Is there value in an out of office experience?

When there is a conference, team building activity or off-site strategy review, it is never short of willing participants. “Out of office experiences” are popular because people see these events as a chance to do something different, meet new people, pick up new experiences, and enjoy some time away from the day-to-day.

An out of office experience can be internal or external. Some examples of internal out of office experiences are team building events and strategic retreats. External experiences might be conferences, networking events and benchmarking expeditions.

To maximize the value of these events, below are some tips for you to consider.

1. Select the participants carefully

If you have decided that the experience is worth time investment in both time and money, make sure the right people are involved. The events value in employee’s personal development, the individual’s ability to represent the organization and the reliance on the employee to extract the learnings and bring them back into the organization are key considerations.

2. Set the business objectives

In advance of the activity, define and communication the objective, value and expected return from this investment. The participant should appreciate their responsibility to maximize the value of the engagement. This point is as valid for an internal teambuilding as it is for attendance of an external conference.

If an individual is elected to participate in a teambuilding for their personal development, for example, they should be involved in the decision and engaged in discussions on how the exposure will deliver professional growth. On the other hand, if someone is being sent on a conference to understand industry trends, explain to them what information they need to focus on and how they will be required to share it when they return

3. Take time to identify peripheral benefits

An out of office exercise is often an opportunity to build networks or enhance the profile of an organization. It is important therefore to equip them with some key messages to communicate to whomever they might meet. Ensure that participants are ready to go the extra mile as ambassadors for the organization and encourage them to be on the lookout for new contacts to cultivate themselves or pass on to colleagues on their return. In addition, basic training on networking will give them the confidence to reach out to people and represent the organization well.

There is no harm in participants enjoying the informal or social aspects of external events, but ensure that these peripheral opportunities are used in a focused way.

4. Maximize the experience in real time

While the event is taking place ensure that the attendees are taking opportunities to reflect on the experience. For example, if three employees are attending the same external conference, tell them to meet up periodically (at least once a day) during the event to reflect on what they have learnt so far and to check if there are any opportunities emerging to make new contacts or deep-dive with presenters into specific conference topics.

If the event is an internal workshop or teambuilding exercise, pause from time to time to reflect on whether the event is on track in terms of delivering its objectives and those of its participants.

5. The debrief

Whatever the nature of the out of office experience, it is crucial for value-delivery that follow-up takes place. Get the team together a few days after the event to review the outcomes, revisit the action plan, and reflect on what went well and what could have been done better. When staff attends an external conference, require them to present back to their functional teams or the leadership team. Ask them to share any materials as appropriate, to discuss the learnings they have taken and invite them to explain what they as individuals or the company should be doing differently in light of their findings.

Out of office events of all types can add tremendous value to an organization and are essential to maximize engagement within an organization. This value can be exponentially increased when a company’s participation is well-planned, well-managed and properly reviewed.

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