Journey to Vancouver: Organizing Going’s Fall Retreat
“Planning an event like this is no easy task, but as Going’s Senior People Operations Specialist, it’s one of the highlights of what I get to do.”
At Going, we are proud to be a remote-first company that allows all our employees to live and work from anywhere in the world. However, twice a year, we organize something extra special: a week-long company retreat where we all gather in person to collaborate, laugh, and celebrate with each other.
Planning an event like this is no easy task, but as Going’s Senior People Operations Specialist, it’s one of the highlights of what I get to do. Hi! I’m Ryan Lim, and here’s a look at how I do it.
Deciding Where to Go
Our Spring Retreat in Mexico City was a hit, and the pressure to deliver another amazing retreat in an equally beautiful city was very real. Here’s how I ultimately landed on Vancouver, Canada, as our host for 2023 Fall Retreat:
- First, we knew we wanted to be somewhere cold. Our last couple of retreats (Mexico City and Zion National Park) were hot, hot, HOT! It was so hot, in fact, that we actually experienced a record-breaking heat wave in Zion. Needless to say, we were due for some cooler temperatures ASAP.
- Next, Going has never been to Canada! While we have had our fair share of domestic and Mexican destinations, Going has yet to travel North of the border for our retreats.
- With our first visit to Canada, we wanted to go somewhere that had it all. Vancouver has a great mix of activities, a diverse and coveted local food scene, and a major international airport that would make getting to and from retreat just a little bit easier.
- Ultimately, our decision was locked in when we found the perfect hotel located in downtown Vancouver.
Budgeting and Booking Accommodations
For me, one of the most challenging parts of planning a week-long retreat is finding and booking accommodations. At Going, we have a total budget of roughly $3,000 per employee per retreat. I reserve about a third of that for accommodations, aiming to find hotels with nightly rates between $175 and $225 USD. Here is how I break down our other major spend categories (% of total budget):
- Food & Beverage: 20%
- Flights: 20%
- Activities: 10%
The remaining 15% is used for local transportation, swag, miscellaneous (such as pocket wifi if traveling internationally and materials for any of our company workshops), and a buffer bucket of funds (this comes in handy in case any meals turn out to be more expensive than planned, we have any last minute emergencies, or we get hit with random taxes or fees).
I sent dozens of emails to hotels all over Canada in hopes of finding the right fit for our group. For Going’s 2023 Fall Retreat, that fit was found with the Sutton Place Hotel.
The Sutton Place Hotel is located right in the heart of downtown Vancouver, within walking distance of multiple restaurants, bars, and activities. Being in a walkable location meant we could save money on local transportation costs, freeing up a big portion of our budget. The hotel also checked all of our boxes regarding comfort, safety, and privacy, but the big draw that made our stay at the Sutton Place Hotel extra special was our 24/7 private access to their Chambertin Lounge.
The lounge ended up becoming the central home base for our company. Folks would meet there before meals, hang out there between activities, and come by to stock up on snacks and drinks for their rooms.
With our host city and accommodations confirmed, the next step was to book restaurant reservations, event venues, and catering. This part is the most fun, but it can get pretty tricky depending on your needs.
We start with a per diem meal budget based on local research. For Vancouver, we determined this amount to be $150 USD per person per day. From there, I began researching, utilizing Google Maps, Yelp, and TripAdvisor to find a variety of restaurants that could work for us.
Because our meals during retreat are a mix of catered options, group reservations, and restaurant buyouts, we needed to find several restaurants that could accommodate our group. We visited local classics like Cactus Club and Earl’s, explored trendy spots like Haraheri Eat Bar & Patio and Saku, and hosted our farewell dinner at a Vancouver institution, Steamworks Brew Pub. These were all a hit with our team. Retreat food and variety were cited as one of the highlights of the week in our employee feedback survey.
Activities and Entertainment
When it comes to activities, Vancouver has so much to offer. Hiking, parks, art, shopping, cafes, history, water sports, Vancouver has it all! Ultimately, based on feedback from previous retreats, we dialed back on our company activities and only offered two options this time around, allowing more time for our employees to recharge and explore on their own.
Dialing back on activities went way better than anticipated! People felt more rested and less pressured to overcommit themselves, which added to their overall retreat experience. And, when Vancouver weather took a turn for the worse with non-stop rain showers, we were able to pivot our plans much easier than if we had booked multiple activities throughout the week.
Speaking of those non-stop rain showers, we love to surprise our team with destination-inspired Retreat Merchandise! For Vancouver, we designed our own t-shirts, vinyl stickers, and golf umbrellas. These were all really fun, but the umbrellas in particular were super helpful with all the walking in the rain we were doing. And it was hilarious to walk on the street and spot a line of 12 Going employees with their branded umbrellas – we certainly stood out!
One of the highlights of our Fall retreats each year is the farewell dinner and Scotties Award Celebration held during the final evening of retreat. The Scotties are our way of recognizing each other and celebrating big wins across the company. We had employees submit their peer nominations weeks before the event, and our leadership team ultimately determined our award winners.
At the event, managers and department leaders shared highlights of our winners, preparing personal and heartfelt speeches specifically catered to each recipient. Probably one of the best parts of the night was hearing all the wonderful things people included in their nominations and sharing in the love and appreciation for one another. It’s an emotional night filled with laughter, tears of joy, and much-needed reflection and celebration.
To see a complete list of our 2023 Scotties Winners, check out our blog here.
The final step of hosting a successful retreat is collecting feedback from all of your attendees. For us, that means sending out a feedback survey the week after retreat, when thoughts are still fresh in our minds. We survey thoughts on location, hotel, food, activities, agenda, communication, highs/lows, and recommendations for the future.
We carefully analyze the feedback we receive from our employees after each retreat. Based on this feedback, we identify themes and make improvements to our retreats. This enables us to enhance the overall retreat experience for everyone and ensure that we make the most of our in-person time together.
From there, we repeat the process all over again to plan the next retreat! And at this point, I’m excited to announce Going’s 2024 Spring Retreat will take place in the Dominican Republic!
Published December 28, 2023
Last updated December 28, 2023
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