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Meeting Facilities
When to take company meetings offsite

As business organizations have tightened up their belts with the economy, one expense frequently eliminated is offsite internal events such as meetings and retreats. But many companies are still finding it worthwhile to pay for meetings away from premises for reasons ranging from convenience to space constraints.

“This economy has caused a lot of business owners to examine where they are spending their money. Brick and mortar is one of the larger expenses. There’s very little return on your monthly lease payment to pay for a large meeting room that you only use once or twice a week,” said Frank Wilson, managing broker with John L. Scott in Poulsbo.

For his real estate office, Wilson holds the shorter meetings — those under an hour or so — in an office wing, making sure there is enough space for people to sit or lean on something. But for longer meetings or those that require note taking — such as workshops that invite brokers from other offices — he usually likes to choose the fire hall next door.

“Before I go offsite, I try to always make up a packing list ahead of time so that I don’t have to call someone to bring stuff to me,” he said. His checklist includes basics like extension cords, markers with easel and paper, laser pointer for presentation, extra batteries and speakers, among other things — plus utensils, napkins and other necessities for refreshments.

Wilson’s criteria for a meeting location, besides cost, include comfortable seating, easy parking, availability of restrooms and the ability to bring in own refreshments. He looks for a place that offers the tools he may need, such as white boards, projector with screen, internet access and plug-ins — as well as a site that doesn’t have a lot of noise traffic.

Noise and interruptions often dictate for important meetings to be moved to an outside venue. Those are among the main reasons the North Mason Chamber of Commerce board of trustees has been meeting for many years at Selah Inn, a member business that in addition to guest accommodations also offers event space and lunch for the general public by reservation.

“It’s very convenient, the price is good and the food is great,” said Greg Oldham, executive director of the chamber and past chair of the board.

He said what makes the location especially ideal is the privacy — unlike a restaurant, where they would have to compete with noise from other customers. It’s also economical because there’s no room charge so the board members just pay for their own lunch.

“I found that food helps,” Oldham said. “When people share a meal, they tend to be more congenial and communicate better.”

A professional environment that makes the staff feel appreciated is one of the top criteria that Jeff Musson looks for when coordinating off-site retreats for the nursing staff at Harrison Medical Center. Although the hospital has ample meeting space for average size groups, organizing those meetings off-site allows the staff to focus on team-building activities or training without the worry of being pulled back to their daily duties.

“It’s a big commitment… Every person you pull off the floor (for the meeting), you have to fill with somebody,” said Musson, who is the organizational development manager at Harrison. “We want to take the nursing staff away from their environment where they can be pulled back in at a moment’s notice.”

Musson also coordinates leadership meetings five times a year that include as many as 200 executives, managers and directors. The main reason that group meets at Kitsap Conference Center instead of the hospital is so they all receive the same information consistently at the same time, instead of breaking it off into smaller groups for multiple on-sight meetings. When that’s done, Musson said, the group dynamics impacts each meeting, which may change the information flow.

“We want to get them together at the same time so they can hear the same message,” he said.

Musson notes the convenient location of the conference center — within a few minutes from the main hospital — as an important factor, since it impacts transportation time and efficiency. But another criterion is the venue’s scheduling flexibility.

“It’s a tough market out there to get people to spend discretionary funds on meetings when they can do it other ways, so the venue with the best price would definitely be in competition if we were looking to move,” he said. “But we also have to make sure to fulfill our obligation to employees to provide a safe and professional.”

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