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Jo Hilditch

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Training venues: Getting away from it all


Jo Hilditch takes a look at the advantages of residential training and how choosing the right environment is key to success.

We're all dealing with the fallout from the global economic crisis. Most British businesses are experiencing severe budget cuts, a reduced head count or even a re-modelled (unrecognisable) company structure in an attempt to manage the impact of the recession.
One of the first things to make the chop tends to be investment in residential training. Companies normally consider it to be, at best, a luxury or, at worst, unnecessary. In frugal times, HR managers would prefer to invest in cut price, off the shelf, in-house training that can be bought cheap and rolled out across the business regardless of individual need or appropriateness.
According to the CIPD's Learning & Development annual survey report 2009, the average spend on training per employee has fallen from £300 in 2008 to £220 in 2009. This cut back is having a significant impact on external training considering it currently makes up 64% of a company's total investment in training.
However, this kind of approach is a false economy – even in a time of economic uncertainty. Residential training has been shown to have an enormous impact on employees' skills, motivation, morale and efficiency. While internal training could be seen to be more cost-effective and easier to implement, with a little investment, off-site training can go a long way and can deliver a greater return for your business. And what better time to put it to use than when you're working with a leaner team and you can't afford to recruit new talent?

So what are the key benefits of residential training?


Lack of distraction

When someone is taken out of their normal working environment – namely when they put down the phone, log off from their emails and walk away from their desks – you have their undivided attention. For trainers, this means you don't have to compete with other more pressing tasks or distractions. For employees, it means you can be reassured that your staff are more likely to absorb the messages of the training session.

A new environment

Residential training also has the advantage of creating new stimuli. A new location, ideally with a bit of distance, creates a clear distinction between work and training. New surroundings can inspire new ideas and you'll find your teams automatically open their eyes and ears to new ways of doing things. Put quite simply, they have the space to think, create and discover.

Take time

As well as space, off-site training gives you time – time to assess, time to learn and time to improve. When we're caught up in our everyday tasks, it's rare that we take a moment to step back and evaluate the work we're doing. Yet, it's only by taking time out, that we can truly evaluate the effectiveness of what we're doing. Taking a day (or two!) to stop and learn, can avoid rushed decisions and hasty actions.

An opportunity to connect with colleagues

We mustn't forget the social benefits of residential training. Away from the office (and the office politics) your employees have a chance to get to know and understand their colleagues better. Whether it's over a breakfast brainstorm or an afternoon of adrenalin-fuelled challenges, you'll watch your team improve the ways they can work together. It's not surprising people say it's only when they leave the office that they get to know the person sat right next to them.

Making it personal

The most important thing for a successful residential training course lies in making the experience truly individual – and that comes down to the venue you choose. Whether it's having a luxurious home-from-home environment, a choice of favourite foods on the menu or a flexible space that can be tailored exactly for your needs, the right kind of venue can put your team immediately at ease. After all, it's the little things that count.
Corporate venues are listening to customers and reading the signs of the economy. They understand that times are tough and budgets need to work harder but also appreciate the impact that a tailor-made experience can have on your team and the value it can have to your business. A recent visitor to The Colloquy, Spencer Bowman from Mars Chocolate, said that his three key criteria for successful residential training are that it has value, feels different and that the venue offers a tailor-made environment.
I couldn't agree more. Which is why, when you're looking for a venue, I would suggest you consider these five things:
  1. Is it far enough away from the office, that people won't be tempted to 'pop back' to their desks?
  2. Is it comfortable and friendly, so your team feel relaxed and at ease?
  3. Will your employees feel excited and inspired by the environment, to aid creativity?
  4. Can the venue adapt its facilities and services to your individual needs, so it truly is a bespoke event?
  5. Will the experience be memorable?
So when you are next thinking about your training budget, why not get away from it all? Give your team permission to press the pause button, invest in residential training and create a unique experience that will allow them to learn more about themselves, their team and how they can put their skills to even better use.
Jo Hilditch runs White Heron Properties overseeing five UK properties including The Colloquy, a premium corporate retreat in the Herefordshire countryside. A successful business woman, Jo also runs her family's farm and is a major supplier of British blackcurrants to Ribena and cider apples to Strongbow. Further information about The Colloquy can be found at


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