Your Corporate Retreat Is On—But It’s Going To Be Weirder
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Your Corporate Retreat Is On—But It’s Going To Be Weirder

Employees bond over a virtual lunar disaster or ‘80s-themed murder mystery.

By KRITHIKA VARAGUR
Mon, Mar 15, 2021 1:00pmGrey Clock 3 min

At the last global sales meeting he attended before the pandemic, Jeff Chase went to Caesars Palace Las Vegas with about 60 colleagues, plus many of their spouses. In February, the biotech sales manager scouted a location for their next retreat, the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino, on Zoom. He never left his home in Indianapolis.

The woman organising the visit, travel entrepreneur Sarah Reuter, instructed him and 70 other attendees from the corporate world to locate sunglasses, a hairdryer and a refreshing drink in their homes. When the video panned to the Caribbean, they were asked to turn on their blow dryers to simulate a coastal breeze in their hair.

“Myself, no, I don’t have long hair, so I couldn’t do that part,” Mr Chase says. He still enjoyed the whirlwind tour enough that he’s planning to book one of Elevate Travel Co.’s virtual retreats for the company’s biannual sales meeting this fall.

Vaccines are now reaching many American workers, but some companies are in no rush to bring back the in-person off-site retreat. Instead, they’re turning to a host of increasingly elaborate virtual options, including murder mysteries staffed with actors, webcast trips to beach resorts and safaris, and purpose-built digital islands for multiday gatherings.

They’re not quite a substitute for the splashiest pre-pandemic corporate off-sites—where some participants might have slept in a castle or raced Fiat 500s around the Tuscan countryside—and usually require much less time and money. But they can still help employees bond and let off steam after months of working in unusual conditions, their participants say.

Sean Hoff, managing partner of Toronto-based corporate retreats company Moniker, says clients have started inquiring about in-person trips, but are holding off on deposits and flights until at least June. So he’s ploughing ahead creating a virtual island for an upcoming retreat of around 240 people for Webflow, a San Francisco website-design company.

Employees will participate in videogame-like team-building activities, including a boat-building race. They will inhabit customized avatars and gather in virtual locales like a “tiki hut” and a “treehouse” for small-group meetings.

“The HR team, for example, will be able to say, meet us over by the dock at 5 p.m.,” he says.

“I’m not going to lie, I was a little sceptical at first. But after a year of remote work I was so desperate to meet more of my colleagues that I just dived in,” says Allison Williams, an account manager based in St. Louis at Articulate, an e-learning software company. Articulate held a weeklong virtual retreat in early February with over 104 sessions, including virtual yoga and virtual escape rooms. Out of 291 employees across 10 time zones, 267 participated, according to a company spokesman.

Ms Williams taught a class to 45 colleagues on calligraphy and says she made a new friend, a “fellow pen nerd,” in the process. She also made new work friends through the happy hours at a virtual beach club staged on Remo, an online conferencing platform. There were various seating options, including a bar, fire pit, or surfboard-shaped table. Employees talked in small groups with whoever else gathered at each site.

Alejandra Sereleas, a vice president of accounting at the France-based videogame company Ubisoft, hired Moniker to stage a virtual, 1980s-themed murder mystery for her team of about 80 people last June.

The scenario is a wedding: The groom mysteriously drops dead after taking a sip of his drink. The participants meet eight suspects, all paid actors, and must interrogate them to solve the crime.

“We asked everyone to be in character and be creative, and sent them a wedding invitation before the event,” Ms Sereleas says. People embraced the theme, she says, donning side ponytails and chunky jewellery and setting ’80s-themed Zoom backgrounds like a Pac-Man maze.

After the murder mystery, which made its debut last May as Moniker’s first virtual offering, the company created a “lunar outpost disaster scenario” set in 2037. It was adapted from a NASA training exercise for aspiring astronauts. Participants act as mission control for a crew of colleagues whose exploratory trip to the moon’s surface has gone awry.

“We’ve kissed the Blarney stone in Ireland, had whiskey at the top of a mountain in Patagonia, rode on a dogsled in Finland, sailed a yacht off Cannes and hung out with a gorilla doctor in Rwanda,” says Liz Lathan, Austin, Texas-based CEO of Haute Dokimazo, an events company that pivoted to virtual experiences during the pandemic. Her corporate clients Zoomed with travel guides in 28 countries between last May and December.

Vanessa Blackburn, Cleveland-based enterprise retail strategist at Retail Zipline, a communications startup for retail stores, has already done two virtual retreats with her team. Their last off-site, planned before the pandemic, was to take place in Lake Tahoe, and Ms Blackburn hoped to tack on a few extra days to ski. Her company’s two-day virtual retreat in March struck a different tone.

Instead of lavish catered meals, employees got to spend $25 on their corporate card to order coffee and lunch delivery. And the goody bags sent to their homes included a tub of slime, a plastic Slinky toy and a colouring book—not for the workers themselves, but to occupy the young children that many still had at home. “My daughter loved that,” Ms Blackburn says.



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Is ‘Rizz’ the Secret to Getting Ahead at Work?

Whether you call it charisma, charm or magnetism, some people seem like naturals. Good news: It can be learned.

By Rachel Feintzeig
Mon, Jul 22, 2024 4 min

Great leaders have it. Gen Z has a new word for it. Can the rest of us learn it?

Charisma—or rizz , as current teenage slang has anointed it—can feel like an ephemeral gift some are just born with. The chosen among us network and chitchat, exuding warmth as they effortlessly hold court. Then there’s everyone else, agonising over exclamation points in email drafts and internally replaying that joke they made in the meeting, wondering if it hit.

“Well, this is awkward,” Mike Rizzo, the head of a community for marketing operations professionals, says of rizz being crowned 2023 word of the year by the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s so close to his last name, but so far from how he sees himself. He sometimes gets sweaty palms before hosting webinars.

Who could blame us for obsessing over charisma, or lack thereof? It can lubricate social interactions, win us friends, and score promotions . It’s also possible to cultivate, assures Charles Duhigg, the author of a book about people he dubs super communicators.

At its heart, charisma isn’t about some grand performance. It’s a state we elicit in other people, Duhigg says. It’s about fostering connection and making our conversation partners feel they’re the charming—or interesting or funny—ones.

The key is to ask deeper, though not prying, questions that invite meaningful and revealing responses, Duhigg says. And match the other person’s vibes. Maybe they want to talk about emotions, the joy they felt watching their kid graduate from high school last weekend. Or maybe they’re just after straight-up logistics and want you to quickly tell them exactly how the team is going to turn around that presentation by tomorrow.

You might be hired into a company for your skill set, Duhigg says, but your ability to communicate and earn people’s trust propels you up the ladder: “That is leadership.”

Approachable and relatable

In reporting this column, I was surprised to hear many executives and professionals I find breezily confident and pleasantly chatty confess it wasn’t something that came naturally. They had to work on it.

Dave MacLennan , who served as chief executive of agricultural giant Cargill for nearly a decade, started by leaning into a nickname: DMac, first bestowed upon him in a C-suite meeting where half the executives were named Dave.

He liked the informality of it. The further he ascended up the corporate hierarchy, the more he strove to be approachable and relatable.

Employees “need a reason to follow you,” he says. “One of the reasons they’re going to follow you is that they feel they know you.”

He makes a point to remember the details and dates of people’s lives, such as colleagues’ birthdays. After making his acquaintance, in a meeting years ago at The Wall Street Journal’s offices, I was shocked to receive an email from his address months later. Subject line: You , a heading so compelling I still recall it. He went on to say he remembered I was due with my first child any day now and just wanted to say good luck.

“So many people say, ‘Oh, I don’t have a good memory for that,’” he says. Prioritise remembering, making notes on your phone if you need, he says.

Now a board member and an executive coach, MacLennan sent hundreds of handwritten notes during his tenure. He’d reach out to midlevel managers who’d just gotten a promotion, or engineers who showed him around meat-processing plants. He’d pen words of thanks or congratulations. And he’d address the envelopes himself.

“Your handwriting is a very personal thing about you,” he says. “Think about it. Twenty seconds. It makes such an impact.”

Everyone’s important

Doling out your charm selectively will backfire, says Carla Harris , a Morgan Stanley executive. She chats up the woman cleaning the office, the receptionist at her doctor’s, the guy waiting alongside her for the elevator.

“Don’t be confused,” she tells young bankers. Executive assistants are often the most powerful people in the building, and you never know how someone can help—or hurt—you down the line.

Harris once spent a year mentoring a junior worker in another department, not expecting anything in return. One day, Harris randomly mentioned she faced an uphill battle in meeting with a new client. Oh!, the 24-year-old said. Turns out, the client was her friend. She made the call right there, setting up Harris for a work win.

In the office, stop staring at your phone, Harris advises, and notice the people around you. Ask for their names. Push yourself to start a conversation with three random people every day.

Charisma for introverts

You can’t will yourself to be a bubbly extrovert, but you can find your own brand of charisma, says Vanessa Van Edwards, a communications trainer and author of a book about charismatic communication.

For introverted clients, she recommends using nonverbal cues. A slow triple nod shows people you’re listening. Placing your hands in the steeple position, together and facing up, denotes that you’re calm and present.

Try coming up with one question you’re known for. Not a canned, hokey ice-breaker, but something casual and simple that reflects your actual interests. One of her clients, a bookish executive struggling with uncomfortable, halting starts to his meetings, began kicking things off by asking “Reading anything good?”

Embracing your stumbles

Charisma starts with confidence. It’s not that captivating people don’t occasionally mispronounce a word or spill their coffee, says Henna Pryor, who wrote a book about embracing awkwardness at work. They just have a faster comeback rate than the rest of us. They call out the stumble instead of trying to hide it, make a small joke, and move on.

Being perfectly polished all the time is not only exhausting, it’s impossible. We know this, which is why appearing flawless can come off as fake. We like people who seem human, Pryor says.

Our most admired colleagues are often the ones who are good at their jobs and can laugh at themselves too, who occasionally trip or flub just like us.

“It creates this little moment of warmth,” she says, “that we actually find almost like a relief.”

MOST POPULAR
11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

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Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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