What does the rise of start-up retreats say about our attitude to work?

Picture scores of entrepreneurs, fireside, toasting marshmallows, glamping in yurts and bell tents, waking to yoga, climbing trees and bonding over compost latrines. For some, it’s the stuff of nightmares, for those who are game, it’s a working break.

I’m talking about the rising trend in start-up retreats, which combine adventure and relaxation - often in the wilderness - with the opportunity to network and be inspired by motivational speakers and activities.

Global workspace provider WeWork is hosting its annual summer camp right now in Kent, which Florence & The Machine is headlining. This start-up festival boasts team sports, networking, bonfires, inspiring talks from thought leaders, even tie-dye and basket weaving workshops.

A similar event - Happy Startup Summer Camp in Sussex - has also caught my eye. What it lacks in world famous bands it makes up for in workshops with appealing titles, including: "The Art Of Shouting Quietly" and "How To Be A Changemaker". Cider making, bushcrafting and Japanese sword fighting are all on the activities menu.

These are a departure from the trips offered by big corporates as employee perks - typically involving luxury hotels and swimming pools - and it coincides with the global rise in adventure tourism.

In 2010, a study by ATTA found the global value of adventure tourism to be $89 billion. When the study was repeated in 2013, it found the sector to be worth $263 billion - a staggering rise of 196 per cent in just two years.

Meanwhile there has been a shift away from consumerism and towards experientialism. Some call it minimalism, while author James Wallman dubbed it ‘stuffocation’. Essentially, it’s the popular theory is our hard-earned cash is best spent on experiences and not adding to our burgeoning collection of material things.

James Wallman: Does less stuff make you more happy?

It’s a trend that has already infiltrated the employee benefits sector, with employers offering increasingly creative experiential perks, many of which can be replicated by SMEs.

One of the most popular at the moment is "escape room" style team building challenges, where teams must use their collective intelligence to break free from a locked room by solving clues and puzzles. Skills required - critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork - are all transferable in the business world.

Another, offered by Google and McKinsey, is improvisation. If you never studied drama, improv class involves standing up in front of your peers and responding to a situation or theme on the spot. Acting skills aren’t particularly important. You do, however, have to listen carefully and interact intuitively. Fortunately, the speed of the class means there’s little time to remember you suffer from stage fright or nerves. It provides excellent training for media interviews, pitches and client meetings.

On the wellbeing front, yoga classes, mindfulness sessions and massage are increasingly prolific employee perks - boosting productivity, and making staff happier and healthier.

In short, compared to dishing out vouchers or bonuses, experiential perks can be cheap to deliver (hiring one improv teacher for two hours benefits the whole office), create long-lasting memories, and are likely to be the most talked about benefits you offer all year, both on and offline.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.


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