How to plan a retreat employees will actually enjoy

JACKSONVILLE, FL—Trust falls and motivational speakers, anyone? It’s the stuff of traditional company retreats, and while team building and bonding exercises can be useful, they can also be awkward for participants. However, promoting the ideals of leadership, education and fun are still important.

For other ways to strengthen, energize and engage teams, businesses are striving to make meetings and retreats intimate, personalized and more in line with the company’s culture. One way to achieve this is to seek out a new environment and enlist on-site expertise.

At the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront here, Director of Events Paul Cohn is tasked with taking the stress out of planning retreats. Among the many tricks of the trade, he helps business owners set clear goals, research locations on-property, and provide a budget and scope, to name a few.

“At Hyatt, our guiding principle is ‘We care for people so they can be their best.’ This holds true in all of our meetings and events, especially when hosting company retreats,” said Cohn. “Our goal is to provide a space, outside of an organization’s four walls, that allows for collaboration, creative thinking and goal setting. When we can purposefully care for the needs of those guests, whether through comfortable meeting environments, thoughtfully planned food options, or custom-tailored activities, we can help an organization best achieve its goals.”

Similar to guests, retreat attendees crave moments during their stay that will be remembered. Companies and business owners are looking for ways to deliver that experience.

“As with most events we host at Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, we have found that company retreats have become all about creating a unique experience,” he said. “Organizations are looking to do something that is different from previous years, something that will create an environment to foster collaboration and encourage creative thinking.”

What’s trending now? Unique meeting spaces continue to be popular with today’s meeting planners, according to Cohn.

“Outdoor locations, such as our river decks overlooking the St. Johns River, can provide a welcome change of venue from a traditional meeting room,” he said. “Meeting in more residential-looking spaces, such as our presidential suite, is another trending option for company retreats.”

On the property level, Cohn and his team are watching the trends to make sense of specific needs and then responding to satisfy the guest.

“Something else we are hearing from our meeting planners is the need for simplicity when planning these types of events,” he said. “Our seasoned team of event managers can help consult the meeting planner or employee who has been assigned the task of planning the retreat to create a stress-free process. Once the meeting planner or employee sets the goals for the retreat, our team can take it from there.”

Some of the offerings that make Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront stand out are its all-day meeting packages that provide meeting space, food and audio/visual options bundled together at one price point. In addition, there are distinctive meeting spaces that other hotels may not have, such as the hotel’s decks overlooking the St. Johns River, or the rooftop pool space with a 180-degree view of the river, among others.

The Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront’s outdoor spaces are an option for meeting planners.

Nowadays, there is personalization in every step of the hotel guest’s journey, from check-in to checkout. In terms of meetings and retreats, Cohn is working with on-site partner, Corporate 1 Events, which specializes in creating tailored activities for company events and retreats.

“Whether it is a daylong team-building activity or a short icebreaker to start off the morning, the team at Corporate 1 Events can customize an activity based on each company’s purpose and values or to reinforce goals and objectives that the organization is focused on during the retreat,” he said.

For businesses seeking a company retreat, the planning process begins with a brainstorming session with the hotel team. Cohn challenges his colleagues at all levels to use brainstorming techniques to generate new and creative ways to approach processes and to deliver purpose-led services to the hotel’s customers.

“I would encourage retreat planners not to feel like they need to approach a hotel with the entire retreat process thought out,” he said. “Instead, let us help you brainstorm and come up with innovative solutions to assist you in achieving the goals of your retreat.”

Having a diverse group of individuals with varying interests and tastes can make it challenging to plan an event that caters to everyone. According to Cohn, it all starts with understanding that people all learn, think and communicate differently.

“That is why variety is so important in any type of meeting or event,” he said. “For example, having a mixture of seating in a room, from soft, comfortable, oversized chairs, to standard meeting room chairs, to high cocktail tables where attendees can stand, provides them options to be productive when spending an entire day in one space. Another example would be having a variety of food and beverage options that also caters to different needs and tastes.”

While balancing work and leisure during the retreat, it’s important to bring the same care and attention to the food and beverage served. It provides sustenance for a full day of interactions, conversations and bonding activities. A sweet treat doesn’t hurt, either.

Cohn explained that the overarching F&B philosophy at Hyatt is “Food. Thoughtfully Sourced. Carefully Served.” And, it holds true when the team is planning the menus for retreats.

“The goal is to have F&B selections that are nutritious and healthy, that foster creative thinking and provide energy to get through a long day of strategic thinking,” he said. “Another aspect to keep in mind is balancing the F&B offerings with a few indulgent treats, because at the end of the day, meeting planners want to make sure that attendees are enjoying the overall experience. Meeting planners are also looking for unique F&B offerings at a hotel, something that adds to the custom experience. For example, Executive Chef James Draper is known for his gluten-free peanut butter treats. It has become so popular that we keep copies of his recipe on hand because people often ask for it after trying them.”

For meeting planners and attendees, it’s about having a good time. Cohn encourages meeting planners not to lose sight of having fun while organizing a company retreat.

“The days of spending hours in a formal boardroom strategizing for the coming year have gone away. Work with your hotel partner to make sure the day is enjoyable, whether through a cool setting in an outdoor space or an interesting team-building activity, such as creating miniature boats to race across the hotel’s rooftop pool,” he said. “This will ensure that the retreat will not only lead to a productive planning session, but also be a memorable event.” HB

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