Thursday, May 28, 2020

Ideas for the Post COVID-19 Retreat

Originally posted on

Ideas for the Post COVID-19 Retreat

The meetings world as we knew it is changing. Many aspects of live meetings and events will join the history books. All events — tradeshows, conferences, board meetings and retreats — will operate differently as live meetings. Every aspect  will be adjusted to fit into the post-COVID-19 world. Even smaller company and leadership retreats will look different as we adhere to new safety guidelines.

Company retreats have always been a separate breed of events. Usually smaller in size, longer in length, and with a schedule conducive to networking and team bonding, the way they look post COVID-19 will change. While it will still be important to build in “free time”, and team building activities like personality assessments (DISC), a few aspects will change. What exactly will a retreat agenda look like?
Retreats should continue to have a more relaxed schedule, and format. Start your day a little later, have a few breaks, and provide downtime. Team building activities are key—both outside and inside activities. Click here for a sample retreat schedule.

Here are a some ideas for changes you can incorporate into your next live retreat:

Masks will be required by most, and if not many attendees will still likely wear them.
Temperature checks at entrance.
Ample hand sanitizer will be stationed at registration tables—really, everywhere.
Try having attendees register online ahead of time to avoid a bottleneck of people in a crowded space.  Also try, mailing badges and materials ahead of meetings.
Signs will be placed throughout the meeting space, reminding and to encouraging hand washing.
Hand shaking will be discouraged. Air hugs and foot taps are the new handshake.
Additional hotel staff will need to be secured to assist with cleaning surfaces, distributing coffee, and assisting with food.
If there are any 1:1 or small group meetings, you may be meeting through a plexiglass shield, and wiping it down after each meeting.
Meals will be modified. Nix the buffet and try ordering pre-packaged lunches for attendees or have stations, like a coffee station or cafeteria-style setup, where hotel staff will serve to avoid multiple people touching the serving tools.
The amount of meeting space you’ll need will increase. The new setup will discourage lots of people sitting at each table—you may see four people at 60” rounds now instead of 8-10.
If you’re seating format is theatre or classroom, you’ll need enough space to accommodate your group with current safety guidelines.
Snack breaks and happy hours will no longer consist of passed hors d’oeuvres and finger foods. Instead, opt for individually packaged foods and boxed options.
Try going digital with collateral. Goodie bags and giveaways may be a thing of the past now as well. Instead of receiving a bag with branded pens, stress balls, and stickers, your giveaway will likely be a bottle of hand sanitizer, your badge, mask, gloves, hand sanitizer, and wipes. And that Maui Jim sunglass experience may be regulated to a gift card to go online and redeem your elected pair—without the ability to try on first. The new norm will be gifting companies creating custom gift experiences at home using technology and shipping methods.
How will you be changing up your next live retreat?

About Andrea Cannistraci
Andrea is the President & Founder of andgreat—a marketing, branding, and events firm that specializes in helping businesses design unique and unforgettable experiential marketing programs.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Five Smart Tech Gadgets for the Home Office

Is your home office in the 21st century?  Are you utilizing “smart technology” to make your home office smarter, safer, and more efficient? These five gadgets are worth looking into:

1.     Video doorbell.
A motion activated video doorbell enables you to see and even speak with visitors at your door—from anywhere. So even if you’re working at the coffee shop or on the beach—you can see—via the app—who is at your door.  When the “no solicitation” signs don’t work, and your day is constantly interrupted, this gadget is a must have.

2.     Smart Speakers
Certainly not new, smart speakers use wifi to sync with your electronics allowing you to use voice commands like play music, turn off lights, or even make the coffee.  Now if they could only make your lunch too!

3.     Smart Light Bulb
By no means a new concept, these $10 bulbs are dimmable and wifi-enabled. These LED light bulbs allow you to adjust your lighting from the app—or even from your smart speakers.  Great for when you don’t want to walk into a dark home at night.

4.    Smart Plug
This wifi enabled adapter allows you to shut off appliances—like your coffeemaker—remotely. No more burnt coffee.

5.    Remote Thermostat
Devices like Nest learn the climate of your home and adjust accordingly. If you’re like me and adjusting to AC, this is a must have.

What are your fav smart tech gadgets for the home office?

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The remote work hiring process

Remote work is becoming mainstream. The benefits of remote work range from no commute (hello Angelenos!), to increased productivity, to happier and healthier workers, to flexibility and more. But what does the remote work hiring process actually look like? I spoke with Zach Montroy, Director of People & Team Strategy with Summit CPA Group about the remote work hiring process, and here’s what he had to say:
Andrea: What does the remote work hiring process look like? Where do you start?
Zach: The hiring process actually looks very similar to a brick-and-mortar company process. However, being a distributed firm allows us to be more agile in the process and we’re able to expand our possibilities. For example, we have the opportunity to recruit talent from anywhere in the USA, and we don’t have the added costs of relocation. The way we advertise for the job is different as well. We target a variety of markets and home in on areas of expertise by tapping into platforms such as LinkedIn, Indeed, Virtual Vocations, and FlexJobs.

 Andrea: Do you interview candidates remotely as well?
Zach: We do. Our team is in front of a screen interacting with colleagues and clients every day, so it’s a perfect filter. It’s important to see how candidates interact with the camera, and also how they handle the technology. We utilize the power of our team in every step asking candidates about their professional journey, how they live out our core values, what their core values are, and we test for things like emotional intelligence and job skills. For our Virtual CFOs, we do interviews in person as well.
Andrea: How does culture fit into the hiring process?
Zach: We take our core values very seriously and we work to live them out daily. We ask our candidates examples of how they live out our core values and what they look like to them. We’re “changing the way people think about accounting”– it’s at the core of who we are, and we need to ensure the candidates’ values align with Summit CPA Group. Studies have found that Emotional Intelligence accounts for 60% of job success so we test for that in our process as well. Emotional intelligence testing gives us a good sense of how the candidate will interact with others and how their emotions play into, and help manage, relationships.
Andrea: Do you require candidates to perform test projects?
Zach: We use case studies as a way to assess past performance and knowledge around the job. We ask candidates how they would approach situations. This allows us to see first-hand how the candidate will likely function in the environment.

 Andrea: What is the biggest challenge of hiring remotely?
Zach: If you had told me 10 years ago that I’d be hiring people without ever meeting them in person, I would have called you crazy. I think there is value in spending extended lengths of time with a candidate, but that can be done virtually as well. Spending an entire day with a candidate is really telling. Anyone can be in character for an hour or two, but throughout a day, you really see their personality and how they handle different situations. You lose a bit of that aspect with remote hiring, but we’ve really tried to compensate for this in our process to make sure we’re getting the right people on the bus and getting them in the right seats quickly.
Andrea: What’s the biggest opportunity of hiring remote workers?
Zach: Being able to pull from a larger geographic area. I can find the best of the best when I don’t have any geographic limitations. Remote work opens up opportunity for people with expertise who have “traditional work hour” limitations. We’re also helping people get their lives back. When we lived in Chicago, my wife commuted 3 hours each day. That was 15 hours of her week, GONE. It also helps team members be more efficient, I’m able to collaborate and be social, but working remotely allows our team members to focus when they need that space as well.
Andrea: What qualities do you see in remote workers?
Zach: Grit, resilience, adaptability, strong work ethic, integrity. The tech tools we use as a remote company are always changing, and at Summit CPA Group we are always embracing new technology. Our team must be comfortable with technology and with change. Self-discipline is huge. As a remote worker you must be able to shut it off. No one is going to show up with their best self if they are working 24/7.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Healthy meetings must start with a healthy planner

In the report The 10 Most Stressful Jobs of 2017 by Forbes, Event Management came in 5th, beaten only by enlisted military, firefighters, pilots and police, which are undoubtedly high pressure, high-risk careers. While no one is going to die as a result of planning an event or meeting, any meeting planner will attest, the job is stressful and demanding and requires heavy travel (you often live in airplanes and hotels) and deadlines rule your world.

With a new focus on healthier meetings that incorporate wellness, it’s fair to state that healthy meetings must start with a healthy planner. How can a planner take better care of themselves so they can focus on planning healthy meetings? The first step is to acknowledge that health and wellness is a lifestyle, not a seasonal hobby. As a figure competitor and meeting planner, Here are my top five tips for staying well:
1. Disconnect. Studies have shown that you’ll be 30% less productive if you check email within 60 minutes of waking. Why? You go into fear and stress mode straight away. The number one cause of stress is the feeling of not having enough time. Oh and btw, stress is highly contagious.
2. Keep 45–50 minute hours. In other words, schedule meetings/calls for 25 minutes vs 30 minutes or 50 minutes instead of 60. This will allow you downtime in between meetings to process, and avoid the feeling of being rushed.
3. Recharge daily for 5–10 minutes several times throughout your day.We need downtime. Examples include connect with a friend, perform an act of kindness, physical exercise, aromatherapy, take a walk outside, play with kids, or pets, guided meditation, listen to music.
4. Eat healthy. Drink at least one gallon of water a day. Stay away from sugary snacks and opt for healthy whole fruits, plain nuts, raw veggies.
5. Exercise. Find an activity that raises your heartbeat and that you truly enjoy. That may be a run in your neighborhood, or a session on the treadmill in your house while you watch the Young & the Restless. It may be playing beach volleyball a few nights a week, or weight training. Find what works for you, and stick with it.
Feel free to reach out and share your tips on staying well. Look for my next blog post where I’ll discuss tips for incorporating wellness into your meeting.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Where to Take Your Incentive Groups in 2019

When meeting planners educate and pitch their first-hand experiences of off-the-radar destinations to their clients, companies become more risk-adverse and more adventurous.
As an experiential marketer and meeting planner, I love introducing off-the-beaten-path destinations to my clients. My distributed model clients particularly demand undiscovered hidden gems for their company retreats. Their employees are based around the world, so it makes sense to look beyond those first-tier cities and help them discover something new.
Beach destinations are always a hit—especially in the beginning of the year when it’s freezing in most of the northern hemisphere. Culturally-rich destinations are also a draw as they allow the teams to learn in different ways and incorporate local customs into their bonding time. Not to mention, attendees will walk away from these destinations more worldly, and you can bet they will always remember the event.
Here are my four off-the-beaten-path destinations that should be on your radar for incentive groups in 2019:

Cartagena, Colombia

You may be thinking “Narcos,” but you should be thinking safe, cultural, beach, with unlimited unique meeting space. In Cartagena, you have both city life and the beach all within a few blocks. The old, walled city is a must for dinners and even a scavenger hunt during the day. Coffee is king, and I highly suggest a coffee tasting class for team building. Cartagena also has ample infrastructure to host meetings of all sizes—and it’s affordable!

Anchorage, Alaska

While this is not exactly a warm destination, it’s certainly one your attendees will never forget. It isn’t called the “Last Frontier” for nothing! Plan your incentive around the Iditarod (March 2 this year), and let your attendees meet and greet the mushers and dogs. With more than 8,000 sleeping rooms and two convention centers, Anchorage is a beautiful destination that’s also affordable—and did I mention there’s no sales tax? Oh, and your attendees may even see the Northern Lights.

Panama City, Panama

Panama City has modern infrastructure, easy air access, and a wealth of cultural and natural attractions for team building. Of course, it’s home to the Panama Canal, which is a bucket list item for many people. Plus, it’s home to various indigenous tribes that welcome visitors into their villages for a day of cultural learning. Panama City is just plain easy: English is predominantly spoken, no U.S. currency-exchange is needed, and it’s safe. There are more than 15,000 sleeping rooms from boutiques to big-box chains. Choose a beach destination, a rainforest destination or the city. You can’t go wrong.

Asheville, N.C.

Who knew this little mountain town—known for its bohemian flair—had so much to offer? With the second-growing airport in the U.S., it’s easy to access. Plus, new boutique properties are popping up left and right. And the food: Top-notch cuisine is available all around, coupled with craft breweries. With more than 8,000 sleeping rooms, this walkable destination offers unique team-building activities galore. An added bonus: The CVB staff is one of the best in the country.

This article was first published in Prevue Meetings on January 29th.

Monday, December 31, 2018

The Best Winter Team-Building Experiences That Break the Ice

This article was published on December 24, 2018 in PrevueMeetings.

Wintertime is here, and if you have an upcoming program in a colder weather environment, you may need to skip the lake kayaking or the ocean surfing for your team-building events.
Team building should be an integral part of your programs, as it gets your attendees working, laughing and talking together while having fun. So, don’t let the winter months stop you from providing your attendees with unique experiences, unforgettable memories and memorable learnings.
Instead, check out these five winter team-building experiences that I’ve had personal success with in the past:

Wine Blending

This unique and memorable experience allows attendees to be a winemaker, circa 1800, complete with the outfit—a long wool coat and top hat. The experience takes place deep in the wine caves of a historic Sonoma, Calif., winery, called Buena Vista. Attendees create an eclectic blend and then choose their favorite to bottle, cork and add a personalized label before departing with their magical elixir. The winery keeps your “recipe” on file and you can order more bottles as you like.
Why I love this: It’s an unforgettable twist on the wine country experience. Why wine taste when you can make the wine yourself? The opportunity to create your own label is also invaluable for brand awareness.

Glass Blowing

You don’t have to go to Murano, Italy, to blow glass. Many cities, such as Asheville, N.C., have artist districts with working glass-blowing studios. Attendees can learn the basics of flame working and glass blowing, and even take their creation home with them. It gets hot in the studio, so it’s the perfect winter activity.
Why I love this: Guaranteed, not many of your attendees have experienced this art form first-hand. I love giving attendees that “first-time ever” experience, and this is one they’ll remember it forever. The team at North Carolina Glass Center is dedicated to educate and exploration—perfect for team-building.

Coffee Tasting

When in Colombia (the country), coffee tasting is king. At San Alberto in Cartagena, Colombia, this unforgettable sensory experience is a must. Attendees will awaken their tact, eyesight, taste and sense of smell while learning all about Colombian coffee—often considered the best in the world. Of course, other parts of the world like Hawaii offer coffee tasting experiences.
Why I love this: The Coffee Baptism class in Colombia is taught by a coffee sommelier, and identifying the smells is a lot tougher than you think. The various brewing devices and how they affect the taste is fascinating. Plus, it’s a local experience that is sure to change the way attendees select and consume coffee. And, don’t forget, a bag of coffee beans makes the perfect takeaway gift.

Cooking Class With a Famous Chef and Author

Cooking is a great way to break the ice. Whether your attendees are preparing a full lunch or dinner with small teams making each course or competing for the best salsa award, you cannot go wrong. The Santa Fe Cooking School of Cooking Salsa Making Contest can be done at their venue—or they will come to you! And, yes, you can make salsa at the hotel pool. Teams work together to produce yummy salsas with assistance from chefs. It’s a great way for the group to work together (and be competitive, too), and get comfortable in the kitchen. The best part is eating the salsas and selecting a winner.
Why I love this: You’d be surprised how many people are not comfortable in the kitchen. This team-building experience encourages group bonding, communication and fosters camaraderie while cooking up fun in a kitchen. And everyone loves food as well as a signed cookbook from the chef.


Nothing illustrates teamwork like mushing. This unique team-building experience takes our attendees out of the hotel ballroom and into the wild. Attendees bond with each other and with the dogs—creating a unique atmosphere. Whether attendees are mushing on the Continental Divide in Alberta, Canada, or mushing with past Iditarod champion sled dogs in Willow, Alaska, this team-building experience is sure to be well-received and remembered.
Why I love this: Dog-sledding is the perfect analogy for teamwork. And again, how many of your attendees have mushed? Giving them that unforgettable first-time experience will be a lifetime memory.
These are just a few of the programs I’ve successfully implemented for my clients’ programs, but what are your favorite wintertime team-building experiences? Comment below or Tweet me @acannistraci to share your tips!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

How Remote Workers Can Minimize Distractions

This article was published on on December 6, 2018.

Working from home allows tremendous flexibility and is a total work life balance game changer. It does, however, come with a few challenges. Distractions ranks pretty high on that list.

Minimizing distraction starts with setting boundaries for yourself and for your family and friends. While you might have flexibility with your working hours, it’s important to set dedicated work hours and communicate those hours to your internal team, clients, family and friends.  Stick to those hours—if not you will find yourself working 24/7 and getting burned out… or not working at all and not having a job.
I’ve found that having dedicated office space in my home is helpful in setting boundaries as well. When I’m in that area of my home, I’m working. The door is usually closed, as this signals to my family that I’m unavailable. They know that when the door is closed, they need to knock (or just leave me alone.) I often only close the door to focus when I’m on a call or deep in numbers or writing. Other times, I’ll leave it open, and my family knows I’m open for a break.
Taking breaks is key. If you are finding yourself becoming distracted, you may just need a break. A break can mean walking to the kitchen for a coffee, or wandering outside to get the mail, or taking a 15-minute stroll around the neighborhood. Whatever works for you is what matters. Take a real break for lunch. Do not eat lunch at your desk. Take snack breaks. Take water breaks.

Oftentimes, I hit the local coffee shop or the beach to work. A change of scenery is what I need to refocus and jump start my creativity. When I’m at home, I easily get distracted by household chores. Getting out of my home often helps me to focus on work and only work. Calendaring helps also.
I have a master calendar that reflects my life—it includes both work and personal. I have time blocked off to drop off/pick up my daughter at Montessori School, go to doctors appointments, and attend meetings. I even block gym time, lunch time, and break times. I live by my calendar, and those little ding dong reminders keep me on track and distraction-free.
Since I do work from home, I regularly receive FedEx and UPS deliveries that I must sign, however, the added distractions of sales people knocking and interrupting my work day became too much. I invested in an inexpensive “No Solicitation” sign for my front door, and now if I hear a knock, I know I need to answer it.
There’s a lot of construction happening in my neighborhood currently, and that means loud noise. I’m thankful that I invested in a pair of good wireless headphones not only for the video calls, but to block out noise when I need silence to concentrate.
It’s hard to concentrate when you have a cluttered desk. Knick-knacks, receipts, junk mail, Post-It notes, and bills on your desk are total distractions. Take a few minutes each evening before you sign off for the day to clean, straighten, and organize your desk. Simply clearing away the clutter from the day will help you end your day and separate work time from “going home” time. You’ll also feel great when you log on the next morning, and you have a neat and orderly clean slate in which to start.
I usually start my day reviewing my to-do list for the day and my calendar. Knowing how my day looks and what I need to accomplish helps me focus and minimize distractions. I schedule out the tasks that need to be completed for the day around my standing appointments. My work is deadline heavy. There’s always a hotel contract due, a client byline due, award submission or speaking engagement deadline, or a timely social media post. I always start with those deadline sensitive deliverables and go from there. If there are a few admin or “mindless” tasks, I’ll knock them out of the way first –it always feels good to cross off a few line items straight away. What’s your best advice or tip for overcoming distractions when you work from home? Tweet us @acannistraci to share your tips!