Team bonding via private jet to Lake Tahoe is the kind of corporate spending you just don’t see anymore. That’s a good thing when it comes to long-term job stability -- but those were good times, no?
Well, here’s some good news for management: there are still plenty of ways to say "thank you" and "lets keep working together" to your staff and clients without blowing through next year’s budget. Corporate retreats are a special way to generate good will and unity amongst staff and management. Yet, if there’s nothing else the recession taught us, it’s that it’s important to be prudent. An office getaway does not have to max out your budget.
In fact, these office getaways are an opportunity for management and executives to learn leadership skills while exercising some renewed creativity in a way more relaxed environment. The corporate retreat isn't a paid vacation. (Would you really choose to travel with all your colleagues for fun?) It’s more a breath of fresh air -- literally -- and a reprieve from the post-traumatic horrors of being over-worked and way stressed out.
A small business with a small budget can benefit from corporate retreats as much as a huge corporation with lots of money. In fact, with most large companies nixing their retreats because of budgetary concerns, many destinations are vacant and hungry for business. So look for discounts!
Here are a ways to think frugally when planning a corporate retreat.
There’s no need to fly your staff across the country when there are great locations merely a drive away. Take advantage of destinations in your backyard or in regions of the country that aren’t as costly, and are in need of tourism and business travel dollars.
Most states have an array of activities. Look into the great lake and Rockies areas, or, southwest through the Midwest -- and don’t forget the New England coasts and the Appalachia region. Focusing on high-end retreat hotspots in California, Florida and Colorado isn’t cost-effective, and they can be limiting when fully-booked. Renting a van or bus, however, is mandatory. Packing everyone into cars for a three-hour drive is bound to be an episode of The Office -- only those in the car won’t be laughing hysterically.
Don't Head for the Most Popular Destinations
Remote locations and retreats with a small business mentality versus those that are part of a corporate franchise frequently provide five-star accommodations at a lesser cost. Sometimes they even throw in accoutrements like fine local wines and thoughtful spa services.
Consider Hobby Sports vs. Luxury Sports
Golf retreats are expensive, but canoeing, kayaking, fly fishing, mountain biking, rock climbing and the like can be less expensive, invoke more team-building, and are less likely to get so competitive that someone has a meltdown and ruins it for everyone. Leave the golfing and skiing retreats to the Fortune 100 executives.
Negotiate Prices, or Barter
With big corporations sitting out on the big spending, there are a lot of places with empty facilities. The owners of these spots want your business, and want to attract more business to their towns, so when negotiating a good deal, throw in a barter of services. Offer to include the retreat information in your company’s newsletter or pass the word on to clients about what a productive, creative and relaxing experience it was (if it was).
Make Sure the Deal You Got Has What You Need
Although you may be out in the boondocks, you’re going to need meeting rooms and the necessary infrastructure to get some work done. While you’ll need places to set up your computers and working Wi-Fi for sending emails, be prepared for what retreat centers won’t have. You probably won’t find office luxuries, like the tech gadgetry for Power Point slideshows and hi-res color digital printing, so be prepared.
Hire a Corporate Retreat Planner
It might initially sound like a waste of money, but their experience will save you a ton of time -- as well as potentially save you money, since they’ll know where to find the best deals. Outside of the fee paid to the corporate planner, he or she will be responsible for calling around, negotiating, bargaining, setting up and finalizing details. A corporate planner also comes armed with a Rolodex of contacts that may offer excellent deals to often-used customers.