How to get away from it allOn 1 Nov 2001 in Personnel Today Previous Article Next Article Inthe current climate, running a course away from the office may seem difficult.But if you’ve got the budget and willing delegates, it can pay offMost off-site training venues will tell you business is still buoyant. Butthe reality for many, particularly those relying on overseas trade, is that theoutlook for bookings is uncertain at best and gloomy at worst. Fears of an economic downturn were already gaining ground in the summer, butthe attacks on the World Trade Center on 11 September have created an even morevolatile outlook for business in general. This is expected to put more pressure on training budgets. In addition,off-site venues have also had to cope with the reluctance of some delegates,particularly those based in the US, to attend courses in the UK. So how can trainers convince their companies of the undoubted benefits ofoff-site training and how are venues responding to the challenges? First, the extent to which off-site training business may have fallen offis, so far, difficult to measure and, given the short-term uncertaintyfollowing the terrorist attacks and retaliation in Afghanistan, the picture isunlikely to become clear for a few months. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence suggests there are problems. Fay Sharpe,sales and marketing director at IBR, a venues finding agency, says, “Wewere seeing a softening before 11 September, with the downturn in the IT andtelecoms industries, but since the attacks prices have fallen further becausemany venues aren’t getting the international occupancy they’re used to.” In London and the Home Counties, the most popular location for overseasdelegates, prices are down to the lowest levels since the recession of theearly 1990s, says Sharpe. PositiveThe positive side is that UK-based companies can now organise off-sitetraining at many venues for less than they would have paid earlier in the year.The nervousness over travel, and not just for overseas delegates, isconfirmed by Mike West, a senior partner at training company BeStrategic. “Shortly after the terrorist attack, I was at a training conference for80 people, but only 25 turned up and that was for a UK company,” he says. He criticises business for over-reacting and, while nervousness amongtravelling delegates could subside over the coming months, it does meantraining venues have had to respond to the challenge. Gillian Holdom, director of the M¿ller Centre in Cambridge, which isaffiliated to Churchill College, says the problems can be overcome by bothvenues and employers taking a more flexible approach. “We had one event,not long after the attacks, in which eight US delegates cancelled, but theywere able to offer the places to colleagues in the UK,” she says. She argues that the fall in business affects venues in central London muchmore than locations like Cambridge. “Nevertheless, in the coming months we are expecting less internationalbusiness and that means we will be looking for more UK custom.” She declines to comment on whether prices will come down, but says thecentre is already taking a more flexible approach on any cancellations. “We realise that companies may not be able to guarantee well in advancehow many people will attend an event and that numbers in groups that includepeople coming from abroad may fluctuate.” Despite the problems, venue directors like Holdom say they have a good storyto tell when it comes to persuading companies of the benefits of off-sitetraining. One of the advantages, she says, is being able to offer training inattractive surroundings, providing a contrast to the hurly-burly of theworkplace, particularly for delegates who work in large cities. Delegates also respond well to short extra-curricular activities in theprogramme, which can break up the day and allow participants to recharge theirbatteries and to network. “We have a big choice of activities that provide a break in training fordelegates, such as punting on the river Cam, a guided tour of Cambridge or aspecial presentation at the Churchill archive, which is on our site.” Networking These extra-curricular activities not only make the training event morememorable, she says, but also provide opportunities for delegates fromdifferent parts of the same company to get to know each other. “They’re a great ice-breaker and so help achieve the objective ofbetter communication within companies,” she says. Mike West of BeStrategic agrees that interspersing training with otheractivities can make people more receptive to the learning. “I like to include an activity not related to the training for perhapsan hour each day of the course,” he says. He adds, “The activity needs to be close by and have a specific themeto keep people interested. “For example, on a course in Cambridge I took delegates to a speciallyorganised talk on Darwin at the botanical gardens and that went down verywell.” Peter Hall, director of the Wadenhoe Consultancy, a venue inNorthamptonshire, agrees that it is often equally important what happens awayfrom the training. “We’re in the middle of the countryside, which means people tend tocongregate after the day’s training in the bar or in the village pub and talkabout what they’ve been doing.” Hall argues that this informal discussion of the training plays a key rolein how effective the programme turns out to be. “When you examine how people learn, the actual training is only onepart. What’s also important is for people to discuss and reflect on whatthey’ve been learning, otherwise it’s quickly forgotten.” Discussions with colleagues allow delegates to clarify issues and workthrough in their own minds what the training is about and how it can be used inpractical terms. Hall adds that another important benefit of off-site training is the espritde corps that can be developed when staff are away from their desks. Distractions On a practical level, it is clear that one of the benefits of getting peopleaway from the workplace is the lack of distractions. In workplace-based training, those distractions can range from phone callsand e-mails to delegates believing they have to firefight a problem in their department.Whether the distractions are small or large, they inevitably detract from theeffectiveness of a training course. Andy Dixon, business development manager at Impact Development TrainingGroup, which owns three hotels in the Lake District, says it is important forstaff to get out of the office for training. “If training is on site, there are constant interruptions from phonecalls, e-mails and so on. “At our courses we provide windows during the day for people to checkmessages and return calls, but outside those times delegates are fully involvedin the programme.” Impact’s courses often include delegates giving feedback to each other, saysDixon. “That can be very difficult if you’re in a workplace environmentwhere people are constantly interrupted.” People also behave differently when taken out of the workplace hierarchiesand office politics, which can enable employers to more accurately assess thepotential of staff, argues Maggie Samuel, account director at training companyStatus Meetings. “When there’s a training or teambuilding activity on site, staff tendto stick to their roles, so a junior member of a team will behave in a juniorway. But, off site, things change and some individuals reveal talents oraptitudes they may not have realised they had.” She adds that leaders in the office may find themselves eclipsed bysubordinates on an off-site event, such as a Survivor-type management trainingcourse. “That allows the employer to tap into the hitherto unrecognisedtalents of staff back in the workplace,” she says. In today’s uncertain economic climate it is paradoxically even moreimportant for employers to look at off-site training, says Samuel. “A lot of people are worried about their jobs at the moment, whichmeans motivation and morale often suffer,” she says. “If an employer takes its staff off for on off-site event, it makes thestaff feel recognised and valued and that’s good for business in the longrun.” Top tips for away days1 Location: There is no pointchoosing a fantastic venue – especially for a short course – if it’s so faraway people arrive tired and grumpy. For an event attracting delegates from allover the UK, consider booking a venue that is central rather than in London. 2 Facilities: Make sure you ask about what facilities areavailable, such as break-out rooms. How old is the venue? Has it beenrefurbished recently?3 Costs: In today’s climate, venues are more likely to offerdiscounts, so don’t accept the first price quoted. Also, check if there are anyhidden costs, such as charges for the use of break-out rooms.4 Cancellations: Nervousness about travel means it’s morelikely delegates from overseas will cancel or change their plans. Make sureyou’re aware of the venue’s policy on cancellation and no-shows.5 Non-training activities: Interspersing training with otheractivities can make the event more interesting. Ask the venue if they canrecommend bite-sized excursions or events. Some venues will organise themedevents in the locality.6 Don’t overload: One of the advantages of getting people awayis allowing time for informal discussion and networking, so don’t pack theagenda too tightly.7 Leisure clubs: A growing number of venues boast leisureclubs, with pool, gym and sauna. These can help delegates unwind during arigorous training programme.8 Accommodation: Try to choose a single venue for both trainingand accommodation as it can disrupt the programme if delegates have to travelbetween their lodgings and the training venue.9 Distractions: Make sure all distractions are kept to aminimum by, for example, asking delegates to switch off mobile phones duringtraining. But allow “windows” during the day for staff to pick upmessages and return calls.10 Top and tail: Consider whether the off-site training needsto be reinforced by pre-course learning in the workplace and assessment afterdelegates have returned to work.Off-site training livens up learningOne of the obvious advantages oftaking staff away from the workplace is the opportunity to really liven uptraining.For example, in September Impact Development Training Grouporganised a carnival-themed event for 460 newly recruited graduate traineesfrom Deutsche Bank, as part of a global teamworking programme.Held at the London Arena in the capital’s Docklands, delegatesattended from all over the world to improve their teamworking, influencing andnetworking skills.Normally used for pop concerts or sports events, the arena wastaken over for two days to become the venue for a huge carnival procession.”We had drum workshops, dancing classes and mask making,which allowed the delegates to put on a fantastic carnival from scratch,”says Andy Dixon of Impact.Maggie Samuel, account director at Status Meetings, agrees thattraining events in off-site venues can be spiced up to make them more fun andeffective.”We’ve run ‘Wild West’ teambuilding events, where we splitdelegates into groups representing rival families and then set them tasks likebuilding a railroad. We then get them to co-operate with other ‘families’, in asimilar way to how regional teams must work together,” she says.Using actors to make training fun, while getting across animportant message, is also a useful tool, says Samuel.”We ran an event on supply chain management for the oiland gas industry, but used actors to burst in several times during the day toreinforce what was being taught in an entertaining way,” she added.What about not only getting staff away from the workplace, butallowing them to record their very own souvenir CD? That’s the brainchild of The Radio Business, which runsteamworking and leadership events at a recording studio in the Yorkshirecountryside.Participants have access to state-of-the-art technology and arecord producer in coming up with their version of a song of their choice.Trainer Clive Gott, who has facilitated recording-based eventsat the studio, says the most valuable part of the exercise is the CD, whichdelegates get to keep at the end. “It provides a permanent ‘anchor’ toremind a group of people how they’ve worked as a productive and highlymotivated team.” Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos.