A virtual retreat is successful when it helps employees step back from the daily grind to reset, reflect, and cultivate team bonds. 

However, leaders face real challenges. Forbes reports over half (52%) of Indeed survey respondents are experiencing burnout in 2021. And with the majority of information workers logging in remotely or clocking into a hybrid workspace, it can be hard or impossible to corral everyone on the team for a retreat. 

So in this article, we give a run down of what a virtual retreat is and why leaders should invest in planning one, a handful of best practices, and a long list of ideas to help you hit the ground running. 

What we’ll cover

What is a virtual retreat

A virtual retreat or virtual team building activity is an online event where employees come together to gain new perspectives, reflect on work, and get to know each other without the constant stream of work.

And with the majority (97.6%) of employees saying they’d love to continue working remotely in 2021, it’s critical that leaders invest in virtual events that help employees meet across digital divides.

But hybrid and remote work aren’t free from challenges. 16% of folks from Buffer’s survey say remote work comes with loneliness and another 16% have difficulties with collaboration. The day-to-day work can dampen spirits and slowly but surely take a toll on individual and team productivity.

This is where virtual retreats come into the picture. They offer employees the opportunities to unwind and connect with each other – boosting employee engagement and productivity without the overhead of locking in venues, coordinating travel, or signing on-site caters.

Virtual retreats are similar to their in-person counterparts. You’ll still need to do some planning like setting a goal, creating an agenda, and scheduling time on employee calendars, but we’ll get to the details later in the article. 

So, without further ado, let’s hand you a list of 30 ideas to plan a successful retreat for the team.

30 virtual retreat ideas

1. Wellness workshop

A 2018 survey revealed two-thirds of the working people in the US experience fatigue. With the pandemic’s arrival though, I’m willing to bet these numbers have only grown, which is what makes a virtual wellness workshop so appealing.

Invite office members to join in for a yoga or meditation session to relax together. You can also dedicate time to asking everyone what they do to improve their wellness.

2. Virtual coffee

A virtual coffee session is an excellent way to get the conversations going with a steaming mug of coffee. Be sure to send coffee beans and branded mugs to employees beforehand.

What’s more, to create a café-like environment, hire a musician to play at the start or middle of the retreat session. You can also encourage employees to trade their coffee-making secrets with each other.

3. Virtual workshop

Another learning idea to add to your online retreat plan is getting the team to join a virtual workshop. The Remote Company planned a Museum Hack storytelling workshop for their team that they took virtually.

During the 3-hour long interactive session, the team worked in groups of 4-5 people to create their narrative, guided by the storytelling hacks, examples, and other insights that the workshop hosts shared.

Plan a storytelling workshop for your team or another one teaching a similar key skill that all teams – marketing, sales, customer service, and more – will find useful.

4. Virtual coffee and learn

While you can exchange news and gossip over a coffee chat in your virtual retreat, you can also use coffee as an excuse to learn from each other.

The remote Hotjar team regularly hosts 15-min long sessions where a team member delivers a presentation while the rest sit back and sip their coffee – all while learning something new.

Here’s a peep at their coffee and learn schedule:

A screenshot of a virtual retreat agenda from Hotjar

Source: Hotjar

In your virtual agenda, plan bite-sized learning sessions where employees pick a topic of their choice. Get the team to join over any drinks – even fresh juices or fancy smoothies if they prefer. There’s no limit to being creative, really.

5. Get the team to create music lists together

Where teams collaborate all day every day on work-related stuff, plan a 30-min virtual chat for collaborating over creating music lists. 

Take a page from the Trello team that uses Spotify to listen and curate productivity-boosting and de-stressing playlists. Replicate this for your team.

6. Virtual book club

Nothing beats this online retreat idea if you’ve got book lovers on your team. Ask for book recommendations before the session and make sure everyone has the audiobook, paperback, or eBook (whatever their preference).

Give the team enough time to either read a section of the book or its entirety before meeting virtually to discuss the book. Everyone can come armed with two questions, two takeaways (even if it’s a fiction read), and lots of opinions.

7. Virtual movie screening

You can also bring teammates together for a virtual movie screening. Get everyone to join in for the movie, live chat reactions in real time, and debrief at the end. You can also send fun screening snacks like popcorn, cupcakes, cookies, and other goodies before the event.Alternatively, pick a short series you can all binge-watch together. Vimeo’s ERGs co-host a monthly screening of the America TV drama, Pose. Verve Logic, an IT company,  gave its employees a day off to watch the popular Spanish show, Money Heist. So you can definitely plan such a day as part of your virtual retreat without worrying if it’d be a hit among employees.

8. Virtual office road trip

Before 2020, several remote companies organized off-site retreats where they’d fly together to a destination. A good alternative now, however, is a virtual office road trip — like one that the Front team planned for their team.

Their teammates visited the 3 cities where they’ve offices and everyone shared videos from each location capturing what they loved, other places they visited, and so on.

Example of a virtual road trip from Front

Source: Front

Have teammates in different countries? No problem. Ask them to decide a location and go on a road trip on the same days as the rest of the team with everyone documenting their journey along the way. Don’t forget to parcel any essential branded travel gear.

9. Virtual GIF battles

Who doesn’t love a fun GIF? This is a quick and easy idea to your virtual retreat agenda. Your GIF battle can include 3-4 themed rounds.

Try playing in pairs or let employees duke it out battle royale style as they look for themed GIFs in each round using Google images or GIPHY.com. The person with the most votes on their GIF wins the round and, eventually, the game.

Pro tip: You can also host a meme making or finding battle similar to this one.

10. Virtual work style guide making session

Understanding your teammate’s work style is a great way to foster team collaboration. Do they spend a few hours in the morning or afternoon in deep work? Do they prefer meetings or screen-recorded videos for collaboration?

A great bonding idea for  a virtual retreat is asking employees to create their work style guides. Before the retreat, ask employees to create a guide on their workstyle that includes their communication style, how they like to work, and tips for collaboration. Atlassian even has a few my user manual templates to try out to help everyone get started. 

Once ready, team members should read each other’s “user manuals” either synchronously or asynchronously. After the event, plan to have a dedicated library or repository to house everyone’s manual.

11. Virtual self-care or fitness retreats

This could involve anything from a guided meditation, applying face masks, or getting pedicures together with the team. Individuals can go out to salons and share updates and pictures with their teams to get positive vibes flowing.

You can also organize a fitness challenge. With Peloton, for instance, virtual team bikeathons are so much easier, thanks to their streaming-friendly workout bikes.

12. Virtual creative challenges

Another idea is to get your team to participate in an art or writing challenge in your company-wide retreat. This could involve anything from getting them to paint, sketch, write, or anything else.

The Balsamiq team hosted Creative Challenges where the team enjoyed painting a Frida Kahlo portrait with various supplies – acrylic paints, crayons, sharpies – even highlighters.

A screenshot from Balsamiq team creative challenge

Source: Balsamiq Creative Challenges

13. Virtual music concert

Next up: another one of the best virtual staff retreat ideas: a virtual music concert. Ask performers to join your remote team virtually.

Have musicians on your team? Great. Get those talented folks to play the guitar or any other instrument that’s their specialty in a virtual music session for everyone to recharge.

14. Virtual eating challenge

This is another fun virtual retreat idea to explore: an eating challenge that everyone joins virtually. Send restaurant or delivery coupons beforehand and ask everyone to order the competing item like pizza, nachos, hot dogs, chicken wings, so they can participate.

15. Virtual cooking/baking classes

There’s no shortage of activities your team can do together. Take it from the Parabol team that scheduled a Xiaolongbao cooking class for their team retreat. Everyone struggled together, created together, and ate dumplings together – making the most of shared experiences for coming together.

16. Play Lego together

This one’s another fun and simple idea for your virtual retreat. Set a theme and start building live with your team. You can also play other games like Bingo together. More on games for your virtual retreat below.

17. Learn something new day

To balance out fun with some fun learning, chalk out a learn something new day challenge for your virtual retreat agenda. The plan? Learn something new about your teammates, about a new subject, or a new skill.

For example, ask teammates to create and share a ’10 things about me’ list to discover hidden talents and insider jokes employees have. Or, like the HelpScout team, ask team members to share GIFs that represent them anonymously. Then, let others guess which GIF represents which member.

Another idea from the Helpscout team is to get everyone to create hats from items in their houses.

18. Cocktail making class

Where the hat-making session introduces an element of adventure to your virtual retreat, a cocktail-making class will double the fun.

Share a recipe to follow, invite a mixologist to teach, or push everyone to get creative by limiting the ingredients. Then take the time to sip and discuss flavors. Want to share recipes with your team? Try Hella Cocktail Co that uses Vimeo Create to create their own recipe videos and content.

19. Virtual scavenger hunt

You can plan either a hybrid or fully remote scavenger hunt for the team. With the former, ask participants to go from place to place in their location to uncover the clues while following other cues at their home.

For a fully virtual hunt, ask participants to search the web for items on the internet.

Want to add a learning touch to the scavenger hunt? Create a list of activities for teams to do – for example for learning to use Microsoft Teams.

Here’s a beginner level Microsoft Teams Scavenger Hunt:

A screenshot of Microsoft Teams scavenger hunt list

Source: Microsoft Teams

Hunts for intermediate and advanced levels are available here. Don’t use Microsoft Teams? Teach your team to use other tools such as Vimeo Create, Vimeo Record – even Vimeo OTT if you’re about empowering individual members by encouraging them to create personal brands.

20. Geocaching

To get your team out of their homes, consider geocaching an effective and invigorating solution. The Parabol team cropped out two days and sent their team a GPS tracker to get out and connect with nature in their respective locations. Members shared photos and videos of their experiences.

21. Virtual bonfire

Use the virtual retreat for the team catch up, too. Deliver a snack box (campfire cupcakes are a must!) in advance. Let the discussion flow freely or share some thoughtful topics to break the ice such as personal growth goals and achievements.

22. 30-minute chatroulette

This one’s another remote team-building activity from the Hotjar team that you can add to your virtual staff retreat ideas.

The plan? Pair random office mates for a 30-minute chat – something that’s utterly important for remote teams as several folks might not (or, dare I say, never) get the chance to talk with members from other teams.

Try Donut, a Slack app that randomly pairs teammates for a call. Both the members can join in with a beverage and, of course, a donut if they’d like to chat about anything outside of work.

If your team prefers, you can start off with a 15-minute chat session too so everyone can hop on at least three calls in an hour.

23. Themed party

You can also host a Met Gala-like party or just a themed party. To add to the entertainment, consider inviting live entertainment for the event.

24. Fireside chat with an industry thought leader or influencer

Another learn and have fun idea for your online retreat is hosting a guest speaker for an online fireside chat. Invite an industry influencer, thought leader, motivational speaker, or just anyone your team finds inspiring to discuss an iterating topic (pre-sourced from the team).

25. Social media challenges

Social media challenges are a low lift way to get employees engaged in your virutal retreat. For instance, get the team to create TikTok videos or Reels on a trending topic. Or, double the fun: ask them to host their Twitter Spaces and live streams on a topic they and the team would love to talk about. It’s a great way for teams to learn and laugh together.

26. Virtual video game streams

Thanks to streaming, you can also get the team to play live video games with each other. Warning: this virtual retreat idea might eat up more time than you think – after all who doesn’t lose track of time when they’re having fun?

Not only can you get teammates to play together, but you can also host gaming streams where famous online game streamers play while office members watch, cheer, and switch sides in real-time.

27. Virtual photography contest

Everyone loves capturing the perfect pose, right? You can even get the camera-shy team members to have fun, encouraging everyone to use filters and shoot themed pictures. 

End the contest with an awards ceremony – giving away titles like the ‘the funniest picture,’ ‘the hard worker,’ ‘the influencer,’ and so on.

28. Virtual art conference

An art conference is a helpful way to entertain employees. Lots of art conferences have pivoted to delivering live presentations – even hosting online events.  

Case in point: a prominent pottery studio, Clayshare, produced an online event called ClayShareCon. Your entire team can join such a conference to relax and learn.

29. Virtual theater performance

Like an online music concert, a virtual theatre performance is a great idea to get everybody to have fun. You can easily choose from one-act plays to large-scale musical productions.

In fact, theaters almost everywhere in the world now have live streams – something they adopted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ballet Idaho, Toledo Alliance for the Performing Arts, and Opera Philadelphia are some examples.

30. Virtual games

Lastly, you can punctuate your retreat with online games too. The best part is that games can easily fit in all retreat agendas – even if the objective is to learn and strategize. Try some of these: Skribblio, Weavr, two truths and a lie, and Picktionary.

Pro tip: Make all these experiences memorable by creating a Video Library with an album featuring pictures and videos that your team takes and shares as part of the virtual retreat. Then, share the library with the team and the world! 🎉

How do I do a virtual retreat?

Loving all these virtual staff retreat ideas? Awesome. Now let’s walk you through the essential steps for setting up a memorable virtual retreat:

Gather your event team

Kick things off by deciding who you’ll team up with to plan, organize, and execute the virtual retreat.

You can take complete responsibility along with a bunch of tech support folks. But a better approach is to ask various departmental managers to work out their goals, plans, and source virtual retreat ideas internally.

Each department can have small, individual goals for the online event – all of which should feed into a company-wide overarching agenda.

The specifics, however, depend on what your organization and different departmental heads want to achieve from the retreat.

Set your virtual retreat agenda and 2-3 goals

Begin with identifying why you need to organize an online retreat – what would it help the organization and employees achieve?

Take a page from Agorapulse’s CMO, Michael Angiletta’s book who organized their team’s first ever virtual retreat. “I did a survey across the marketing team, and I asked everybody what they thought were the biggest challenges and opportunities. I tried to build an agenda on that.”

Next, brainstorm and write down goals.

Do you want to bring the team together and push them to get to know each other? Or, do you want to pair fun with planning and strategizing for the upcoming quarter? You could also organize the virtual retreat for another goal: employee appreciation and recognition.

Only thing to remember: you can’t write down as many goals as possible and try to achieve them all with a single retreat. That can backfire in several ways.

The best way to ensure your retreat is successful, hits its goals, and employees have a good time? Defining between 2-3 goals and planning the retreat around them.

Determine important information like budget and event length

With your goals set, get into infrastructural planning. Answer each of these questions:

  • What budget do you have at your disposal? Will it be able to entertain the ideas in your mind?
  • How many people will be attending? This helps you decide and prep virtual tech accordingly.
  • How long will the virtual retreat last? What’s going to be each day’s broad theme?

Draft a list of virtual retreat activities and a schedule

With the broad themes in front of you, go through the list of virtual retreat ideas we’ve shared above and pick those that align with your goals for the retreat.

For example, if the agenda for your remote team is to get employees to know each other better, you’ll want to explore the 30-minute chatroulette idea. If you want to encourage learning, try the coffee and learn retreat idea.

Pro tip: Source ideas from your team. You’d be surprised how many creative ideas they can throw your way. To add, asking employees engages them and builds anticipation for the event too.

When your list of activities is ready, flesh it out with the timing for each activity. Punch in time for breaks so you’ve a realistic schedule ready.

Here’s a peep at Parabol’s virtual retreat schedule. See how they’ve given fun names to each session and paired them with a line-long description for clarity.

Examples of virtual activities from Parabol

Source: Parabol

Heads-up: Be sure to pay special attention to time zones in your schedule planning if you’re from different countries. You’ll also want to record all sessions so those who can’t make it can watch them at their convenience.

Choose your tech

Now comes the tech-y part – the foundation that’ll run the entire show.

Ask yourself: how will the team coordinate and meet up throughout the retreat? Then write down each tool that’ll facilitate it all starting with your team’s communication channel (such as Slack) for sourcing ideas, sharing schedules, and sending reminders.

You might also want to add Slack plugins like Donut to your list. Two more tools you’ll need as the backbone of your virtual retreat:

  • Zoom: For one-on-one interactions.
  • Vimeo: For broadcasting live events to employees such as art classes, wellness workshops, and more.

Whatever tools you use, make sure to make video an essential component of the plan. Sure you can give the option of one-on-one audio calls to prevent Zoom fatigue. But it’s best to incorporate other fun video-based activities.

The HelpScout team, for example, bonded with home tour videos. Becca Van Nederynen, the company’s head of People Ops shares:

“We have a tradition where we make home tour videos called At Home with Help Scout. The team loves viewing these tours but often don’t have enough time to make their own, so we incorporated filming a home tour as a specific retreat activity!”

Similarly, they used video in lieu of an online award ceremony. Van Nederynen explains:

“Instead of having a real-time awards ceremony like we would have at an in-person retreat, each manager recorded a fun, silly video to present the award and shared it in our Slack retreat channel.

To amp up the weirdness, we asked managers to choose a random household object as a representation of the award to present in their videos. We ended up with a dancing T-Rex, ceremonious toilet paper, and even a talking unicorn — which would’ve never happened had we been together in person.”

That said, in case of using new tools for the online retreat, make sure you understand how to use them. Don’t forget to have tech support ready to help participants use them for a smooth-sailing retreat event.

Send invites

Depending on your budget, these can be virtual email or Slack invites. Or, you can build hype by sending out physical invites along with the care package for the event.

Make sure you include items to the care package based on the games teams will play and other activities they’ll do throughout the retreat. Some examples: snacks, a good book, coffee mug, notebook, and a road trip map (if you’re planning one) to name a few.

Request feedback

And, finally, when your retreat finishes, be sure to source feedback using surveys. Ask employees how the event helped facilitate your goals. Make sure you specify each goal individually.

Example: On a scale of 1-10, how much did the virtual retreat help you bond with the rest of your teammates?

Other questions to ask in a post-retreat survey:

  • How satisfied were you with the event?
  • Which activity did you enjoy the most?
  • Do you have any other suggestions or feedback?
  • What are some things that we can do better next time?
  • How easy was it to use the tools in the virtual retreat?
  • How did the event influence your perception of the company?

Virtual retreat FAQs

How do you make a virtual retreat fun?

Pair learning with entertainment to get employees’ minds off work and have fun. Send snack boxes in advance, watch movies together, create art together, learn from each other, and chat with coffee – the fun is all in the activities and bringing the energetic spirit to the table.

How do I host a virtual retreat?

Hosting a virtual retreat takes solid planning and the right tools. Begin with identifying your goals for the retreat, then decide on activities that can help achieve the goals. Finally, select the best tools for the job and you have a brief blueprint for hosting a virtual retreat.

How do you make a virtual staff retreat?

Set a virtual retreat agenda and start brainstorming and sourcing ideas for retreat activities from your team. Shortlist the ideas next to fit them in the event’s pre-decided duration. Finally, get the tools to facilitate the event and you’re all set.

What do you do on a retreat?

On a retreat, your team unplugs by doing something different than the daily humdrum of work life. Retreats help teams connect, have fun, learn something new, and boost productivity by taking the time to pause and enjoy life as a team.

Discover more ways to engage your remote and hybrid workforce