I just got back from our annual sales summit. This is one of two annual company meetings we hold offsite (the other being our strategic planning sessions). This is the second year in a row we faced a snowstorm the day of our event and had to endure a white knuckle drive to get to our out-of-town meeting. Add to that being out of the office and getting a day and a half behind on work, plus a night away from our families, and you could ask "is it worth the hassle of going offsite?"
Actually, I think it is. For major meetings like this, I believe there is value to assembling in a more casual atmosphere. Everyone naturally thinks differently out of the office, it helps to break down hierarchies, it minimizes distractions, and it provides an opportunity for your employees to get to know each other better on a personal level.
I also think there is a huge interpersonal benefit to offsite meetings. People not only share ideas and best practices, but they build relationships. This is critical to creating a team atmosphere, and especially important if everyone doesn’t physically work together on a daily basis. If you have ever been part of a harmonious, high functioning team, you understand what a difference that can make. The cultural difference is not only a benefit to the employees, but I argue it is beneficial to clients and ultimately the company’s overall performance.
However, in my mind the biggest reason to have these training events offsite is they allow time for employees to focus on what Stephen Covey calls the "important but not urgent" quadrant. See Covey’s time management quadrant of importance vs. urgency. In the office, and probably in your personal life too, important but not urgent projects are always trumped by urgent and important items (and probably even unimportant items!). In addition, these important but not urgent items (like training and strategic planning) are "big picture" in nature and require large blocks of time which you typically don’t have when you’re in the office. Carving out time for personal development or planning is an investment. It will greatly enhance the quality of the work you do once you’re back to the day-to-day as you’ll be focused on the "right things" and will be able to perform them more efficiently and effectively due to the training experience.
Remember this definition of insanity — doing the same thing and expecting different results. Whether it’s at work or in your personal life, if you want different (better) results, be sure to make time for the "important but not urgent" things like planning and training. These things can help you create strategies, prioritize projects, and provide tools for the discipline you need to achieve your goals. So although out of office time can be a hassle (and during winter in Wisconsin may mean you end up in a ditch), it can be a critical step for success.