How to Host an Offsite That Boosts Morale

Float is a Toronto-based expense management software company currently experiencing a growth spurt. The year-and-a-half-old start-up has onboarded more than 70 percent of its 56-strong team, most of whom are working remotely across Ontario, in the past six months. In an effort to build a stronger and more connected team, Float hosted a three-day offsite venture in June. “We saw an offsite as a perfect opportunity to build camaraderie between our team members,” said Rob Khazzam, CEO and co-founder of Float.

The first step was finding the right venue. It wasn’t meant to be all play, not work – part of the idea was to have meetings about company culture and growth plans – but it was important to Khazzam that the place didn’t feel too corporate, so that people felt comfortable. “I grew up with summer camps, so I had a grown-up version of it in mind,” he says. Khazzam knew someone on the team at Camp Timberlane, a 465-acre property in Haliburton, Ontario complete with a beautiful waterfront, spacious cabins and plenty of outdoor fun facilities.

Next, it was up to Meghan Smith, Float’s Head of People, to tailor the event to the needs of the team members. Smith sent a survey to Float employees asking about their preferences for food, housing, and activities. Smith worked with the venue to structure the event accordingly. The company covered all expenses, including airfare for the handful of employees who live outside of Ontario.

Not everyone liked being physically active outside. This meant making sure there was a balance between activities – some more cerebral, like trifles, and others more physical, like making fire. In devising the itinerary, Khazzam and Smith aimed for a roughly equal mix of free time, loosely structured socializing, and team building and planning sessions. “Have less on the agenda than you think you need,” says Khazzam. “It’s more effective to spend a few hours diving into key concepts than rushing through topics.”

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The itinerary included plenty of free time for walks, swimming, sports or just sitting around the campfire. “You have to set aside a lot of time for socializing, because those are the moments that are really important for building a community,” says Smith.

On day one, Float brought in a toy company to run a “bug workshop.” Employees worked in teams to build the highest possible structure out of wooden blocks, making tweaks along the way and practicing giving and receiving feedback. In another activity, employees participated in a relay race that took them across the camp grounds in teams deliberately made up of people who don’t often work together. Khazzam also held a Q&A in a wooded setting, discussed Float’s mission and shared details of the company’s operating model and financials.

After the offsite, Smith distributed another feedback poll. The results were overwhelmingly positive. One employee said he was excited to work at a company that cares about their team above and beyond. Another person said offsite was sure to be a career highlight, and yet another said they felt compelled to make Float a success. There was also some constructive feedback, such as B. Transportation outside of a company bus. “Not everyone loves these, so we might consider an alternative next time,” says Smith.

Float plans to hold at least one large-scale offsite per year, as well as a few smaller events to build team morale and camaraderie. It’s not just a gesture of goodwill; Khazzam sees offsites as critical to business development. In his opinion, employees develop trust when they get to know each other personally, which in turn creates a strong foundation for teams. “We want to be a meritocracy – and that won’t work if people don’t feel comfortable,” he says. “We need people who know they can give honest feedback, be it positive or negative. Offsites help us build that sense of security, so we see it as money well spent.”

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This article will appear in print in the Fall 2022 issue of Canadian business Magazine. Buy the issue for $7.99 or better yet, subscribe to the quarterly print magazine for just $20.

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