How to Host an Offsite That Boosts Morale

Toronto-based Float helped energize employees through IRL bonding time in nature
(illustration: Raúl Soria)

Float is a Toronto-based spend-management-software company that is currently experiencing a growth spurt. The one-and-a-half-year-old start-up onboarded more than 70 per cent of its 56-person team—most of whom work remotely across Ontario—in the past six months. In an effort to build a stronger, more connected team, Float hosted a three-day company offsite in June. “We saw an offsite as the perfect opportunity to build camaraderie between our team members,” says Float CEO and co-founder Rob Khazzam.

The first step was finding the right venue. It wouldn’t be all play and no work—part of the idea was to hold sessions about company culture and growth plans—but it was important to Khazzam that the locale not feel too corporate so that people would be at ease. “I grew up going to summer camp, so an adult version of that was in the back of my mind,” he says. Khazzam knew someone on the team at Camp Timberlane, a 465-hectare property in Haliburton, Ont., complete with a beautiful waterfront, ample cabin space and numerous facilities for outdoor fun.

Next, it was up to Float’s head of people, Meghan Smith, to cater the event to team members’ needs. Smith sent a survey to Float’s staff asking for their preferences on food, accommodation and activities. Smith worked with the venue to structure the event accordingly. The company covered all expenses, including flights for the handful of employees who live outside Ontario.

A photo of Float CEO Rob Khazzam
Float CEO Rob Khazzam (photo: Jenna Marie Wakani)

Not everyone was into being physically active outdoors. This meant ensuring there was a balance of activities—some more cerebral, like trivia, and others more physical, like fire-building. In drawing up the itinerary, Khazzam and Smith aimed for a roughly equal mix of free time, loosely structured socializing and team-building and planning sessions. “Have less on the agenda than you think you need,” Khazzam says. “It’s more effective to spend a few hours diving into key concepts than to rush through topics.”

The itinerary allotted plenty of free time for walks, swimming, sports or simply sitting by the campfire. “You need to allow a lot of time for socializing because these are the moments that really matter for community-building,” says Smith.

On the first day, Float brought in a toy company to run a “failure workshop.” Employees worked in teams to build the highest possible structure from wooden blocks, making tweaks and practising giving and receiving feedback along the way. In another activity, employees competed in a relay race that took them across the camp grounds in teams deliberately made up of people who don’t often work together. Khazzam also held a Q&A in a wooded setting, discussing Float’s mission as well as sharing details of the company’s operating model and financials.

After the offsite, Smith circulated another feedback survey. The results were overwhelmingly positive. One employee said they left feeling excited to work at a company that goes above and beyond to take care of its team. Another person said the offsite was sure to be a career highlight, and yet another said they left feeling committed to making sure Float was a success. There was some constructive feedback too, like transportation options outside of a company coach bus. “Not everybody loves those, so we may consider an alternative next time,” Smith says.

Float plans to hold at least one large-scale offsite per year as well as a couple of smaller events to reinforce team morale and camaraderie. It’s not just a goodwill gesture; Khazzam sees offsites as crucial for business development. He believes employees develop a sense of trust when they get to know each other personally, and that in turn creates a strong foundation for teams. “We want to be a meritocracy—and you can’t have that if people don’t feel comfortable around each other,” he says. “We need people to know they can give honest feedback, whether positive or negative. Offsites help us build that sense of safety, so we see this as money well spent.”

This article appears in print in the fall 2022 issue of Canadian Business magazine. Buy the issue for $7.99 or better yet, subscribe to the quarterly print magazine for just $20.