I’m not going to lie — planning CodeControl’s yearly company retreat was a pleasure.
Although the scale of synchronisation posed some issues from time to time, I had the guilty pleasure of spending (working) hours scanning Airbnb for stunning villas in Southern Europe.
In case you’re also lucky enough to have this responsibility fall on your shoulders, here are a few thoughts to ensure the search runs smoothly.
1. Decide on dates first.
While it’s tempting to dive straight into the house hunt, it’s essential to find dates that work with everyone in your team beforehand. I usually resort to Doodle for these scheduling matters — but they appear to have moved multi-date selections to their premium features. Check out PollUnit for a similar tool.
It may seem obvious but plan your company retreat as far in advance as possible. Especially if you’re aiming for a summer offsite as we did. Competition is fierce in Europe and there’s greater room for negotiation if you’re planning many months ahead.
Once you have the dates confirmed, block them in everyone’s calendar. In our case, this was the last week of September. Onto the next step…
2. Settle on your budget — then the location.
In proper CodeControl style, there was no strict budget. Rather it’s about bringing the best results (so in this case, a sensational company retreat) at the lowest possible cost.
To achieve this, I took into account the cost of our flights, the standard living costs of the country and the potential accommodation options. Beyond that, I also considered transportation (would we need to hire a CodeControl van?!) and length of flight time, since doubling the hours in-flight would result in an aggregate loss of productivity.
Evidently, most of these variables result in a trade-off.
Locations such as Morocco have fabulous accommodation options and low living costs, yet flight costs are extortionate. Then there’s the weather trade-off; we could have flown to one of the Canary Islands in October (whereas further north it’s getting cold by this time), yet the flight time is over eight hours.
In the end, we were left with a few clear winners. Unashamedly, all of them were locations with direct EasyJet or Ryanair flights. These included:
- Spain (Malaga, Barcelona & Palma)
- Italy (Milan, Bologna, Rome & Catania)
- France (Toulouse)
- Portugal (Porto)
Finally, time to get down to the fun part — house hunting! If you want to make a splash in Sicily, check out Tenuta Don Ruggero.
3. Find your dream villa.
We had a couple of conditions for accommodation, namely a pool, at least eight bedrooms and lightning-fast internet. The latter proved to be the most challenging part by a mile.
While I did scan many holiday letting and apartment sites, I have to say that the interfaces were rather terrible and the agency fees drove up prices significantly.
So back to trusty Airbnb. I began by adding our conditions into Airbnb’s filters and zooming in on the environs of one of the target airports (within a few hours drive). While there are many sizeable houses, a quick scan through the photos will help narrow down the options quickly — apparently kitsch is still very much in style!
A WiFi Headache
Next, I messaged the host and asked them for a speed-test, including Ping, Download and Upload speeds. In case you’re not familiar with these terms; Ping measures how long it takes to get a response once you’ve sent out a request. It’s measured in milliseconds (ms) and the lower the number, the better.
Download speed measures how quickly you can transfer data from the server to your laptop (ie. downloading a movie or file), and upload speed is simply the reverse. These are both measured in megabits per second (Mbps), so the higher the better.
To give you an inkling of what we’re working with in the CodeControl office, here are our speed-test results:
We knew we never going to find that speed in a Spanish Hacienda – so we set our sights a bit lower and aimed for a download speed of at least 20Mbps.
Now, Airbnb makes life a little tricky when contacting hosts. To discourage dodgy dealings, they block words such as ‘Google’ and any URLs, so the message ended up looking something like this:
I’m organising the company retreat for my team and am considering your lovely villa as one of the options.
One of the key criteria for selecting a place is the internet speed, so could you kindly search ‘Internet speed test’, use any site you like, and simply share the Ping, Download and Upload speeds with me?
Thanks so much for your help.”
Around half of the hosts got back to us with the results — or at least a part of the results. Airbnb also blocks screenshots so, unfortunately, all the figures are self-reported.
Far from optimal, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Since we went through all the hassle of requesting the tests, we thought we’d share some of the results with you! Along with our affinity for infinity pools 🏊. Want to see more? Check out this Company Retreats List.
As you can see, there’s no shortage of stunning properties, but certainly a shortage of decent WiFi. Considering that the European Union abolished roaming charges in June this year, there’s still the option of loading up our phones with some additional GBs (or renting a Pocket WiFi device) — to circumvent any internet issues. We’ll keep you posted on this one.
4. Negotiate…& get booking!
Since you’re looking at a considerable outlay for your dream villa, it would be a shame not to attempt some price negotiation. There are many angles to come at this from, for instance, asking if they offer weekly discounts or a special price in low-season. As long as you’re polite, many hosts will make you a special offer.
With all these offers in hand, we turned to the team to make the final decision between three options.
And the winner was? Villa Sasseto in Italy, nestled into the Tuscan countryside and only a couple of hours from Rome. *Disclaimer: This decision may have been swayed by our communal love of prosciutto and red wine.
5. Plan some retreat activities.
Apart from continuing to get great s*** done, which is always our first priority, there have been talks of wine tastings, cooking classes and other ‘team-building’ exercises on the weekend. Perhaps a Design Thinking or Agile workshop is also on the agenda. Anyway, we’ll be capturing some footage of the whole adventure, so keep an eye on our Facebook page to stay in the loop.
Final Note: Recommendations for Airbnb Hosts.
To be honest, we were rather shocked at the level of WiFi available in most places — and the hosts’ reluctance to improve it. Despite the fact we were offering to pay thousands of euros to rent their place, very few were open to the idea of upgrading their internet. As more (remote) teams look for retreat destinations, paying a little more for a good connection and stating the speed on your Airbnb profile would go a long way.
Do you have a recommendation for the ultimate company retreat? (Especially one with certified WiFi!). Then please share it with us 🙏