How Workplace Changes Are Creating New Opportunities for Incentive Travel

Tech firms are holding gatherings in motivating destinations to keep their work-from-home teams engaged. 

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After being away from the office for more than a year, many of us have developed new work rhythms and habits amidst the ongoing challenges of domestic/family obligations.

Given the seismic upheaval to life and work as we previously knew them, researchers are having a field day and there’s already a plethora of studies around attitudes to work. From the studies I’ve seen, there is a broad consensus around the idea that this is indeed an inflection point, a before/after moment, and that obligatory 9-to-5 attendance at corporate offices is now gone the way of the dodo, the fax machine and belief that [English football team] Arsenal can ever win the premiership again.

In May 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported how Facebook was planning a reconfiguration of operations to enable 50 percent of the company’s employees to work from home over the next 10 years. Other tech companies, notably Twitter, quickly followed suit, offering #WFH privileges “forever.”

New opportunities for Incentive Travel Professionals
A more recent article Wall Street Journal really captured my attention: It linked new workplace practices with incentive travel, clearly opening up new horizons of opportunity for our industry. The piece revealed that CEOs have a new pitch for employees: write code from home and join colleagues a few times a year on a beach in Panama or ranch in Montana.

A business-software company featured in the article, People.ai surrendered the lease on its headquarters in San Francisco, closed most of its satellite offices and abandoned plans for an office in London to go permanently remote during the pandemic. The owner is now taking most of his real-estate lease budget and investing it in employee benefits, including one trip for the 200-person staff, and four trips smaller team trips. The company owner is taking this action to retain his team, boost employee morale and foster connections. Now doesn’t that have a familiar ring?

The article also references Phil Libin, CEO of All Turtles, a startup incubator that launches new tech products. Lubin is bringing close to 150 people to Memphis in October for “bourbon, BBQ and Graceland.” Having closed offices in Paris, Tokyo and San Francisco, Libin now plans to bring his team together – real people, real places, real time – twice a year. 

Ian White, CEO of ChartHop, a human-resources software provider, is organizing an “adult version of summer camp” in the Poconos for his 70-strong team. “I would rather take the money that we could have spent on a bunch of puffy chairs and a ping-pong table and spend that on an experience that people will remember,” he said. Doesn’t that have a familiar ring, too?

The article also highlights some of the predictable downsides of such company activities, including over-indulgent imbibing, over-enthusiastic socializing and the fact that such trips can be “family unfriendly.” But, as professional organizers of incentive travel experiences, we know that all such downsides can be eliminated by great program design, meticulous planning and diligent execution.

Seems to me that these start-ups have spontaneously happened upon something that we, as an industry, have been banging on about for decades: Shared travel experiences can be transformative for workplaces.

Padraic Gilligan is managing partner at SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, venues, hotels, agencies and associations on strategy, marketing and training. He also serves as chief marketing officer at the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence.