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Whether it’s to escape from the white noise of everyday routine, to stay flexible in your working methods, for team bonding or to help the sprint towards a tight deadline, working retreats can be an attractive concept.

But can creativity or productivity really be forced by applying pressure and removing distractions?

We sat down to pick the brains of two digital professionals who have taken working retreats to find out what they thought.

We began with Cennydd Bowles, a designer and writer (in that order), who was looking for a way to get away from the distractions of client work and spend some time on projects close to his heart back in 2011.

“I thought a working retreat would be a good way to spark the creative juices. I knew a lot of other people that felt they couldn’t find the time to devote to the work they felt most passionate about, so I spoke to a friend and we decided to try it out. Together we located an isolated cottage in Kent and invited a few acquaintances to join us,” he says.

“The point is to make it not feel like work. I wanted to come away with three or four quality writing pieces, and reintroduce myself to the world of being a writer, away from the trappings of daily life. Having concrete goals or targets to meet would have spoilt the effect of the freedom.”

When it comes to keeping in touch with the rest of the world, Cennydd says: “There wasn’t meant to be any internet or phone signal, although that wasn’t the entire purpose of the retreat. I personally find it very important to keep connected, but it’s good to exercise the muscle of switching off to show you can keep focus. In the end there did turn out to be some weak signal on site, which was something of a relief, even though I rarely used it.”

So did the retreat change the way Cennydd worked?

“It certainly catalysed a change in the way I approach writing. I now think of it more as an activity rather than an end-goal to be reached. I’ll choose to write for a period of time instead of focusing on finishing a project. People are addicted to completing things, and it’s useful to step back and see the bigger picture of the process.”

Forcing yourself to slow down, unplug, and move at your own pace is a recurrent principle within working retreats. Productivity can be wildly boosted in an unstructured environment, without that feeling of pressure to deliver.

A retreat is not just a way to maximise personal output, however. For many teams it can be an excellent environment to promote innovative thought.

When Elliot Crosby-McCullough was a head of research and development, he helped organise retreats, known as ‘Hackweeks’, for his development team.

“The intention behind the Hackweeks is to take the team out of the office environment and away from the day-to-day distractions of the business,” he says.

The goals for the retreats evolved over time; originally the intention was to invent and produce a single new creation, and they aim to produce 20 or more smaller prototypes.

Elliot says: “The latter was more successful than the former due to the difficulty of finding a single idea a dozen people can be enthusiastic about in such a short period. The week starts with an idea generation period. This took up to three days when trying to settle on one concept, and a few hours when settling on 30 or so concepts. The process for generating a larger set of good ideas was parallelised by breaking into smaller groups, reconstituting, filtering ideas, breaking apart again, and repeating until we had enough concepts.”

On the subject of connectivity, Elliot says: “We’ve tried both disconnected and highly-connected Hackweeks, and it really depends on what sort of work you’re doing.  If you’re working on a standalone fresh application, a disconnected approach can work well to maintain focus, but if you’re working on an intensive online project, for example, Facebook integration, you absolutely need a reliable internet connection.”

He adds: “Our location each time (typically a remote farm or house in Devon to prevent people popping back to the office) provided reduced mobile phone coverage which proved to be a benefit.”

So there you have it. Whether you’re looking to bond a team, kickstart creativity, boost your productivity or re-examine the way you work entirely, a working retreat may be just what you need. If nothing else, the experience could shed light on what is most important to you about your surroundings and the people you work with, as well as identifying where there’s room for improvement.

Have you taken a working retreat? If so, what was your experience? If not, would you consider one, as an individual or as a team?

Image credit: gnuckx

This is part of Nokia’s Smarter Everyday programme, which aims to inspire you with the latest ideas on productivity, collaboration and technology adoption. To download our latest ebook on designing your day, visit