Getting to know your team is a great way to work better together, and sometimes that bonding is best done outside of the office. But what does it take to put on a great company outing? To find out, we spoke with five Chicago tech companies about their favorite shindigs, and how those events reflect their broader company cultures.
Headquartered in the Chicago Board of Trade Building, PEAK6 is an investment firm whose proprietary technology makes markets while managing risk efficiently. The firm’s culture club, made up of volunteers from across departments, plans regular events and outings. Members of the group said they conduct firm-wide surveys to solicit ideas about events, as well as to learn more about how to enhance culture overall.
Why bonding outside the office matters: Firmwide events are a big part of PEAK6's company culture. We make sure there are many opportunities for employees to build relationships with their coworkers and build camaraderie across teams. Our events range from in-office gatherings to philanthropy events, private happy hours on the rooftop of our building and trivia nights at local establishments. We work hard at PEAK6, so having these outings is a great way to relax and unwind after a long day in the office.
Best excursions to date: By far, the most fun and well-received company outing is the annual PEAK6 party. It's an over-the-top, exciting and one-of-a-kind party that the whole firm waits anxiously for each year. The party consists of a special theme that everyone dresses for, decked out decor and top-tier musical entertainment that is a total surprise until they hit the stage.
One of our most recent company events was an in-office event that was hosted by the PEAK6 Culture Club. We split the firm into 10 teams and each team chose a country to represent. We transformed the office into 10 unique travel destinations and each team shared food and drink from their designated country. Everyone had custom PEAK6 passports and traveled the "world" in our office. If you got a stamp from each country, you were eligible to win actual airfare on American Airlines that was raffled off to three lucky winners. It was a huge success and it's already been decided that this event will be an annual occurrence.
How outings reflect company culture: Two of our six core values are “act boldly with courage” and “be collaborative.” While these certainly speak to the way we work and the business we conduct, they also speak to the way we take a break from work and interact with each other outside of the usual confines of the daily business. Our annual PEAK6 party is a no-holds-barred extravaganza that proves our owners' commitment to acting boldly. Many of our events are designed to have different teams throughout the firm come together and interact with each other as they typically wouldn’t during normal work hours. We also regularly host volunteer events where our employees give their time to worthy causes that focus on children and education, with the full endorsement of the firm.
LearnCore makes sales training and video coaching software that helps companies boost their business development efforts. HR manager Kayla Davis said getting out of the office together helps build a more cohesive company culture. To ensure that everyone has a good time, she regularly brainstorms ideas with staff from every department.
Why bonding outside the office matters: Company outings are important to our team because they foster cross-functional relationships across departments. It is so easy to become siloed within your departments, so we try to break everyone into teams from each department. In addition, it's a great way to break up the workweek and add a little fun and excitement for the team.
Best excursion to date: Our favorite outing to date was when we rented a trolley and everyone dressed up in a ‘90s theme. The outfits people were able to put together were great. Additionally, we incorporated trivia related to ‘90s pop culture, and handed out fun candy — think Ring Pops, Pop Rocks and Fun Dip — to maintain the theme. We took the trolley to a few bars, including Whiskey Business, and everyone had a great time. We are considering doing it again with a different theme later this quarter!
How outings reflect company culture: I think the values that stand out most are collaboration and communication. We tend to bring some team building aspect into our outings, like trivia, where there's a need for collaboration and strong communication to win or succeed.
VelocityEHS makes software that helps companies evaluate how they’re measuring up to their goals around health, safety, sustainability and protecting the environment. With spacious offices in the Merchandise Mart, complete with an arcade and rooftop access, the team has every reason to stick close to home base. But enterprise account sales manager Justin Vliem said his team still schedules regular junkets as a way to keep things fresh.
Why bonding outside the office matters: Here at VelocityEHS, we’re driven by the work we do to keep others safe, but we also like to have fun while doing it. That’s why we formed the Sales Incentive Committee, which plans and executes a variety of sales team outings focused around building camaraderie and reminding employees to still have fun.
Best excursion to date: Monthly outings include activities that are Chicago-oriented or holiday-themed, depending on the time of the year. Past outings have included Whirlyball, paintball, boat cruises, Cubs rooftop events, Bubble Ball, Topgolf and curling at Kaiser Tiger. A few favorites include the Cubs rooftops and boat cruises, which allow us to get out of the office and enjoy some of the limited, but great Chicago summer weather.
How company outings are planned: Two to three times a year, SIC members will poll the sales team for new ideas on events and to garner feedback from the participants of previous events. This direct input from employees helps the SIC shape ongoing outings, ensuring greater team participation and fun.
Instructure makes interactive education technology that helps people learn in new and more engaging ways. The company puts a premium on providing flexibility for its employees, which can sometimes mean team members don’t see each other every day. To recruiting coordinator Haley Jones and office manager Catherine Carrio, that makes regular get togethers all the more significant.
Why bonding outside the office matters: Company outings are important for our teams because they bring camaraderie and a chance to get to know each other more on a personal level. This is important at Instructure because at work we encourage flexibility in schedules, but sometimes that limits the amount of time you spend with different team members. Outings give everyone a chance to mingle in a relaxed environment and leave the business side of things alone for a short time.
Best excursion to date: Our office in Prudential Plaza is conveniently located across the street from Maggie Daley Park, which gives us ample opportunity to take advantage of its many activities during the summer months. This past June, the entire team went rollerblading in the skating ribbon. Breaking up the day to participate in a fun physical event gives everyone a well-deserved break, allows for people across teams and departments to bond, and encourages physical fitness. After breaking a sweat and enjoying the boost of some Vitamin D, old problems are seen with fresh eyes!
How outings reflect company culture: Our company outings definitely reflect our company culture of a fun and open environment, because we do a wide variety of things that touch on those things. We also hold company events that encourage overall employee well-being. The most recent one was the Ragnar Relay race in which we had a pretty awesome group of runners from Instructure participating. We also held a golfing tournament that employees really enjoyed a couple months ago.
UrbanBound’s relocation management software helps companies cast wider nets in hiring for top talent. VP of marketing Erin Wasson said the company puts on regular team building events, reserving major excursions for celebratory occasions. Considering how UrbanBound helps transplants get to know their new home cities, it’s only fitting that one of the team’s favorite days out was a boat excursion on Lake Michigan.
Why bonding outside the office matters: At UrbanBound we love to celebrate success. We have a lot of smaller outings and in-office events to build comradery, but we reserve the bigger outings for celebrating company goals and milestones.
Best excursion to date: We rented a boat on Lake Michigan to celebrate a successful quarter and the team had a blast. Being out on the water, listening to music and having fun with all of your co-workers enjoying the beautiful city of Chicago was a perfect way to celebrate. The nightly fireworks at the end were a nice touch, too.
How outings reflect company culture: One of our core values is to build a positive team and a family spirit, so having fun outside of the office is an important part of our culture. Moreover, the events are shaped by our culture club, which comes up with ideas and participates in the planning.
Images via participating companies.