Most distributed companies bring their team members together on so-called offsites. Well, I guess you should call it an “onsite” since your remote team already work “off site” by default. Are you confused yet? Nevermind! Offsites are meant to meet, work, and play with fellow team members. Improving team bonding is a vital aspect to keep a remote team tight and connected. There are lots of ways to do this remotely, but in-person interaction is hard to mimic in a digital setup. That’s why organizing recurring offsites are the perfect solution.
Ideally, the goal of an offsite is to get a better connection with team members through bonding and sharing social activities. While doing that, you want the team also to learn new skills by doing workshops, Q&A sessions so that everyone has a chance to grow their knowledge and understanding on specific topics. One of the other key parts of offsites are team spirit and collaboration. Meeting each other is a great chance to lift the team spirit and kickstart deeper conversations around feedback, ideas, or other thoughts to improve as a team.
As opposed to a regular office where you see your co-workers daily, remote workers rarely see each other in real life. So, is it required to organize offsites at a remote company? No, it’s not! However, it’s stimulating to bring a team to a different place, try new things, learn about the local culture, and be emerged by a new environment. There might be an aspect of personal preference, where some people prefer digital interaction instead of real-life interaction. Nevertheless, the bodily sense of real physical presence can’t be replaced entirely through a computer. Any of these five basic senses (taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound) needs to be triggered somehow to create a more in-depth experience for ourselves and with others. These senses don’t necessarily need to be in direct relation with the other person, but could also be triggered in a particular setting when talking to someone digitally. For example, when you’re both drinking coffee while video calling, you’re both sharing an experience that trigger multiple senses. Even though you’re not physically together, besides your sight and sound being triggered, you get a more profound connection through the smell and taste of the coffee that both had while chatting. The more senses triggered, the stronger your connection will be.
There are different types of schedules that remote companies apply to their offsite week. But, the goal is usually the same; to have a right balance between work, social, and relaxation time. Some teams choose to have a 50/50 balance between work and non-work social time. Others instead apply an 80/20 schedule where it’s more about working on projects together. Offsites at Mapillary are five days including travel day. On the first day, the team arrives and gathers for dinner in the evening together. The second day is all about back-to-back presentations from team leads to make sure everyone in the company is on the same page on the company’s latest and greatest. The two following days of the week are set in an unconference style format, which means that there is an open schedule grid with 30-minute session slots. On the spot, everyone in the team decides to host or join a meeting or presentation on one of the slots. You can participate in any session you like even though it’s not one of your team, and whoever shows up are the right people. At the end of the week, there is time reserved for team building activities and a get-together to snap team photos. On the last day, the team sets off back home again with fresh new energy and ideas after a successful offsite week.
Offsites are often filled with lots of intense moments of interaction. It has probably been a while since you’ve last met others or you might not have met some before. It takes lots of energy and focus on spending time with people, introducing yourself, sharing thoughts, talk about projects, and do activities. There are plenty of people that are sensitive to this, and it’s good that whenever you feel you’re close to that edge, that you step back and take a break. Some find it useful to do that at the end of the day; others rather have short breaks throughout the day. Find solitude in a private space to regain energy and create balance for yourself, so that you’re ready and focused for the next moment of activities.
I can highly encourage creating a team of diverse people from all over the world that work in an unbiased environment that empowers empathy and deep respect for each other. Diversity should not be limited to gender, gender identity and expression, race, sexual orientation, geographical location, political and religious affiliations, cultural and/or socioeconomic background, disabilities, or age. It’s beautiful to see how a diverse team gets together and finds alignment despite their differences.
Inclusion is the environment that you create in order to collaborate, support, and respect differences. It’s essential that during an offsite you think inclusive on all fronts and foster open dialogue and transparency about anything. Make sure that your values tie in closely with the habit of including people into conversations and activities. Don’t let anyone feel left out, and leave space for people to join, share their opinion, feel connected, and are part of the team.
I hope the above tips will give you an amazing offsite experience that makes your work fun, challenging, and exciting!