Inviting 32 employees to Costa Rica: 6 Takeaways

Do you think working from a far away dream location for 1 month with all your colleagues is a cool idea? Do you wonder if you as company owner should invest a big bunch of money in such a project? You will get all the arguments to convince your boss to repeat such an investment in your company.

Some background Information

The idea started a year ago. At viventura we had a tough year and were planning 2012. As CEO of the company one goal for 2012 was to create a spirit of working as a team. Some context: at viventura we have two big offices, one in Peru responsible for Operations and one in Germany for Sales, Marketing & Strategy. The cultures in both Offices are similar but defenetly different. So the idea came: why not simply work together for a month?  A great friend of mine, Rainer from Travel-to-Nature offered me the support and great rates for Casa Luna Hotel in Costa Rica, with which he has very special ties. So quickly the location was set.  I often was asked why I choose Costa Rica / Hotel Casa Luna as a destination, the reasons:

  • over 90% of the employees haven’t been to Costa Rica, so motivation was high to get to know a new place
  • traveling costs for Peruvian, Colombian and German Employees were similar, the goal: everybody should feel the same amount of investment from the company
  • the trust I have in Rainer, I was sure, that the Hotel would cooperate well
  • the Climate: we could work without air conditioning in comfortable rooms
  • as a Responsible Tourism Operator we needed a Hotel that supports the same philosophy

Financial Background

After negotiating with the Hotel, the Airlines and locale Operators we go to total costs of around 55.000 EUR. As the Financial Reports didn’t allow us to invest such a big chunk of money without knowing our future Sales 2012 Numbers, I decided to offer the project “Costa Rica” as a co-financed offer for the employees. Basically suggesting that we share the costs. But at the same time offering, that viventura would pay a higher part of the costs depending on the Sales Success of the first Quarter. The offer was:

  • below 650 Sales: the project is dead
  • 650-750 Sales: every employee that wants to go needs to contribute 800 EUR
  • 750-900 Sales: every employee that wants to go needs to contribute 400 EUR
  • above 900 Sales: the project is fully funded by company money

We asked early how many were willing to pay what before knowing the Sales Number (in order to plan ahead).  The results were:

  • 25% were so much interested in this project that they were willing to contribute 800 EUR
  • 50% were willing to contribute 400 EUR
  • 25% would just go, if the trip would be free

January started. Sales came coming in. More Sales came in. Then even more Sales came in. We had a record Quarter breaking all previous records. By March 31st we achieved 955 Sales. Costa Rica here we come.

The Organisation

Once clear, that we the project would be executed,  I looked for a Project Organizer and decided that my wife would be the perfect fit. She started reading about Costa Rica and Team building  Organized all Details, Transfers, the communication platform with all employees  etc. In general this went really well. One of my biggest concern was the technical working environment. Would we have a quit place, would the Internet Connection be sufficient, would there be room to retreat to have confidential meetings? In order to succeed with this project we needed to arrange the following:

  • a private Internet Connection just used by us
  • a private section at the restaurant where we could work all day
  • a private room for confidential meetings
  • special deals for lunch and dinner, so that employees have access to payable meals
  • installation of VOIP Phones

How did we organize our Home Offices in November?

  • the offer for Costa Rica was just designed to fixed employees, interns stayed in Germany/Peru
  • Berlin Office: 50% of Sales Team came the first two weeks, 50% came the last two weeks
  • Peru Office: one person completely stayed in Peru, others just came for shorter periods and not a month completely

Then November arrived. On November 1st 15 people arrived, 8 of them – including me – stayed the whole month. On November 17th we had our town hall meeting with 24 employees being present. For this event we left Casa Luna to stay one weekend at the fantastic  Beach Resort Tamarindo Diria. Next to the 30 employees we had around 10 spouses/kids coming along in total.

Townhall Meeting: Beach Resort for one Weekend Working in Casa Luna In general working conditions were great. My worries about the Internet Connection proved to be unnecessary. Even the phone calls through the Internet had a high quality and clients sometimes were unaware, that their travel consultant was on the other side of the Atlantic. As we could all work from one place the effectiveness of work even increased.

The benefits

  • Feedback was overwhelmingly positive (one exception below)
  • The understanding between the 2 offices was incredible improved
  • The staff was focused on their job during working hours and results were great
  • The communication with the IT team helped to understand each other much better in the future
  • The identification for the company was substantially increased
  • As a first mover: Press Coverage
  • A big plus for finding talented people, that can choose their employer freely

The drawbacks

  • Negative Feedback Sales Team  (“it’s not fair, that others can stay all month but I due to my position can just stay 2 weeks”)
  • the huge costs for the projects

6 Takeaways/recommendations for your company

1. the optimal length

From the start on I promised one month in Costa Rica, so we sticked to it to the end. It turned out to be the optimal length. Most people planned just to come for two weeks, but where positively surprised by the event. Three persons were able to move the flight back to the end of the month to be able to stay the longest period possible. As we did a lot of annual planning for the next year the middle management team was really busy for 2 weeks and not very available to their teams. If we just would have stayed for two weeks, we could just have done the main business. One month enabled us to take time for creative & fun stuff. Some people just came for 10 days, this felt to short. For the repetition event we will plan one month with a minimum stay of three weeks.

2. rules about taking vacations

This time employees were able to take vacations before, during and after the event. This was a mistake. Especially the management team needs to be present the whole event. But in order to get the most out of such an event you need to make sure, that all the staff works at least 3 weeks together (one exception is described in takeaway Nr. 3). Vacations should just be possible before and after the event.

3. how to deal with the normal business during the event

Our business is to organize and sell authentic travel experiences to South America. During such an event we can’t stop our operations. So some staff wasn’t able to come the complete time. I recommend to leave just the minimum amount of people in the normal office. In our case the affected staff had different reactions. It’s important to communicate well, why it’s important for the company, that some of them keep running the normal business, that can’t be done from a far away office. I tried to make some special rules around this this year and think this isn’t a good idea. Discussing the best options and communicating these well should be all necessary.

4. who to take

Incentives usually are organized for part of the team, usually the management team. What made our experience really special is that we took everybody along that at least works half day for us. This also included our Cook Carmencita from Peru, who is in charge preparing the daily lunch for our South America Office. Taking everybody without expectations was clue to the success of the event.

5. the location

The Location is also a key factor. We got lucky with our Hotel – things we didn’t consider turned out to be the exact way we needed it. As contrast to the normal working, working in an half-open (just roof protected) area made a huge difference in the perception of the working atmosphere. Another big plus: the hotel wasn’t inside a city, we were 40 walking minutes to city center  That made people stick around at night. So the team got also closer together after work. Thirdly the temperature. It was important, that we had a pleasant temperatures so that no one was thinking about jumping into the pool/beach. In summary: get a place outside a town, look for places with pleasant temperatures to work “outside”.

6. good infrastructure

The Internet Connection is crucial for the success of such an event. If the Location has no guarantee to have an excellent Internet Connection for you, this is a No-Go. Also make sure, that the location provides you with big tables. This will make staff members work next to each other, that usually have no direct contact and increases the mutual understanding. Important is also the possibility of quiet areas for small teams to have separate meetings without disturbing the others.

 Costa Rica 2013?

Right know the question I most often hear: “Will we do this again next year?”. My answer is: “Yes, we will!”. That’s already clear. As Costa Rica 2012 just has finished yesterday we will analyse a bit more and will propose the Destination/Conditions for the repetition next year shortly.
Some further Pictures so you have a better understanding, what our experience was. More Pics are available on the travel report page and our German facebook Page.
I would love to know: Do you think this was a well worth investment? Do you think, companies should do this more often?

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Loves to make things happen, make the world a little better place. Born in Germany, has worked and lived in Peru & Colombia. Founder of viventura and Co-Founder of & viSozial foundation. Andre is a passionate traveler, loves Photography is married to his wonderful wife Adriana and has an amazing son. And he's known for his passion of Peruvian Food and dancing Salsa...

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2 comments on “Inviting 32 employees to Costa Rica: 6 Takeaways
  1. We really enjoyed having your team with us. It was an excellent experience and we´ve learned a lot from it. We will be pleased to have you again. Thanks for your recommendations.

  2. Jack Bearow says:

    Thanks for your invitation last year, but I didn’t have the time to come with you. :-(
    Now that I see these pictures I think I really should’ve come with you… maybe next time? ;-)

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  1. […] year for sales of teh first quarter, and when we hit it we actually do the company retreat. Three years ago it was Costa Rica, next week we will head to […]

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