How to hold a virtual employee retreat, from a company that did it

  • Health-coaching platform Noom operates remotely, however the 1,700-person company normally meets up month-to-month in native groups to foster connectivity. 
  • The coronavirus pandemic has stalled these in-person meetups, so groups are taking virtual holidays collectively.
  • Teams picked a “location” to have a two-hour Zoom chat, from Aspen to Jamaica to Bermuda. 
  • Hosting occasions like these is a technique the company bolsters engagement — in addition they make investments closely of their employees’s progress and happiness.
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Even firms that function totally remotely attempt to discover methods to carry their staff collectively in particular person a few instances a 12 months.

Or no less than they did, pre-COVID-19.

Take health-coaching and behavioral-change platform Noom, which reported 2.5 million customers and $237 million in income final 12 months and is continuous to develop, in accordance to a spokesperson. The company employs 1,700 full-time coaches throughout the nation, all of whom work remotely.

To foster connection amongst these staffers, Noom assigns every coach to one among 13 native “hubs.” 

Dr. Andreas Michaelides, chief of psychology and head of coaching at Noom,

Andreas Michaelides.

Andreas Michaelides

“All hubs have a team of designated ambassadors who plan monthly meetups,” defined Dr. Andreas Michaelides, chief of psychology and head of teaching at Noom, who oversees the 1,700 coaches. “These small groups allow for more conversation and foster a sense of community amongst coworkers who are not sharing an office with each other on a daily basis.”

Tara Shepherd-Bowdel is a kind of hub ambassadors, connecting coaches who reside inside 5 hours of Raleigh, NC. 

Tara Shepherd-Bowdel Noom ambassador

Tara Shepherd-Bowdel.

Tara Shepherd-Bowdel

“We design activities that help build camaraderie, share best practices, and enjoy some good fun and fellowship,” she mentioned. “These events might look like yoga in the park, a deep dive into clinical topics and discussion time, a grocery-store scavenger hunt and picnic, or even a day hiking or playing volleyball by the beach.”

Since COVID-19 has compelled us into social distancing, these native occasions have not been occurring. But Noom did not need the sense of group amongst its coaches to fall by the wayside. 

So final month, every hub took its coaches on a trip. Virtually, in fact.

An inside have a look at Noom’s virtual retreats

What, precisely, does a virtual trip appear like? 

Each group picked a location — suppose Aspen or Bermuda — and hosted themed two-hour Zoom chats primarily based on that spot. 

A virtual vacation in Aspen by the Phoenix Noom hub.

A virtual trip in Aspen by the Phoenix hub.


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Coaches modified their backgrounds, arrange their environment, or dressed up to get in “vacation mode.” Shepherd-Bowdel’s crew, for instance, selected Jamaica and obtained into theme with beachy backgrounds, tropical shirts, and solar hats.

Hosts additionally made playlists to match their vacation spot and selected a themed cocktail (or mocktail) that everybody may make for themselves and luxuriate in collectively — reimbursed by the company. 

“One of our hub members, Ryan … taught us all how to make a delicious Piña Colada,” shared Shepherd-Bowdel.

A virtual vacation in Jamaica for the Raleigh Noom hub.

A virtual trip in Jamaica for the Raleigh hub.


Her hub additionally deliberate vacation-themed actions. “We started with an ice-breaker in which we recalled stories of our best vacations … and played a game of Family Feud — vacation edition,” she mentioned. Think questions like: “What would you hate to forget to pack for your beach vacation?” 

“A virtual vacation was our lighthearted way of offering coaches a way to connect with each other and take a break from the heavy feelings we all share at this time,” shared Michaelides. “Just because we can’t travel doesn’t mean we can’t ‘get away!'” 

To Shepherd-Bowdel, the occasion embodied one among Noom’s company ideas: “Care for each other like family while performing as a high-functioning team.”

“Our coaches have always worked remotely,” added Michaelides. “We’ve learned the importance of staying connected with each other to feel like a close team even if we are spread out over the entire country.” 

The significance of speaking usually and investing in your staff

In addition to the hub occasions, Noom hosts “TGIF,” a weekly all-hands assembly over video chat. “Coaches get to hear from HQ staff and vice versa, and we always find opportunities to both highlight individual coaches and individual Noomers that week,” mentioned Michaelides. 

But as well as to enterprise conferences, Michaelides famous that it’s key for any chief to carve out time for enjoyable and connection, “especially in times like these where it may not be business as usual for you and your team.” 

Shepherd-Bowdel additionally highlighted the significance of giving an itinerary for every virtual gathering.

“We are still hiring new coaches, and for some of the new people I think they didn’t quite know what to expect [from the virtual vacation],” she mentioned. “Helping all the team members in our hubs know what to expect — basically, a great time with awesome people — might help them feel more comfortable to join us next time.” 

The Noom crew has at all times relied closely on virtual connection, however since COVID-19, “we are becoming even more thoughtful and knowledgeable now about how to facilitate connection amongst teammates through a screen,” defined Shepherd-Bowdel.

Michaelides suggested that as a chief and presenter, you will have a duty to be extra participating within the virtual setting than you’ll in actual life. “Shift from thinking that people have to listen to you because they’re stuck in a room with you to people wanting to listen to you because you’re a likable person. Use comedy, use real-life examples to grasp your audience. Be an exaggerated version of yourself.”

But internet hosting occasions is simply a small a part of guaranteeing engagement on a distant crew. Michaelides emphasised that a massive a part of sustaining and fostering tradition because the company has scaled is investing in staff. 

“Our health coaches are full-time employees who receive health insurance, paid parental leave, as well as intensive training and coaching so they improve their craft,” he mentioned. “Because we invest in our coaches, we have seen them go above and beyond to contribute to the success of Noomers, each other, and the organization as a whole.” 

You can search for these coaching and training alternatives even just about, famous Shepherd-Bowdel, who has tapped her group of coaches to assist lead the virtual occasions. “A top priority for me as a leader is to empower others to step into their own leadership,” she mentioned. 

She added, “With enough planning, you can make virtual events awesome. Our experiences, emotions, and the connections we feel to others are real even when we are connecting through a screen.”

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