Every business owner wants to improve efficiency and employee satisfaction. Ideas that could lead to cost-saving systems and processes are extremely valuable, and peace of mind is priceless. These are all things a small business owner can gain with a small investment of time and very little money. Yet, many avoid a valuable opportunity to tap into these coveted prizes. 

I'm talking about offsite meetings. You know, those day-long gatherings where you and your employees actually meet live and in person for an extended period of time? I've never had a client regret investing time and resources into offsite meetings, it's just the opposite. In some cases, I've seen operations do a 180-degree about-face (in a good way) based on the findings of a well-run offsite meeting. 

Voice conferences, emails, Slack communications, and texts can only go so far. Successful communication is largely based on body language (some say 55% of communication is in our body language). Camaraderie is built upon trust and collaboration, and powerful results are built upon a foundation of all of the above. Here are some of the benefits of offsite meetings, along with a few suggestions to make them enjoyable and productive.

You will tap into your employees' greatest strengths.

Your team members are tasked with short and long-term goals, but contributions based on goals alone don't allow employers to benefit from all of their employees' gifts. Sometimes the best ideas come from the least expected resources. Be sure to allow time for feedback and brainstorming at your offsites, and find creative ways to encourage all to participate. 

Longer face-to-face meetings minimize assumptions. 

A 30-minute gathering in your conference room, or around the dining room table, which may be the case if you operate virtually, does not give employees a chance to really get to know one another. It's human nature to make assumptions about an individual's disposition, intentions, and thought processes if we don't know them well. The opportunity to witness body language, and to engage in deeper, lengthier conversations will provide participants with a more realistic image of their co-workers. This allows for communications and processes to be adjusted accordingly. 

Eye contact increases the impact of recognition.

Different personality types respond to different means of praise, but no matter how recognition is delivered there is nothing that beats doing it with eye contact. Your meetings should include verbal recognition and, in some cases, a reward for your employees' contributions. For some business owners, it's easier to send off an email or make a quick phone call, but a public mention offers greater rewards for everyone.

In-person brainstorming can improve efficiency and impact.

There's always more than one way to achieve any desired outcome, and your way may not be the most efficient or impactful. As entrepreneurs pass the baton to their growing teams, they also pass along a process. As the company continues to evolve, these processes may become burdensome, redundant, or inefficient. Use some of your meeting time to review how things are getting done and ask employees for their input. You're likely to find a few hidden gems.

Communicates value to your employees.

Your employees, bar none, are your most valuable asset, so treat them accordingly. When an owner or manager does not make time for their employees it sends the message that they are not valued. Morale plummets, performance suffers, and turnover increases. Your time and attention are meaningful, and an offsite meeting offers the perfect platform to communicate your appreciation and respect. 

Tips on hosting successful offsite meetings.

Avoid being all business and no play.

Keeping to your agenda is important to the success of your offsite meeting, but if it doesn't allow for social time and a bit of levity your meeting won't be a total success. If you are not the person to bring humor or innovative ways to encourage engagement, hand these parts of the meeting over to someone who can deliver. 

Schedule offsites well in advance.

There is no magic formula to determine how many offsites per year are best for your company. If you are completely virtual the number may be higher. If you have a location where employees maintain regular work hours, you may require fewer offsites, but do not dismiss their importance. Well planned, well-run meetings can produce amazing results, yet it's often the first thing to get scratched off the list when time feels limited (which is always). Once you determine the number of offsite meetings that's right for you, schedule them in advance and make them a priority. Ask an employee for assistance in setting them up so the burden is not completely yours alone. 

Ask your employees to prepare.

Treat your advance preparation time like you would any other important task. Put prep time on your calendar to take place a couple of weeks prior to the meeting. Communicate what each employee needs to prepare or consider well ahead of time. Respect the fact that your employees are busy too, don't drop demands on them at the last minute.

All-in-all, be creative, timely, well-prepared, communicative, and open-minded. Your efforts will pay off in more ways than you may believe--including at the bottom line.