If done well, a company away day can be the perfect way to reward or reinvigorate your team
A certain episode from the most recent series of The Apprentice served as a useful lesson in ‘how not to do company away days’. Indeed, one would hope that Lord Sugar’s candidates weren’t drawing on past experiences when formulating the activities for their unwitting subjects. Suffice to say, it didn’t do much to alter the mindsets of employers who are traditionally sceptical about away days.
Firstly, there are tax implications for companies when an away day is deemed by HMRC not to have been held for ‘business purposes’. However, this is generally a minor consideration. The ultimate concern is to ensure that an away day fulfils the objectives for which it was held, thus justifying the time spent out of the office. These objectives will vary from company to company, but clearly defining them is essential if the away day is to have the desired effect. “Whenever I speak to a client, the most important question for me is ‘what do you want to achieve?’” comments Nikki Hunt, client services manager for team building and away-day specialists Sandstone. “I can then make a recommendation and explain how the activity I am recommending meets those requirements.”
Hunt suggests that the business issue in need of resolution could be the lack of a clear ‘team’ ethos among employees. “It is not the case that every team needs to learn to communicate better or every team needs to learn to collaborate,” she says. “We sometimes get clients who are looking for an away day because they maybe need to basically rebuild the team from the bottom up. They have got a group of individuals who are good at their jobs but they don’t know how to be a team.”
An away day can also provide an opportunity for a much welcome ‘meet and greet’ with new recruits and, more pertinently, people from elsewhere in a company. “Often, what people find is that they know those who they work with immediately quite well, but beyond that it might just be a wave across the office or a nod in the corridor,” Hunt explains. “So employers will often want their staff to be able to spend time outside of work getting to know one another.”
What could initially have been penned as a general ‘getting to know you’ session may end up as a valuable meeting of minds where teams can “share information and reduce their overall workloads”, adds Hunt.
Often though, taking a fairly carefree approach to an away day can pay off, suggests Ian Rummels, managing director of HR and employee benefits consultancy PES. “I have fairly low expectations of what we get out of these away days when we do them with our team,” he admits.
“The fact that we are out of the office doing something different, recharging, spending some quality time together, I see as a benefit. So long as we have achieved that, everything else is a bonus.” Finally, far from addressing an internal issue or preparing for a forthcoming challenge, an away day is frequently utilised as a form of reward for employees’ hard graft and fulfilment of certain goals.
Either way, the specifics of any away day should be granted plentiful thought by the management team beforehand, so that the needs of all employers are sufficiently met. “It is important to remember that your team are not clones of one another,” says Hunt. “If they were, it would make it so much easier to decide what type of away day you want to go for. But the truth is everybody doesn’t enjoy the same thing.” Rummells adds: “You want people to look forward to it, as opposed to dread it and not participate on the day. So I think you just have to think about who is going, what they are likely to enjoy, what they are likely to be able to do, and try and pitch it just right.”
As much as the period immediately preceding an away day can be crucial, the days, weeks and months in its wake are arguably the making of its success. Particularly if the activity or activities were geared towards a specific goal, the need for a comparative assessment of staff performance and morale is pretty indispensable. And this is a process that a company such as Sandstone can assist with, according to Hunt. “We offer the option for a debrief with every single activity that we do,” she says, before adding that this extends far beyond a mere assessment of the day itself. “Debriefs that say ‘what did you do well?’ and ‘what could you do better next time?’ aren’t very effective for us because at the end of the day they are not coming back to your activity tomorrow or next week. So what we do is ask them a question that gets them thinking about the activity in relation to work.”
Of course, having an ‘away day culture’ engrained into one’s business model can go a long way to building employee loyalty, with regular time away from the office only serving to bolster employees’ appetites for participation. “If you just hold one away day annually, and it tends to be in the summer, there might be someone who always takes an annual summer holiday who can never take part,” says Siobhan Dillon, co-founder and managing director of charity events organiser Skyline. “Having it regularly throughout the year definitely helps and keeps the morale going, because I think that is the most important thing.” The charity aspect can also work wonders, suggests Dillon. “It takes away a lot of the cynicism to a large extent because people are doing something that is very positive and motivational. It can definitely help if you are assisting a children’s charity or local hospice.”
Siobhan Dillon, co-founder and managing director of charity events organiser Skyline, certainly knows how to keep her staff happy: “We take people away for the first weekend of January. We give three people the responsibility of actually coordinating it and their identity is kept secret. The staff will talk about it for six weeks beforehand guessing where we are going, and who is organising it, right through to a couple of months afterwards. It is all expenses paid – they are given a budget – and we just rock up to the airport not knowing where we’re going. While there may be other elements contributing to why people stay with the company, we do have an extremely good loyalty factor, and they absolutely love it. It would be pretty strange for us not to do it because that is precisely what we do for other companies anyway.”