Nextmv has been a fully distributed team since day one. But being distributed doesn’t mean we fall into little silos and forego all face-to-face opportunities. We believe facetime matters for building a successful distributed company.
In the Before Times, we would have organized an in-person retreat (remember those?) to reap the benefits of working side by side and getting to know each other in three-dimensional, physical space. Since we’re not yet clear of the pandemic, we instead ran our very first virtual company retreat in April.
Over the past year, I think we’ve all learned that virtual retreats are different: you don't have the squeals of joy as people meet, the opportunity to further understand people’s mannerisms and sense of humor, and it can be harder to recreate the in between spontaneous moments where people connect over walks, coffee, or meals. That said, there are benefits to going virtual for retreats!
With a virtual approach, people weren't pulled out of their routines. They got to spend the evenings with their partners, tuck their kids into bed, and walk their dogs in the afternoon. Everyone could recharge on their own time. Additionally, our customers weren’t disrupted with team members being in new time zones or all-day sessions. And, of course, we kept people safe and healthy by not asking them to travel right now.
During our first remote retreat at Nextmv, we learned a few things. But, first, we’ll share our exact agenda for the week.
Orange signifies company-wide events, yellow is for managers, blue is for individual contributors and purple for team leads.
Monday was the only day with dual tracks.
Nothing on the retreat schedule! We encouraged the team to take Friday afternoon offline.
We had a separate Google Calendar for the retreat, a page in Notion with the schedule and agendas for each session, a Slack channel for posting the schedule each day, and we kicked off the week with a meeting about the schedule for the week.
And, we still could have shared the agenda more. As with all things on a remote team, it is important to repeat yourself and give people as much context as possible. One suggestion a team member had was to send people notebooks ahead of time with the schedule printed on the first page.
We kept our retreat hours short, just 2-3 hours each day. Because all of the sessions happened synchronously over Zoom, we built in 30-minute breaks each day for people to hop up, grab water, use the restroom, stretch, etc. When we ended sessions early, we also encouraged people to get up from their workspaces.
Our team is spread out across the globe with a 9-hour spread. This was another reason to cap the retreat at 2-3 hours per day. The sessions were late for our team members in Germany and early for our West Coast team in the US. We nudged people to shift their week around to account for the adjusted schedule so folks didn’t end up working extra time. This is something we could have repeated a few more times during the week.
One of the challenges of a remote retreat is creating opportunities for spontaneity and silliness. We tried a few new Zoom activities like our bonus scavenger hunt on Tuesday and we’re just getting to the size where breakout rooms make more sense. In the future, we’d like to experiment more with breakout rooms and the ability for people to move through breakout rooms based on topic (i.e., sports, kids, D&I, etc.).
Send your team some kind of silly prop that ties back to your company and culture. For us, that's bunny ears. They led to some fun photo ops and built connections through a shared physical object even when we're spread across the globe.
A few of the sessions of retreat week were meetings we already have on a weekly or bi-weekly basis: all hands, demo, and game night. Including sessions that the team was familiar with was a nice way to connect the week to our current way of working.
Our team grew from 13 to 21 over Q1, so the timing for this retreat was special. It gave us all an opportunity to get to know each better as well as align on Q2 goals and objectives. Even though in-person retreats are on pause, it was important to create moments for the team. If you have any questions or suggestions for future retreats, continue the conversation on Twitter @getnextmv.
It’s important to create opportunities to connect when building a distributed company. Retreats are one way to do that, even if they’re virtual. Here’s an in-depth look at our exact agenda for our first virtual retreat at Nextmv and what we learned in the process.
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