ICE bus, infrared sauna, whitewater rafting, fly fishing, archery workshops, whiskey tasting, sunrise yoga, clay pigeon shooting, go-kart racing, mountain biking in Norway, falconry in Ireland, glacier climbing in Alberta, singing campfires. Surrounding “Kumbaya”. These seemingly disparate activities have one thing in common. That is, they are all examples of the modern corporate offsite.
Guest columnist Bartleby is fed up with the idea of doing role-playing exercises and forced games after a PowerPoint presentation. She likes to bond with her colleagues in an organic way. Still, executive camps have become an annual business tradition. The idea is that by disconnecting employees from their daily lives, companies can build camaraderie and foster creativity. And it’s becoming more and more important.
A flashy, exciting annual vacation could help keep executives in a tight labor market (and cheaper than a high monthly salary). In the era of remote work, without the thousands of micro-interactions that take place in the office, team building trips have also taken on a structural role. Suddenly, offsite was no longer an afterthought, it was at the heart of the enterprise. Human Resources Department strategy. There is no option not to participate. So what if your colleague puts on flip flops and meets you in person for the first time?
In the old days, barbecues and softball games were held here. Retreat takes style and cost up a notch. Just three months after Steve Jobs left his Apple company in 1985 to start another company, he sent his employees to Pebble Beach for his first outside job. I took him. As corporate psychology boomed in the 1990s, team-building retreats took hold. By 2015, Uber was reportedly offering $6 million to Beyoncé for an employee (not driver) performance at a corporate event in Las Vegas (the pop star’s compensation was non-cash, at the time). It seems to have been paid in the stock of a popular startup). His WeWork, which offers rental offices under the guise of technology, once hosted raucous summer retreats around the world. Employees were encouraged to dance to electronic music throughout the night.
Current management was optimistic given Uber’s poor performance since its 2019 initial public offering a-Lister. WeWork is a party-loving founder CEOAdam Newman was forced to leave in the wake of its failure IPO later that year. However, the trend toward corporate vacations is intensifying.
To stand out, companies try to make their retreats as bespoke and exotic as possible. Companies that can’t hire pop stars can put astronauts on board who tell stories about life in space. It’s not exactly Queen Bey, but it could potentially attract the more geeky element of its employees. Many organizers choose Mother Nature, perhaps believing that the sublime unlocks authenticity. Wineries around the world are now expanding to accept retreats with winemaking lessons. An employee stamps the grapes. A ranch in Montana offers corporate clients games like paintball, flag catching and dummy cow rope. Brand strategy agency Butchershop held its second summit in Costa Rica. Activities include ziplining, horseback riding in the jungle, jumping off a cliff into the water, and more.
One sure-fire way for companies to make retreats memorable is to push their attendees through adversity. Fighting bad weather together should foster team spirit, but enthusiastic organizers have been known to overdo it at times. A large European company sent its executives to the Arctic Circle in the dead of winter. They endured frigid temperatures for days without changing clothes. At a Swiss advertising agency in Zurich, 25 employees were injured after reworking an ancient ritual of walking on hot coals as a team-building exercise.
It’s unclear what would be accomplished days away, other than straining the budget and wasting precious time. Returning to your desk with frostbitten or burned feet is unlikely to increase your productivity. Even if he escaped injury, he might have lost respect for a colleague who drank too much and spoke brusquely to himself. Walking by the fire with colleagues may be aimed at promoting spiritual healing and putting employees and bosses in an equal and equally uncomfortable position. But it’s walking through metaphorical fire that really sparks team bonding. It happens after years of working together, not at a company training camp.■
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https://www.economist.com/business/2023/05/25/why-are-corporate-retreats-so-extravagant Why are corporate training camps so extravagant?