This company takes its entire staff on a month-long international retreat every year

Taking a work call.
Taking a work call.
Image: Reuters/Jamal Saidi
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In 2016, Johnny Warström and seven colleagues from his Swedish startup decamped from Stockholm to San Francisco to take part in a startup accelerator. The accelerator program was by no means a necessity—their product, an interactive presentation tool called Mentimeter, had already gotten some traction after launching in 2014—but it was not without its purpose.

Warström believes that more than the program, the four months of living, eating, and playing together in California changed the trajectory of the young company. “The trip glued us together in a way we had never experienced before,” he says.

So every year since that fateful trip, Warström has tried to replicate it. Mentimeter, now a company with roughly 40 employees, takes a month every year to travel as a team. The destination in 2017 was Barcelona; 2018 was Lisbon; and 2019 is set for Palermo, Italy.

The concept of uprooting an entire company for a month seems, well, impractical. Not all employees or companies can afford to skip town for an extended period of time. As Mentimeter has grown, it’s had to adjust the retreats so that employees with families or pets, for example, can fly home for the weekends. But the benefit of giving employees a respite from the daily office grind is undeniable. The question is whether it’s a worthy investment.

Warström ties the retreats directly to business results. In his mind, the retreats have proven to be an antidote to employee turnover (only one Mentimeter employee has left the company in the past three years) and a source of innovative ideas that “wouldn’t have come up in a normal week at the office.” The retreats give employees an opportunity to bond and brainstorm with colleagues from different departments.

But the research is divided about whether routine or the lack thereof is a greater harbinger for creativity. On one hand, studies have shown that a daily routine lightens the cognitive load of making decisions, which can free up room for creativity. On the other hand, too much routine can lock us into rigid ways of thinking, preventing us from finding the novelty that often sparks new ways of thinking.

One thing is for certain: If your company can afford to take the entire staff to a vacation destination, take them up on the offer.