RL Solutions "Collabratory" Session Wows…

When a software developer like RL Solutions decides it’s time for a company retreat, you can bet they’re looking for an out-of-the-box experience. Keynote speakers and breakout sessions are fine, but RL Solutions has a work culture that emphasizes comradery and a head office that comes equipped with its own ping pong stadium and pub. Any corporate culture that views colleagues as friends and the work day as a communal experience is going to demand fun alongside a weekend of learning and collaboration.

“Our CEO Sanjay Malaviya has always believed that the treatment of staff will be reciprocated back to the client,” says Mike Etzinger, VP of Marketing for RL Solutions, a Toronto-based developer studio software company focusing on the healthcare industry.

It was already mid-December when the management team at RL Solutions decided to round up all 160 of their employees for a strategic conference retreat creatively dubbed “RL Collabratory.” The New Year was fast approaching and the window to align an all-staff conference with the new fiscal was shrinking.

“As a management team, when we made the decision to invest in this conference we knew it had to be done quickly,” says Etzinger. “Giving all of our staff less than a month’s notice that they would be required to take a weekend away from their family was something that we were concerned about.”

There was intense pressure to produce a conference that would satisfy the strategic goals of the retreat, while delivering a fun, memorable experience that would both excite the team and justify the tight turnaround.

In Deerhurst, RL Solutions found the perfect partner to pull-off that ambitious goal. Not only could the resort offer the sought-after balance of immersive activities and conference amenities to host this innovative retreat, but the Deerhurst staff pulled out all the stops to make it all happen for their client regardless of the timeline.

“The Deerhurst name is iconic. It’s a place that a lot of staff have heard of before but might not have had the chance to visit,” says Kate Zaparanuik, Brand Experience Manager at RL Solutions, RL Collabratory’s key organizer. “Working with the Deerhurst staff to turn something like this around in a few weeks over the holidays was such a great experience. Everyone was so helpful.”

“We really didn’t want to wait. This was something we wanted to get done right away,” says Etzinger. The decision to fast-track RL Collabratory meant the weekend would take place in the middle of winter under a blanket of snow, forgoing the warmer atmosphere typically associated with these kinds of retreats.

“I grew up in Northern Ontario and always loved the winter” says Etzinger. “We have a lot of new Canadians in the company and realized some people might not have ever experienced that true Canadiana winter experience.”

Deerhurst staff and RL Solutions developed a flexible agenda that emphasized choice and collaboration. Opportunities for fun and social interaction were weaved in and around keynote and educational breakout sessions. If employees weren’t taking over the Maple Pub & Patio for a private pub night, complete with a campfire on the deck, they were indulging in the vast and varied buffet of wintertime activities Deerhurst has to offer.

Upon their arrival the first night, team members had the choice of either attending the resort’s popular live stage show, night skiing at Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Area, or just relaxing at the bar or in their room. Being able to set their own pace the first night was appreciated by staff, and made everyone both comfortable and excited from the get-go.

The adrenaline really started to flow in the great outdoors, with pond hockey, skiing and snowmobiling being some of the more popular choices for RL staff over the rest of the weekend. Zaparanuik says there was one specific activity that left several staff members, many of whom were experiencing winter in Muskoka for the first time, positively giddy.

“The people who had the opportunity to go dog sledding were absolutely blown away. They could not stop talking about how amazing the experience was,” she says. “Overall, the sheer beauty of Deerhurst in the middle of the winter was something I don’t think a lot of people were expecting either.”

Etzinger looks back at what RL Solutions was able to accomplish in their inaugural “RL Collabratory” and was pleased that it exceeded expectations.

“Initially we were looking at a program that went from Friday to Monday and we scaled it back by one day thinking, we couldn’t ask our staff to give up four days on such short notice. As it turned out, people had such an amazing time and the experience was so wonderful, they didn’t want to leave,” he says. “Our objectives were comradery; team building; and spirit, and I believe we exceeded the expectations of our staff.”

In doing so, two things became abundantly clear: that work families can benefit as much from ‘quality time’ away as any family, and that winter can become a new favourite experience in the right setting.

Posted December 3, 2015