Thinking outside the office

The case for company offsites

Yesterday, we returned from our team offsite in Inverness in Marin County. Although we were only away for two days, we achieved our mission (we think!). That is, we were able to step back, take a deep breath and reflect on our goals in a way that can only be done when we’re not juggling the demands of the day. We’ve returned to the office refocused and ready to put our thoughts into action.

Though this was only our second offsite, we’ve already come to value their impact. They allow us to take a break from our daily responsibilities in the office and think big about our future plans. Reflecting on our experiences, I’ve distilled the main reasons I’ve found our offsite sessions to be valuable, along with a few tips for getting the most out of them:

Being in a novel setting promotes creative thinking

An unfamiliar setting outside the office provides an environment conducive to new thoughts and creative thinking. Neuroscientist Jonah Lehrer’s research on the topic of insight and “aha” moments has shown that we are more likely to come up with and accept new concepts in unfamiliar settings. The issues we focus on at our offsites are the big-picture questions for which there are no clear answers. Being able to think openly and creatively is critical for getting the most out of these discussions.

Go wide: offsites create space to brainstorm and come up with as many new ideas as possible

Living together strengthens bonds

In an office environment, we tend to interact with each other in routine contexts (team meetings, casual office conversations, or walking to get lunch). During offsites, team members interact in new ways because everyone is living together. Things like cooking and running errands in town bring people closer and let them rely on each other in new ways.

Cooking together is a great way to bond as a team. At Lake Tahoe, we made homemade pizzas!

Discussing broad issues as a team creates opportunities to collaborate

We are a small company, but we have grown big enough to have different areas of expertise and responsibility. During the offsites, team members who do not work closely together in their day-to-day roles get the chance to collaborate because everyone contributes to each meeting regardless of the topic. For example, during a discussion about competitors where we broke into pairs, our CEO, Sophie, teamed up with our machine learning intern, Nick, to discuss how social media companies could leverage academia in their drive toward content personalization. We’ve found that everyone also values the opportunity to contribute ideas to every facet of the company regardless of their area of expertise.

Activities and games are perfect ways to round out a day of hard work. Here, Nicole presents the prototype she built with Deb as part of the Gift Giving activity

Offsites create lasting memories

Reflecting on our two offsites, we are also grateful for the lasting memories that we made. These memories contribute to deepened friendships with each other which serve a foundation of our productive work environment.

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