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Fun Office Events That Aren’t Happy Hours

March 30, 2020 | by
Reviewed by real estate expert Michael Colacino

Most employee interactions in the workplace consist of meetings about work, quick exchanges over a snack or coffee, or maybe the occasional lunch. In most cases, your direct reports won’t see each other outside the office. This all can change if you plan an employee event or team-building activity.

Team-building activities outside the office can create opportunities for your employees to get to know each other better and improve morale, empathy, and collaboration. Ultimately, these events are important because they help people learn to communicate and work together better. Particularly in larger office spaces, some employees may never see or talk with one another under normal circumstances. It’s hard to work together if people don’t even know each other’s names and job descriptions.

A lot of times happy hour becomes the go-to idea for office outings, but that plan has several potential drawbacks. First, not everyone likes to drink, and some people can’t for health reasons, so planning this type of event every time might not be as inviting or appetizing as you imagine. Second, if an employee doesn’t handle alcohol well, it can lead to awkward situations. Third, it’s just a very common outing and doesn’t show much effort. You may find that employees have a fixed routine during those types of gatherings, and aren’t interacting with new colleagues the way you had hoped.

In this post, we’ll talk about some things to keep in mind when planning a team-building activity for your employees then dive right into specific ideas for fun work events that don’t involve happy hour.

How to Plan a Successful Team Event

Before you start planning the fine details of an office outing, take into account a few important reminders to ensure everyone can participate, get to know one another better, and have a great time.

  1. Survey your people: First, ensure you talk to your employees about what kind of events and activities they’d be interested in. If your company is small, this might be as easy to working it into the conversation when you speak with your direct reports. Larger corporations may need to, for example, create and email surveys asking employees for their opinions. The event is for your employees, so obviously you want it to be something they’re going to enjoy and participate in. If most of your employees have children, for example, they’re probably not going to be able to sign up for a weekend-long team-building event.
  2. Built into your budget: If you are requesting or requiring that employees attend an event that’s supposed to be fun, it makes sense for the company to fund it. Provide food, transportation, and any associated admission fees, and people will be much happier to participate.
  3. Plan it during work hours: If possible, consider planning an event or outing that takes place on a weekday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. If employees have children or dogs or other obligations outside of work, they may not be able to participate in work events that occur outside of work hours. Plus, most people enjoy getting paid to do something other than work in the office.
  4. Don’t talk about business: In most cases, office outings are intended to boost morale and create fun opportunities for employees to interact outside the office. That means no talking about work! Work-related topics may come up naturally during the course of the event, but you certainly don’t need to turn the outing into a brainstorming session in disguise.
  5. Lead by example: This should go without saying, but you need to attend the event! If you’re excited about it, employees will be much more likely to participate and have a good time. So find your bike helmet; roll out your yoga mat; or grab a paintbrush—whatever the event, get ready to enthusiastically participate!
  6. Don’t schedule just one: It’s tempting to think one big event per year is all you need to increase employee teamwork potential and morale. Instead, try to plan multiple events throughout the year. That doesn’t mean they all have to be expensive or extravagant. Events can be smaller scale; think picnics, trips to the theater, or bowling competition between departments.

Ideas for Office Outing Activities

Now that you know how to plan an event, it’s time to decide what kind of activities would be best for your employees. Numerous options exist; here are a few ideas:

Run or bike for a cause

This one could be a fun addition to your employee wellness program. Choose a good cause and create a team employees can join. Be sure to communicate that participants can run or walk so that everyone feels welcome to participate regardless of how much or little they enjoy exercise. Potential biking fundraisers include the Tour de Cure by the American Diabetes Association, Bike MS for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, or bike events for the American Cancer Society. Run/walk event suggestions include the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, the Walk With Me event to benefit families affected by disabilities, and the Make a Wish Foundation events that raise money to grant wishes to children who battle life-threatening medical conditions.

Get outdoors for a picnic or hike

If you’re looking for something simple that doesn’t require travel, a picnic at a local park might be a good choice. This is also a good opportunity for a half-day event. Ask employees to work in the office in the morning then meet at a local park with a picnic area to eat a catered lunch. After lunch, take a leisurely hike through the woods so employees can enjoy the outdoors, relaxed conversation, and light exercise. Then, let them go home before 5 p.m. Everybody wins.

Find a local escape room

You know what they say: teams that solve difficult problems and escape contrived prison-like spaces together, stay together. OK, maybe nobody says that, but we think it’s true. Escape games, which involve solving puzzles and mysteries to earn your team the right to “escape” the room, are growing in popularity across the nation. Work on teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills to see if you can beat the clock and escape! Perhaps the most widely known escape game is Breakout, but there are other ones, like Mastermind Escape Games, which has multiple locations throughout the U.S., and varying local options.

Volunteer to help others

Few things bring a group closer together than serving others side by side. This type of event can last a few hours, half of a day, a full day, or multiple days. Consider helping at a local senior center, building a house with Habitat for Humanity, serving at a soup kitchen, assisting with disaster relief, or volunteering to help with a local program for kids. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something everyone can participate in.

Put together an extreme scavenger hunt

If your office is located in or near a city, this one might be fun. You will need to find or create a list of things for teams of employees to find and photograph around town. Divide employees into teams of 3-5 people, give them the list of items, and tell them how much time they have. Whichever team returns first with all the items completed (or whichever team has the most completed by the deadline) wins the competition! Be sure to offer prizes for the winning teams; gift cards work great for this. Scavenger hunt items will vary depending on location (check the Internet for locally relevant lists), but they can include things such as:

  • Photograph the entire team’s reflection in something that’s not a mirror
  • Photograph the team jumping in the air
  • Take a picture with something beautiful
  • Take a picture with a stranger
  • Photograph the entire team playing on a playground (creativity counts)

Play miniature golf

A great corporate activity that can also be enjoyed by kids if the company wants to include families is putt putt or miniature golf. Not as serious and requiring less skill than regular golf, mini golf courses often include whimsical designs that will add a sense of fun to the event. This is a popular activity that allows for light-hearted conversation and bonding between employees, but in a casual and low-pressure setting.

Play laser tag

If you are searching for a fun, sporty option that is good for corporate team building, laser tag is one of the best ideas for you to consider. Needless to say this is not the ideal way for employees to engage in deep, meaningful discussions, but it is a terrific way to get people out of the office and offer them an opportunity to burn some energy through laser gun play!

Eat at a family-style restaurant

Never underestimate the power of good food. A family style dining experience can be booked for either night or day for your party, and it can be a perfect setting for people to get to know more about one another outside the corporate office. By ordering several full family-size entrees, you can offer everyone a chance to try lots of different dishes that they may have never sampled before. Before picking a restaurant to host you, do try to get a sense of cuisine preferences and dietary restrictions among your team, to ensure you select an establishment that everyone will be able to enjoy. Bring a list of ice breakers and discussion ideas if you want to help ensure that the conversation keeps flowing in between bites.

Play arcade games

For a younger team, or a group that you think might have a good time going back to their youth, an arcade or game room could be a great way to have some playful fun, day or night. You can look for a well-known name like Dave & Buster’s, which has a large game area as well as a bar and food, offers a little something for everyone. Many of the games are multi-player friendly—and range from video games to skee ball and shooting hoops—so there are plenty of different opportunities for co-workers to gather in small groups to challenge and cheer each other on. It’s Happy Hour meets dinner meets game time!

Go bowling

An oldie but a goodie, bowling is another popular “all ages” activity that can accommodate corporate groups – and it’s perfect if you are specifically looking for something indoors. While not everyone is great at bowling, laughing at some spectacular gutter balls is half the fun. Divide your group into teams and compare scores to create some healthy competition and team building. Bowling alleys also typically have food and beverages available, so you can also ensure everyone gets lunch or dinner as well.

Enjoy a botanical garden

Looking for a calm, fresh-air activity that can combine beauty and learning? Seek out your local botanical garden. Your group can take a relaxing walk through the gardens, chat with each other, and learn about flowers and local plant life. Gardens often have lawn areas where you can have everyone sit – provide a board game or two and invite everyone to bring their own lunch for a picnic atmosphere!

Visit a local historical or geological site

For a unique corporate experience, do a little research on your local area and see if there are any interesting historical or geological sites. This could be anything from a famous Civil War battlefield or historic mansion to hot creeks and prehistoric salt licks, and is often a nice way to get everyone back in the outdoors. Some of these places are officially state or national parks and host tours and other activities (remember to book your tour in advance). This can be a great option if you want to give your team a chance to enjoy an educational element and connecting with local culture.

Try axe throwing

Okay, this one may sound a little crazy, but actually axe throwing has become all the rage for parties and groups that want to do something unique. Don’t worry, it’s safe! Use a Google search to see if you have one of these businesses in your area. Trained professionals will work with the members of your gang on the basics of hatchet throwing, then lead you through some cool games and contests as you hone your skills. This one will give your team something to really look forward to, and something to talk about long after!

Go roller skating or ice skating

Here’s a blast from the past – have a roller-skating party! This is something you can do day or night. It will either be a neat new activity for the uninitiated to learn, or a bit of nostalgia for those who liked roller skating when they were kids (and who still enjoy being a show off on wheels!). Staff members will have the opportunity to support each other (quite literally!) as the more skilled help the newbies around the rink. And if it’s winter time, think about ice skating instead (and try not to fall on your back side)!

Embark on a corporate cruise

Get out of the city and onto the water! If you are near a suitable body of water, check out local cruise companies to see if they will let you book a corporate or business group charter. You might be able to get something nice like a lunch-time or dinner cruise out on the water, so your employees can eat, chat, and delight in having the wind in their hair. Some boats also provide custom options for a party atmosphere, like a DJ, dance floor, and a bar.

Explore seasonal activities

Depending on the time of year, there may be some wonderful ideas for things to do that allow employees to enjoy what is special about the season. For instance, nearby farms may offer apple-picking and pumpkin-picking in the fall, which may be accompanied by corn mazes, seasonal eatings (apple cider donuts, anyone?), and hayrides. Look for cherry blossom festivals in the spring and outdoor concerts in the summer, which are always popular. Any of these seasonal events provide both small and large gatherings of employees with a great chance to get outside and get to know each other better in a festive setting.

Take a self-defense training class

Have your team take a self-defense training class together. This can be a chance to learn some valuable tips for staying safe, while also getting to engage with one another in active exercises that can help build trust between staff members.

What are You Waiting for?

Now that you know what to keep in mind when planning an event for your employees and have a few ideas to get you started, it’s time to start planning! Remember to ask for feedback before deciding on an activity, choose a time that’s convenient for everyone, and anticipate scheduling more than one event for this year!

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