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Annual off-sites: Time to trade plane tickets for web cams?

As more and more of working life becomes virtual, there’s one bastion of face-to-face interaction that seems least likely to go remote – the executive off-site. If for no other reason than it’s hard to imagine the higher-ups giving up the chance to gather in Aspen or Miami, many folks a bit lower on the corporate ladder would have a hard time picturing their bosses exchanging their plane tickets for web cams, but at least one high-profile pundit thinks it’s time to rethink the annual executive get-together.

Keith Ferrazzi, author of bestseller Never Eat Alone, reflected on his past experiences at off-sites on his blog recently. And while a visit to Orlando may sound pleasant, Ferrazzi recalls the actual events as often less than enlightening. He writes:

I remember people practicing their presentations far into the night, and the next day we’d sit for hours in uncomfortable chairs in a huge room listening to our leadership talk about the future of the business.  Looking back at those meetings, I have to wonder, were they truly effective?

Today, I am convinced that videoconferencing and other virtual technologies give us a much better way to conduct strategic off-sites.

Ferrazzi’s interest in virtual off-sites isn’t just a matter of saving money, but instead the idea is to give the whole concept a top-to-bottom rethink to make these events accomplish more for organizations. “Just replicating traditional physical off-sites remotely  results in a ‘poor man’s’ version of the real thing, like online training courses that consist of nothing more than a video recording of an instructor followed by a test,” he says. “Instead, companies need to be much smarter about how they conduct virtual off-sites.”

If they’re conducted properly, Ferrazzi goes on to say, virtual off-sites can involve more strata of the organization, which allows the top leadership to “get a better feel for the real challenges from all angles and levels.” Leaders should then candidly report back on which recommendations and ideas they’re moving forward with and which their rejecting (and why). “Such transparency and candor as the strategy is being modified and finalized can go a long ways in building true consensus for the final strategic initiative,” says Ferrazzi, who even suggests a follow-up contest where teams compete to offer the best idea to implement the strategy with the winner receiving an award at a social event (thus taking care of the bonding portion of an off-site).

It’s an interesting proposal and one that takes into account the need for occasional all-hands, in-person meetings reported by several of the managers of remote teams we’ve spoken to for our ‘Tales from the Trenches’ series.

What do you make of Ferrazzi’s rethink of the traditional leadership off-site?

Image courtesy of Flickr user jeanine&preston.

One Response to “Annual off-sites: Time to trade plane tickets for web cams?”

  1. I think we do need to reconsider whether funding travel for face-to-face meetings is the best, or even a good, use of the company’s resources. It seems every time there’s a recession or a company needs to cut costs, they look at scaling back on travel. So you’re telling me it’s okay to waste money on travel when there’s money available to squander? How does that make sense?