September 25, 2023   |   Aprilynne Pike

Why We Hold In-Person Offsites

And You Should Too!

We know this is going to come as an enormous surprise, but here at Swoogo, we believe in events! (I know, we’ll give you a sec to let your heart rate come down.) Specifically, we believe in the unique power of events to bring people together and build cohesion and strong relationships. Especially in-person events. Secondly, we believe that companies need these kinds of relationships to run well.

We believe in these two elements so much that we hold company-wide, in-person events, twice a year, with relationship and team-building at the tip-top of our priority list.

Offsite = Event

Wait a second! Are you talking about offsites? Those aren’t events, those are incentives! 

For some companies they are. (And there’s definitely some great incentive in there.) But for Swoogo, our offsites function more like a traditional, in-person event, because we’re a remote-only company. So when we hold our in-person offsites, we’re not only taking some time to network, and enjoy good food, drinks, fun activities, and company, we’re literally recapturing the in-person benefits that we sometimes miss out on. Benefits that we believe are crucial.

½ Fun ½ Work

Don’t be afraid to have work at your offsite! This is the perfect balance, in our opinion. But whatever ratio you settle on, the key to a really, really effective offsite is to have both.

Here’s an example: One of the first things on our schedule at our offsites is a big meeting, with the entire company, where we get a training from our CEO. By the end of that session, we are all on the same page about our goals for the year, our priorities, our mindset and business philosophy, and we’ve all been given a chance to ask any questions we have.

The energy coming out of that meeting is amazing! There’s a clarity of our company direction, and our goals go on to color every aspect of the rest of our trainings throughout the offsite. 

It’s also an opportunity to learn about the kinds of things you don’t have time to ask about, or feel like you might be taking up someone else’s time by asking during a regular work week. We got a presentation on equity one offsite, and an in-depth dive into ARR at another. At one, we brought in the CEO of one of our biggest partners and got to AMA with him.

Let me say it this way, I always come back from offsite with a better understanding of the company and my place within it. That’s super worthwhile to me.

Networking with coworkers

Even when we’re having fun or rocking out—looking at you, Matt V. walking in Memphis!—we’re getting much needed face-to-face time, and remembering that we’re all more than pictures on a screen. We’re coming together as a company to embrace our values, our camaraderie, and our shared goals. 

We’re a remote company. What we’re learning about ourselves, and from customers, is that digital experiences are great for content, but there’s no substitute for those moments when you bump into a co-worker and have great conversations. We don’t have that in our day-to-day work, so we try to make sure everyone gets that opportunity at our offsites.
–Chris Sykes, Swoogo CEO

Gathering the entire company together is a lot of work, not to mention a big budget item. One question I asked everyone was, why is it worth it? Chris Cassimus, VP of Product said, “Getting together to solve problems amplifies creativity. Sometimes we crack problems we were struggling with just because we were able to get everyone in a room together.”

Meeting new faces

As a scaling company, each offsite also gives us the chance to meet our new hires. Sometimes as many as twenty each offsite. “Seeing people in-person reminds you that we’re all real people, with real lives,” VP of marketing, Stacey Baer said. “Swoogo is all about bringing people together, and that includes employees. It’s vital we never forget that we’re more than faces on a screen.” And science backs her up. The benefits of in-person interactions have been shown to improve every aspect of the business relationship, and both Swoogo and the events industry in general are taking full advantage of those benefits.

One of the highlights of our offsites is team time, when we break out into groups like support, marketing, and sales. (And more—you can check out all of our teams here.) In fact, every person I interviewed talked about how important this team time was, especially as our roster of employees grows. “The team days were so crucial and beneficial, that we actually added a day to the Ohio offsite, specifically for more team breakout time,” Sykes said.

Learning from the best

Swoogo customers have been making use of similar breakouts during their events for years. “We’re definitely learning from our customers,” said Rachel Carter, SVP of Engagement and Culture. “Breakouts are a key feature that Swoogo customers and prospects need for their events—and that we worked really hard to preserve during lockdowns—so of course we’ve discovered that Swoogo is no different.”

Even as we leave 2020 farther and farther behind in the rear-view mirror, our customers are continually emphasizing how important the in-person element is to their attendees and customers. 

Our support team certainly supports that. While every employee at Swoogo was essentially on-call the entire offsite, support had to be actively working 24/7. When I asked their team leader, Stephen Oppelt, what they did for their breakout time, he said that they mostly enjoyed the privilege of working together in the same room. “We’re virtually together all the time,” he said, referencing Swoogo’s support huddle, where the support team gathers whenever they aren’t actively on a customer call. “But being physically together was really wonderful. Support has to always be on, but doing it together was just refreshing.”

We’ll have fun, fun, fun!

Each offsite includes a variety of activities that Swoogs can sign up for, from a beachside painting class, snorkeling, or a biking tour to more casual fun like karaoke, group photo competitions, and ultimate frisbee.

“The fun part is important,” Sykes said. “We want to say thank you to our teams—to show them we appreciate their hard work. But as we planned activities, the key was to facilitate creating relationships and memories. We wouldn’t, for example, take everyone to a movie because that’s not an activity that’s conducive to talking, much less having meaningful interactions. The goal is to have fun, but the purpose is to create memories together.”

The Swoogo show must go on

So what happens to Swoogo customers while we’re gathering together? It’s absolutely paramount that we not leave them behind. In January, not only did our support team tag-team around the clock—with some major MVP-ing from a couple of members who weren’t able to attend in person—Swoogo Support had its busiest week ever AND beat their average response time. There’s a reason we constantly refer to them as Superstars. 

In July our sales team seemed unwilling to be outshone and they took calls and closed deals all week long. 

Your customers are, and should be a concern when you gather a company like this. Here are a few ways we make sure our customers never get left behind:

  • Fly some support members in early, and keep others late. There will be some skeleton crew times, but this way your customers never get a busy signal.
  • Make sure your location has phone service and Wi-fi. Then plan activities that make it easy for an employee to step away for an hour or two, whenever necessary.
  • Spoil the people who miss activities to take their turn helming the support line, and make sure the rest of the company knows who is taking shifts to let everyone else have a good time. Acknowledgement matters.
  • When you select dates, plan them around your customers’ biggest events. Pick 5-10 huge events and black out those dates. You’ll be less stressed and so will your co-workers.

Ideally, your customers will never realize you’re gone.

Let’s get together, yeah, yeah, yeah

Like everyone else in the events industry, Swoogo experienced disruption with our offsite event schedule last year. Our spring 2022 offsite was delayed from January, because of the Omicron Covid wave, and then it took some time to safely get back onto our normal schedule. So rather than six months between events it stretched to nine, on both sides of the Spring 2022 gathering. “It’s fantastic to be back on track,” Carter said. “Nine months is too long. I miss seeing everyone.” 

As a new-ish Swoog, I personally had never experienced the six-month break between offsites, only the nine-month one, and I can attest, nine months is too long! There’s something magical that begins in the airport, the first time you spot a fellow Swoog. The shared work culture and values, the confirmation that your virtual friend is, is fact, a real person. For me, that is the most important aspect—seeing all of these people who I work, stress, and push with, all together, having a great time.

Team Swoogo has gathered at Newport, Lisbon, Atlanta, Utah, San Diego, Miami, and now Bermuda and Gambier! Our next offsite will kick off 2024 (I can’t believe I just typed that!) and wherever we go, we’ll be making memories together, strengthening our teams, and never letting our customers down.