The weirdest ways employers keep staff engaged during meetings

From surfboarding to porn studios, conducting meetings like the companies we’ve heard from could well fix Britain’s sinking productivity levels

The weirdest ways employers keep staff engaged during meetings

What do all workers dread getting stuck in despite the inevitability? No, not a coffin – although we’re sure they’re also undesirable – meetings. Indeed, 80% of workers feel they waste time trapped in them, according to Owl Labs, the smart video conferencing company. It’s no wonder therefore that national productivity is falling behind rates seen before the 2008 financial crisis. But what can employers do to bring colour to dull boardrooms? It turns out, quite a lot, as the leaders of these businesses revealed.


Replace the board aspect of boardroom entirely. That’s what Antonio Separovic, CEO of Oradian, the financial inclusion company and his staff do by hitting the waves of Mindanao Island in the Philippines on fleets of surfboards to conduct business. “We sorted out a lot of niggly issues while on our boards,” he says. “The fresh air of the beach makes one optimistic and that really affected our ability to sort through issues and find win-win solutions.” Given the mental benefits of sea air, drifting away on bodyboards beats drifting off in boardrooms. 

Samuel & Co. Trading

Pumping iron while meeting not only eliminates stress for clear-headed discussions but if your staff are hobbyists then it kills two birds with one stone. For example, at Samuel & Co., the trading platform, employees can’t wait for their regular gym meetings. “Employees can carry stress with them mentally and physically, so there’s no better place to discuss the challenges they’re experiencing and simultaneously encourage them to set aside time for working the tension out of their bodies than at the gym,” says Samuel Leach, founder of Samuel & Co. “These training-meeting sessions can also be directed towards achieving greater goals with attached business purposes.” Infusing exciting activities makes anyone gung-ho for a corporate chat. 


Staying true to its name, ClassForKids, the activities management system, kicks off strategy meetings with random challenges from Mario Kart races to passing giant tennis balls, with the ball-holder the only person able to speak to avoid interruptions, before letting corporate jargon fly in the room. “By making our conversations interactive and fun we’re always breaking down barriers and making it easier to tackle the more difficult questions together,” says Nikki Th’ng, CEO of ClassForKids, who believes in the power of play. “The ultimate goal for us is to make sure that whenever a meeting invite lands in anyone’s inbox, they look forward to getting involved.” Although, mischievous in the approach, the company is keen to ensure work doesn’t suffer.

Sunshine Events

Providing fun props to the likes of Amazon and ASOS, Sunshine Events, the corporate equipment supplier, is the master of icebreaking. Indeed, one client saw fighting staff in a gladiator pit as engaging enough. “We had one client who regularly hired a rodeo bull to liven up quarterly meetings, while another client had a regular ‘challenge the boss’ and hired our gladiator joust arena,” says Sunny Sandwell, director of fun at Sunshine Events. With the opportunity always at hand, Sunshine Events is often tempted to utilise strategies involving everything from VR sessions to giant, inflatable Hungry Hippos for its meetings. “Next month its deckchairs and ice creams, with the speakers taking it in turn to sit in the giant deckchair. Before our regular weekly meetings, we also hold a Batak competition.” The Batak board is a reaction-testing piece of kit that calls on players to hit as many lights to turn them out within a minute as possible – beats the Monday morning rush for coffee.


If memorable meetings are the goal, look no further than Carl Reader, author of The Startup Coach and The Franchising Handbook. While clocking time as a business advisor of d&t chartered accountants, the business advisory firm, Reader was referred to a sit down with a potential client described to him as a “production company.” However, after pulling up at the industrial estate he found raunchy literature sprawled all over, only to realise he stumbled upon a porn studio. “It was almost a throwback to the days of topless calendars in the canteen,” he says. “As I sat on the sofa for the meeting, the proprietor explained his business but the only thing that I remember was his comment that they borrow the furniture for filming from a local furniture shop.” Needless to say, Reader spent the rest of the meeting standing.

These meetings make the classic coffee shop conference look like a stiff classroom lecture and it would seem they have created the desired impact when looking to engage an employee or business prospect. 

Angus Shaw
Angus Shaw

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