Work

Swimming in ice cold waters, martial arts and other alternative ways these start-ups look to unwind

Travelade trip to Reykjadalur
Travelade

Workers are increasingly looking for alternative ways to bond with colleagues, ditching office drinks in favor of "sober socials," driven by a desire for a healthier lifestyle and bank balance.

In fact, three out of five employees said they wanted their employer to pick booze-free locations for work events, according to a survey of 2,400 U.K. workers by jobs website Totaljobs.

Half (54%) of those surveyed called work-related drinking perks "outdated," with another 42% saying they would reject job offers from businesses boasting boozy cultures.

CNBC takes a look at companies across Europe incorporating different, more inclusive ways for their employees to take a break from the daily grind and spend time together.

Swimming in the seas of Reykjavik

Employees at Icelandic firm Travelade, which creates personalized travel guides, regularly go swimming in the sea off the coast of the country's capital Reykjavik.

CEO Andri Kristinsson says an afternoon spent in the ice-cold ocean has both health benefits and ensures the team "bond on a different level" than when they go out for drinks.

"We do not hesitate to do something outdoorsy and active together if we're feeling a bit restless at work," he told CNBC.

For instance, employees went on an impromptu whale watching trip in the summer, he says.

As well as having a positive effect on employees mental and physical health, Kristinsson likes that it encouraged people to go outside their comfort zone and "shake up the usual dynamics of the group."

Martial arts

The co-founder of U.K. healthy fast-food chain Leon, John Vincent, started to train in martial art Wing Tsun after finding that work-related stress was impacting on his health.

He has since sought to integrate its philosophy into Leon's business model. Employees are able to take free classes at its martial arts studio, known as a kwoon.

Twice a year all the managers and head office staff go to Vincent's house for a wellbeing event, where they can practice Wing Tsun, yoga and get a massage.

Vincent has written a book with instructor Julian Hitch, "Winning Not Fighting: Why you need to rethink success and how you achieve it with the ancient art of Wing Tsun", due to be published next month. In it, he talks about working with Hitch to create a blueprint as to how he could lead the business "without burning out."

Together they have held sessions with Leon's management to explore how applying Wing Tsun principles can change the way they work.

"Because we want it to be a practical and physical tool too, not just a tool for management, Julian has begun a program of training the baristas (and the team members who work in the kitchen) in Wing Tsun, with remarkable results for their coffee-making speed and quality, as well as for their heart rate and stress (now relaxation) levels," Vincent explains in the book.

Relocating abroad

Johnny Warström, the CEO of Sweden-based interactive presentation platform Mentimeter, moves the entire office abroad for one month a year.

This year's trip was to Palermo, Italy, while previous locations have been Barcelona, Spain and San Francisco.

Warström tries to pick locations where Mentimeter has clients as this enables employees to better understand their corporate culture and cultural background, improving their working relationship.

The trip is optional and employees can decide how long they would like to stay but the cost of travel, accommodation and some of the group outings are covered by the company.

Warström builds group activities into the trip, as well as allowing his team free time to explore the area.

"By experiencing different cultures, employees are encouraged to experiment with different ways of working, leading to enhanced productivity and new creative ideas," he said.

"In fact, one of the most popular features on our platform was invented while away on our first month abroad to San Francisco in 2015."

Cooking classes

Memory, a start-up based in Norway developing AI-powered productivity tools, regularly hosts cooking evenings in its office kitchen, inviting different members of the team to introduce colleagues to their local cuisine.

CEO Mathias Mikkelsen says this helps bring the team closer by allowing them to learn about everyone's different backgrounds.

Social activities through work can sometimes feel forced upon employees, he says, with "often no more effort is put into these than bosses simply opening a bar tab."

The cooking sessions are voluntary, though Mikkelsen adds the evenings have become so popular it is often hard to fit everyone in the kitchen.

"I think the problem is when 'fun work activities' are automatically associated with a boozy night out," he said.

Bringing family to work

Maggie Brereton and Ina Kjaer left their roles advising on business deals earlier this year over concerns as to how their former employer dealt with allegations of bullying.

Almost a month ago they set up their own global firm, Eos Deal Advisory, where one of their focuses is creating an inclusive working culture for employees.

Brereton says it is important to consider how work events fit into colleagues' different personal schedules.

"Everyone talks about diversity, which is great, but we think that diversity without inclusion doesn't work because you're bringing the people in and they don't feel like they belong … they will not stay," says Kjaer.

On their first day in business Brereton and Kjaer invited employees to bring in their families to meet each other.

"It was nice for everybody to meet each other's other halves as well, because any job has its intensity and you do spend a long time at work, whichever way you do look at it. I think it is important that people know some of the people at work. It helps give context."

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