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It’s been four years since our last Cognito offsite – or “Cognicon”. Our Cognicon ‘20 was, of course, cancelled. Like many international events it was a victim of border closures, plus uncertainty around travel and a time when vaccinations were still a pipe dream. 

In these four years, much has changed for the better. Despite the global conditions, our Cognito business has grown, our team is bigger, we have launched new offices, increased our global collaboration, broadened our client roster and advanced into new sectors. All of this happened without most of our team ever having met.

I’ve heard from friends in the industry that the attitude of many companies has been that if the business is growing with only online interaction, there’s no point in holding physical offsites or gatherings – and certainly not at a global level. 

I feel lucky that our team doesn’t think that way. Cognicon is an investment of time and money, but we feel that if we can achieve everything we have over the last few years without having met, then imagine what we could do if we strengthened these bonds by meeting in person.

When it became clear that the world was opening up again, the natural next step for the agency was to start planning a physical event – Cognicon ‘22. This Cognicon was going to be a little different – not only would it be the first for a very long time, but it was also our opportunity for the internal reveal of our new Cognito brand, which had been several months in the making.

Cognicons have previously been held in Europe or North America. With the opening of our Sydney office in January of this year and the growth of our APAC business, we felt we needed a destination that better represented the agency that we now are. Istanbul was the obvious choice. Straddling Europe and Asia, Istanbul’s blend of the old and new meant that geographically and symbolically, this was the perfect destination for Cognicon.

After six months of planning, over 60 Cognitians from our seven offices flew out to Istanbul in September to meet each other in real life for the very first time. We had a packed schedule: our four days together included opportunities to hear from each other and to learn while formalising bonds old and new.

Our programme was a mix of sessions to share knowledge, but to also hear from our teams across the business about the future. What does the future look like for Cognito: our brand, our clients, our industries and our people? This was balanced out with meals at local restaurants, a hotly contested game of Bingo and a scavenger hunt around Istanbul’s famous Grand Bazaar.

At the end of four days, you could not help but feel a shift in the atmosphere. Yes, we were tired but there was a sense of excitement about what was to come for Cognito. Colleagues had become friends, relationships had been established and strengthened. We left with a sense that the distances that separate us geographically felt much smaller than before. We’ve already started to see better and deeper collaboration amongst our team in the two weeks since we have returned. Long may that continue!

Nearly everyone I’ve spoken to about our offsite is pleasantly surprised that Cognito would dedicate time and money into getting the global team together in today’s hyper-connected world. After witnessing the impact that four short days can have on morale, engagement and relationships, I have to say to anyone considering holding an offsite: “What are you waiting for?” Here’s to Cognicon ‘24.

Emma Arora is the head of Cognito’s Singapore office