If only life could be one long vacation. Unless you are an entrepreneur like Sir Richard Branson, working whilst soaking up the winter sun on your own private Island, January has probably felt like a long slog at your desk.
One way to break this monotony is by working remotely, which gives the luxury of not having to brave traffic or physically be in an office every day; plus, there is plenty of evidence to support that remote workers are happy and highly productive. I know first-hand that sometimes you do your best work whilst still wearing your questionable cartoon print pyjamas.
The work-from-home phenomenon explored in Remote: Office Not Required highlights this growing trend, and the comically titled Year Without Pants gives a behind-the-scenes look at the fully distributed workforce at Wordpress. Whilst working remotely definitely has its perks, the downside is that startups lose some of the natural camaraderie, community and collaboration that comes from being together. As a remedy, a new trend has emerged: the exotic startup company retreat.
Companies with a remote working culture such as Buffer, Automattic, Zapier, Basecamp and Invision all organize regular offsets and meet-ups. Buffer is a prime example-- they go all out, and rock at organising their retreats. So far they have taken the team to five countries in the space of two and a half years. Locations have included Thailand, South Africa, New York, Sydney and most recently Iceland, where they had a grand time getting to know one another:
Offering a free vacation to your employees isn't going to meet with much opposition but there is much more to the startup retreat than bonding over drinks by the pool. Buffer cites the benefits they have found in this blog post. And if a happy team equals a productive team, then this was clearly the case when, on their retreat in Thailand, they built Buffer for Business almost in it's entirety.
It's the special combination of work and play on these trips that seems to really boost both focus and creativity. Finding the right location with comfortable facilities and a reliable internet connection has created a new batch of entrepreneurial opportunities. Here are a few of the innovators in the "startup-retreat-as-a-service" market:
Packing in your work between surf breaks seems like a pretty sweet deal, which is exactly what founder Emmanuel Guisset had in mind when he set up Outsite. Originally form Belgium, he moved to California to work for a tech company in Silicon Valley, but quickly yearned for more time in the water. A trip to Santa Cruz was the deciding point in setting up a remote office and he realized the potential for a business model. Beta testing proved there was no shortage of demand, and with several early customers becoming investors, he found a large villa to rent. Voila-- Outsite was born.
Outsite allows teams to get away, bond over communal classes and dinners whilst still having a reliable workspace.
Founder Emmanuel Guisset sitting at the workspace in Santa Cruz.
Outsite now has three locations in Santa Cruz, San Diego, and Tahoe, and the team plans to expand to Hawaii very shortly. Sharing his vision for the company Guisset says;
"Outsite was designed to fuel creative thinking by combining access to outdoor activities with a place to stay and the resources to get work done. Go surfing, skiing or hiking, eat well, play games, share ideas and get to know your colleagues as friends."
The Blue House, Morocco
A tiny fishing village on Morocco's Atlantic coast seems like an unlikely choice for a startup getaway. But as editor for Middle East and North Africa entrepreneurship website Wamda, Aline Mayard had noticed that companies were moving to the small town of Taghazoutshe at a rapid pace; she wanted to discover why. Immediately taken with the town she saw the potential to create a place for companies and overworked individuals to take a step back and refocus.
Blue House launched in mid October last year as an all-inclusive retreat designed to help companies recharge their energy and reconnect with their mission.
Perhaps the quirkiest of the bunch is Coconat, located an hour outiside of Berlin. Coconat stands for "community and concentrated work in nature." Dating back to the 1870's, this converted German Democratic Republic (aka East Germany) hotel is a haven for a workaholics to relax and unwind. Co-founder Julianne Becker wanted to create a "workation" retreat to re-invigorate stressed-out founders, so he designed a place to escape the urban excess and reconnect with nature. As he puts it:
‘Coconat exists to bring new energy and inspiration into work, and your productivity is our main focus. You only need to think about your project or about enjoying your free-time, we take care of everything else.’ says Becker.
Image by Nadja Buelow
Exposed brick work and quirky vintage design pieces fill the numerous workspaces and meeting rooms. Once the important stuff is out of the way there are plenty of activities nearby, including canoe trips, swimming, hiking, and bike rides. With cozy cabins, family-style communal meals, and evenings 'round the campfire, it's virtually impossible not to wind down.
Image by Nadia Buelow
As startup retreats go, you can't beat the exotic location and health-boosting benefits of the Hubud villa in Bali. Built of bamboo and situated in a rice paddy, Hubud also sits at the centre of the Bali tech ecosystem, and more and more global entrepreneurs are choosing to live and work here permanently. It's easy to see why, with the balmy climate and low cost of living. For a taste of the Bali lifestyle, the Hubud villa has a rustic open plan workspace with meeting rooms, an organic cafe, a swimming pool and seminars on how to get away from the 9 to 5 work ethic.
The aim here is to create a work/life balance and to achieve intense focus and boost creativity through deep relaxation and adventure.
For the really adventurous startup founder, it doesn't get more unique than Coboat, an 82ft retrofitted sailing catamaran and floating coworking space. Circumnavigating the globe and exploring uncharted waters, Coboat will be home and office for up to 20 digital nomads as they set out together on a sea-faring adventure combining life, work and play. CoBoat focuses on using green and sustainable solutions, so you can build your business without increasing your carbon footprint; for example, the water and electricity is entirely solar-generated and wind-powered. In 2016, Coboat will visit Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia.
What are you waiting for? Take the leap to somewhere new and exotic, and watch as your cortisol levels drop and your creativity spikes. But just in case you forget, the retreat is not all play and no work; here are several tips to make your startup retreat a success for your team. Bon voyage!