Business leaders have a problem. On one hand, their workforces are saying that they are tired of Zoom meetings and feeling isolated as they work from home, and mostly, that they miss the human connection. Leaders miss connecting with their teams in person too. But, on the other hand, employees are not keen to rush back to five days a week, 9-5pm office setting with crammed commuting and cold corporate cubicles. So how do leaders reconcile this problem? How do we connect employees to each other, to their leaders, and to their companies?
This phenomenon is something I have really noticed as a sharp change in our business. As soon as restrictions lifted on and off over the past two years, we produced “welcome back to the office” programs for some of our clients. But even the promise of free lunches, sweet treats or live music is not exactly luring employees back into the office in the droves that leaders expected. Although they definitely appreciated the welcome-back sentiment, workers just weren’t coming back in large numbers. People do not miss commuting and the water cooler as much as we all thought. What they do miss is a meaningful human connection with their colleagues and their leadership. And they miss travel and shared experiences.
As a result, we are seeing a spiked demand from our corporate clients and their people for in-person retreats, corporate trips, and once again, in-person meetings and conferences. This is especially true of company meetings that involve travel to an outdoor destination – 80 per cent of my current business falls into this category. In 2022 we have already planned a wintery team retreat for a California tech company to Northern Ontario to experience skidoo-ing, fireside s’mores, and dog sledding. Or, a Banff ski trip for 700 plus employees to connect, have fun, reward, and to thank them for surviving a crazy few years. We have another program for top sales dealers planned for the fall to head into the mountains to eat, drink, connect with nature and each other. They all have a common through-line of connection in a meaningful, safe, and outdoor setting as a backdrop to business discussion.
Just one year ago 80 per cent of my business was virtual, turning Zoom meetings and webinars into more interactive and slick virtual events that felt visually more like a live event. Two years ago, 80 per cent of my business was made up of in-person conferences, business meetings, product launches and roadshows in traditional settings, and only 20 per cent was retreats, trips, and outdoor experiences. Today it is reverse, clearly showing a shift and that priorities have really changed for our corporate clients.
The majority of workforces are saying they want to come back to office only a few days a week or for some, not at all. So business owners and leaders are going to have to find new ways to connect, to reward, and build their brands from the inside. We also know that people do want to get out of the house. But not to the office. Our prediction is that safe, well-planned, outdoor, corporate group travel and retreats are going to spike as a key business tool for 2022 and 2023. Meaningful dialogues will be held in interesting settings and the experience economy is going to soar!
Grail Noble is CEO of Yellow House Events, a full service event agency offering strategy, production, marketing and creative services.