An All-Hands Retreat Formula for Success

Aubrey Lear, Senior Employee Engagement Manager

Article Categories: #News & Culture, #Employee Engagement

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All-hands events are important milestones for business success, career growth, and employee engagement. The recipe for success is a lot simpler than you might think - clarity, intention, and joy.

Last month, Viget hosted our 6th ever virtual all-hands event. What started as a necessity in the spring of 2020 has become a flexible way to honor our traditions and help our culture thrive. Virtual all-hands events are here to stay, and at Viget, we are committed to making sure our virtual events embrace the same opportunities for flourishing as our in-person ones. So whether you are gathering in-person or remotely, this formula — clarity, intention, and joy — will help you make the most of your next all-hands gathering.


Provide Clear Communication and Expectations

Your event begins as soon as you send out the calendar invite. Set expectations early, share as many details as possible, and when information is not yet available, let your team know when and where they can expect it — and how to ask questions.

For our all-hands events, we create a custom page on our website where we list the schedule, links to logistics surveys, workspace and supply requirements, and FAQs. Those FAQs provide insight into what our team can expect from the event. We answer questions like:

  • How should I prepare for the event?

  • What should I be doing during the event?

  • Will the event be recorded?

  • How should I track my time?

  • How does lunch work?

We also have an evergreen Slack channel.

Ahead of the event, we use the event channel to share (and pin) need-to-know information and encourage sharing and engagement. This sets the tone that we expect folks to engage and share during the event as well.

Slack engagement during the event ranges from supporting Q&A time to sharing praise.


Understand and Share Your Goals and Objectives

Event planning is a broad term that encompasses meals, timing, content, swag, and more. When you're in the weeds of logistics, you can lose sight of the event's strategic purpose. To ensure a cohesive experience for attendees, be clear on your ultimate goals. Use them as a guiding light.

The key metric for our most recent event was inspiration. We wanted our attendees to feel inspired by their peers and bought into our company’s trajectory. Having “inspiration” as a clear goal made it easier for us to make decisions and plan the day, largely around a series of 10 minute peer-led talks. We asked 8 people to deliver talks that highlighted expertise, resilience, growth, and excellence.

We didn’t explicitly say “listen up, our goal is to inspire you,” but we looked for ways to maximize the impact of the peer-led topics, which ranged from taming tough clients to secondary research to view transitions. We planned the order of talks carefully, so they built on each other. We made an effort to introduce each speaker thoughtfully. And, where possible, we highlighted how the topics throughout the day hit on different themes and reflected our company values. It became clear that attendees were engaged and aware when praise and cheers like Cindy’s comment below was shared during presentations.


Make It Easy for Folks to Show Up 

Leveraging your venue is an event logistics super power. When you’re in-person, this means considering your physical space. For example, for our fall 2022 in-person all-hands, to make the most of our venue's grounds and beautiful gardens, we had picnic blankets and bagged lunches ready to go. We even provided feed tokens so they could stop by the petting farm, too.

If you’re hosting a virtual event, optimizing your virtual tool use is key. One way we do this is by providing virtual backgrounds. This fall, we crafted virtual backgrounds for each of our teammates' locations. Leveraging Viget photos and Unsplash, folks were able to choose backgrounds from places like Charlotte, North Carolina and Walla Walla, Washington, where some of our teammates work remotely – or our office in Falls Church.

We make sure to create both a regular option and a mirrored option as some folks prefer to have their camera mirrored when shared. This way any text in the image does not show up backwards.

These backgrounds aren’t just a fun way to create a visual showing of camaraderie, it’s also a way to allow your team to join from any location (we encourage our team to join from the couch or another comfy space). Utilizing the virtual background means they do not have to worry about tidying their workspace or visual disruptions like housemates walking by.

BONUS: Surprise and Delight

A friend once sent me a birthday card that read “a party without cake is just a meeting.” I think about this sentiment a lot when planning all-hands retreats. While all-hands events ARE meetings, I do believe that a little flair goes a long way. What sets this all-hands meeting meeting apart from any other meeting? Sure, the whole team is together for a longer period of time than usual, but how can you make the most of it? The answer: surprise and delight.

This fall, we did this in a few ways.

  • We played Vingo (a Vigety spin on Bingo) where folks could win fabulous prizes.

  • We sent joy. We shipped everyone their Vingo cards along with a cozy Viget sweatshirt, and (as you may have read above) we waited to open our packages together to kick off the event.

  • We shared. In addition to all the need to know information, Q&A, and praise, we also encouraged our team members to share photos of their experience throughout the day in the event’s Slack channel.

Not only did this give us a sneak peek into our attendees’ experience, it helped us connect with one another through our shared experience.

Top It Off

Follow Through

All-hands events don’t end when we sign off of Zoom or leave the building. There's a lot to do in the 1-2 weeks following to get the most value from the time together. We push ourselves to reflect, learn, and — most importantly — follow through. For us this means:

  • Sending out a feedback survey to collect sentiment on how things went and ideas for future events.

  • Sharing a comprehensive notes doc that includes a summary of each talk and links to decks and resources reviewed during the meeting.

  • Sharing a photo album of pictures and, for virtual meetings, screenshots from the day.

  • Sending out any "fabulous prizes" won during the day and making it easy for staff to exchange their sweatshirt or other swag for a better size.

  • Reviewing the survey data, summarizing it, and hosting a retrospective meeting with our events team.

  • Sharing highlights from the retro with the whole company.

  • Circling back and answering questions raised during the Q&A segment that we didn't have time to answer during the meeting.

This degree of follow through means our events get better each year. The survey lets us know if we met our goals and reveals if our event was sufficiently inclusive, among other things. The thorough documentation lets future employees get a sense for what to expect at their first all-hands. And future first time speakers can review previous decks to inform their own approach. Following through means building trust and reinforcing the value of connection well beyond the event.

Approaching your next all-hands with clarity, intention, and joy will help you craft a culture building experience that will allow you, as the event planner, and your team, as the attendees, to flourish. Viget’s secret sauce for all-hands events is a combination of these things and the trial, error, learning, and growth that comes with hosting more than 120 all-hands over the years. All those events in and we are still tinkering with what works, making changes, and keeping our team top of mind. We know there is room to grow and we are excited to get there.

Aubrey Lear

Aubrey is Viget’s Senior Employee Engagement Manager based in our Falls Church, VA, HQ. She is an organized advocate for color coordinated calendars and closets, but most importantly she is a believer in team spirit and creative thinking.

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