few examples of fun activities:

  • Team members sharing their office space or favorite areas in their homes
  • Team members sharing a two-minute story (time they laughed until they cried, were scared, best work story, etc.)
  • Playing a quick round of a game
  • Themed days – explain your outfit (wear a hat, accessory day, wear favorite color)
  • Spice up team member cameras with fun and weird video filters from Snap Camera (third-party app)
  • Meet a team member’s family – meet a family member or pet for a few minutes on camera
  1. Utilize the Platform

For our recent virtual retreat, we used the Zoom video conferencing platform. Every participant shared their video for most of the sessions. We relied on the breakout rooms for brainstorming/whiteboarding ideas or to discuss topics in a more personalized setting. The breakout rooms can be customized by role or completely randomized for cross interaction and team building.

We also used polls for streamlined voting. This came in handy when we were deciding on our brand messaging or names for program sections.  We used the participant status icons to indicate if we had stepped away or needed a break, which limited interruptions. Exploring the features and functionality of the platform you are using can lead to creative solutions for your retreat topics.

  1. Have a Virtual Happy Hour or Game Night

One of the most engaging activities of the virtual retreat was our 2-hour Virtual Happy Hour/Game Night. We held this session in the early evening of our first day and made attendance optional. We still met virtually, but most participants moved to a more relaxing location or outside. We played an online app-based game that features a few different ‘Balderdash-style’ games. Each participant uses their smartphone or iPad as a controller to submit answers. There are tons of application-based games on the market, but here are a few to get you started:

  • Psych!
  • Houseparty
  • tv Games
  • Scrabble Go
  • 8 Ball Pool
  • UNO
  • Scattergories
  • Mario Kart Tour
  • Drawful 2

Virtual retreats can and should spark the same magic that in-person retreats do and include a ton of benefits, chiefly time and money saved. We hope you found these tips helpful and worthy of consideration for your next retreat!

Author – Stephenie Rockwell

Operations Lead


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We’ve defined four conditions that must exist for an individual, team or organization to be effective within the arena of performance and development; Accountability, Focus, Alignment, and Integrity. We’ll continue to explore these and more in our blog and look forward to your engagement and interaction with us. Stay tuned as we engage the edges.