Employee engagement

How to Plan a Team Offsite Meeting or Retreat During COVID

Savannah Waggoner
September 29, 2020
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I think we can all agree that nobody thought we would still be living in a pandemic, remote-work world. That’s the reality though—and we get the choice to make the best of it.

That being said, this is the time of year when team offsites usually happen at Bonusly. Offsites provide the opportunity for teams to take time out of their regular day-to-day activities for intentional team building and education.
We weren’t going to let the pandemic take that opportunity away from us—so we put our heads together to figure out how an offsite would work for the marketing team.

Each member of the team lives in Colorado, which made planning pretty simple in terms of time zone, venue, and travel. After the team voted to meet in person (while still following local COVID-19 restrictions), we decided on a socially-distant offsite.

Offsites should include goals aligned with the team’s mission, vision and values—sprinkled with fun throughout. A couple of the team goals were:

  • Optimize collaboration by understanding each others' strengths and work styles
  • Strengthen team relationships by having fun together

Below are some logistical steps we took, how we decided on activities, and the outcome from the offsite. 



Since we couldn’t fit all seven members of the marketing team and myself safely in our office, and local guidelines discourage meeting in indoor spaces, a park was our best bet.

Boulder has some incredible parks, thankfully. We planned to arrive early to beat the August heat and secure a spot with enough space and shade. ☀️


Due to the offsite being outside, we got creative about procuring materials and keeping things sanitized. We went to a local grocery store to purchase some snacks and drinks for the team to help keep energy levels high throughout the day. We bought individually-packaged snacks and drinks and had plenty of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to help keep each other safe.

For the activities, we purchased individual art supplies and created individual folders filled with each team member’s strengths assessments and resources. Everyone brought their own masks, blankets or chairs, sunscreen, and water bottles to help protect each other and prevent any germs from spreading.


For lunch, we ordered from a favorite local sandwich shop and treats from Crumbl Cookies. 😋 The team didn’t have any specific dietary needs, so we had everyone vote for their favorite places and flavors.

We learned deliveries do not allow parks to be selected as the delivery location, so we used an address of a nearby house and left detailed instructions that we were across the street and we would meet the driver.

💡 Pro tip: this can get a little tricky—be sure to leave instructions online anywhere possible and keep an eye on the house. A box of Crumbl got delivered to the house and we didn’t realize until it was too late. On the plus side, we got to make someone’s day with a surprise cookie delivery! 😅🍪


Every good offsite should help a team work better together. You should plan a directed activity to help people learn more about their colleagues and find optimal ways to collaborate. For our offsite, we opted for a Gallup CliftonStrengths session.

Gallup CliftonStrengths session

According to Gallup, when employees know and use their strengths, they are nearly six times more engaged, have higher performance and are more likely to stay with their team. The Gallup CliftonStrengths assessment provides insights on where each individual’s unique strengths are, and how they can be leveraged to work even better together. 💚

The CliftonStrengths assessment is the whole reason why I joined the Bonusly team in the first place. An amazing strengths coach at my previous institution taught me a skill is something you may be good at, but it’s going to drain you by the end of the day—a strength is something that will energize you and comes naturally to you.

After reviewing my own strengths and realizing what exactly energized me, I realized Bonusly was the perfect fit. Knowing the incredible impact strengths-based learning can make on an individual and an organization is what sparked a discussion around creating a strengths-based culture at Bonusly.

With COVID-19, strengths assessments can be even more impactful in increasing collaboration, engagement and innovation. The strengths-based learning aligns with the appreciative inquiry approach—where focusing on the positive (like a team member’s strengths), can help employees avoid getting stuck in a deficit-lens and open their mind to new possibilities, especially during these trying times.

Not only that, but CliftonStrengths aligns with our own product at Bonusly. We’re all about increasing employee engagement, retention, and helping people feel a sense of purpose and progress at work. It seemed like a perfect fit. 🤗


So, we researched steps to host an intro-session to CliftonStrengths for the marketing team. Thanks to an investment from our leadership, I took a four-day accelerated Gallup Global Strengths Coach course a week before the offsite so I could be a certified Gallup CliftonStrengths Coach. By taking steps to be a certified coach, we’ll be able to start introducing other teams to the strengths assessments and start our journey toward becoming a strengths-based culture.

The course provided SO MANY resources, and I was able to modify many of the strengths-based activities to fit our socially-distant offsite needs. Team members took the assessments prior to the offsite and received their top five strengths the day before. Activities included an intro to strengths, round robins of each team member’s strengths and insights, a team grid discussion, and the “Best of Us” activity. The “Best of Us” activity includes four topics:

  • You get the best of me when…
  • You get the worst of me when…
  • You can count on me to…
  • This is what I need from you…

We left with a better understanding of each team member’s unique strengths and how to collaborate in a way that allows each of those strengths to shine through. Stay tuned for more on this topic. 😉


We believe that having fun is an important piece of workplace culture. Having fun (especially during these trying times) improves employee morale, strengthens team relationships, and boosts the team culture. Gallup found employees with friends at work are twice as likely to be engaged than those without friends at work. Basically, fun at work = better engagement overall.


The team voted between park games and outdoor art as a follow-up activity to the team strengths session. Outdoor art won, so we got individual canvases and acrylic paint sets for each team member to let their creativity flow while being socially-distant. Everyone got to paint anything they were interested in, and it was the perfect way to show off some artistic talent and wrap up the offsite. We learned a lot of new things about each other during this activity, including that one of the team members used to be an abstract artist. 🤯

Other fun socially-distant activities you could try:

  • Outdoor movie
  • Trivia
  • Park games (ladder ball, cornhole, etc.)
  • Scavenger hunt
  • BBQ cookoff
  • Pictionary
  • Community service

Outcomes from hosting a socially-distant offsite

We lucked out with the perfect weather and location for the offsite. Even though we had to be socially-distant and keep our supplies separate, the team left with a better understanding of how they leverage their strengths to feel more energized and optimize collaboration across the team moving forward.

The team created a shared doc with their strengths grid and “Best of Us” activity from each team member. Members of the team have become strengths champions and are following up to ensure they’re leveraging their strengths and sharing the experience with other departments.

Offsites are still possible during this pandemic—whether they happen virtually or in a socially-distant environment. Remember, it’s all about focusing on your goals and having some fun while you’re at it.

Have any questions about CliftonStrengths or hosting an offsite? I’d love to chat. 😊

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