How to Run a Virtual Retreat

Just before the world shut down in 2020, the team at OmbuLabs participated in an in-person retreat in Punta Cana. It was a wonderful experience, and the team was eager to have another retreat in 2021. We even began planning one, but with the safety of team members at risk because of the pandemic and the difficulty of traveling it soon became obvious that an in-person retreat would not be possible. Therefore we turned our attention to having the retreat virtually.

This ended up being a very successful event, and we wanted to share the experience and strategies that we used to plan and execute this retreat which took place virtually over four days towards the end of 2021.

Planning the Retreat

To begin planning the retreat we reached out to all the team members and asked who would like to participate in the planning committee. Since this was a special event, anyone who wanted to was welcome to join in the planning.

A few members of the team willingly agreed to volunteer, and soon we were setting up a Slack channel to begin organizing.

There were a few key steps in the planning process.

Initial Brainstorming

The first thing the committee did was ask the operations team what was essential to incorporate into the retreat. The response we got included:

  • Wrapping up 2021 and 2022 planning
  • Review of our company core values
  • An open feedback session where everyone can share feedback on company topics and ask anything they want to know

Then we brainstormed other ideas with our small group on the planning committee. After some brainstorming we agreed that it would be nice if we could find out what the rest of the team wanted out of the retreat.

We set up a call that anyone in the team could participate in and we used Mural boards to keep track of our ideas.

We had a separate Mural board for each of our internal teams(marketing, open source, dev-tooling, and recruitment), so that each group was able to express what they would like their team to get out of the retreat.

We allowed all kinds of wacky ideas, for both company related activities and social team bonding activities. An example of social activity ideas that came out of this meeting:

team retreat brainstorming social

An example of company related activities that came out of this meeting:

team retreat brainstorming company

Sorting Through the Ideas

The next step was to sort the ideas, prioritize, and see what was feasible in the time we had to plan. We compiled all of the ideas into a board in Jira, and removed any duplicates. We then discussed what would actually work and what wouldn’t.

Did it sound amazing to do Karaoke all together? Yes, but after looking into the logistics, it didn’t really make sense. We were able to eliminate many ideas, and pair down the list to what would work. From there we picked the activities that we thought would be best in the time we had available.

Creating the Schedule

When we started planning the retreat, it was decided that we were not going to be working on client projects that week, so we would have more time to focus on the retreat itself. We split the schedule into these categories:

  • Icebreakers
  • Company related activities
  • Breaks
  • Social activities. We emphasized to the team that it was important that everybody was in the calls and to stick to the schedule that we created.

Some committee activities also included:

  • Creating a schedule that involved both company and social activities.
  • Making sure that all invites for the Google Calendar events were sent.
  • Hiring external companies for some special activities.
  • Preparing and sending a company gift to every team member.
  • Letting clients know that we would not be working during that time

The Week of the Retreat

Although it was an online encounter, everybody was excited for it, especially after we shared what the activities and schedule were.

team retreat schedule

Company Activities

The goal of the retreat was, of course, for the team to have a good time together, but also discuss important company goals and bigger picture items for the next year. Activities like the "2021 Retrospective", "Core Values Workshop", "2022 Planning" and "OmbuLabs future" were crucial so everyone could be on the same page and work together on what we expect for 2022 and upcoming years.

These activities were held either in the form of presentations, or workshops. The team listened to each other and learned or discussed about the past year and future year. We used Mural to work together doing workshops on topics such as company values.

Social Activities

We combined the company activities with the social activities and breaks to create a more pleasant experience.

One of OmbuLabs' foundations is having fun. We are not all serious people in our day-to-day lives, so why would we be during the retreat? As you may notice from our brainstorming suggestions people wanted to have amusing activities too.

Some icebreakers that we prepared were the Circle of Appreciation, Two Truths and a Lie, and Show and Tell. To provide the best experience we also hired Wellness Coach to run a Meditation session to start one of the days. For the social activities we played some online games together like Trivia and Jeopardy about the team. We also had a nice "Meet the Family" session, where people could introduce us to their families and homes if they chose to.

One of the favorite social activities was, without a doubt, the memes competition. Our CMO (Chef Meme Officer), Luis Sagastume, was the judge.

The memes competition consisted of eight rounds. For each round each team had to create their own custom meme (having to do with the company) with a popular meme template that was provided. We broke into smaller teams of three (using zoom breakout rooms) and worked together for a few minutes to create our custom meme.

At the end of each round our CMO selected a winner of the round. Needless to say, we were all laughing hysterically by the end of the competition.

Here are some winners from each round:

memes competition

We also hired Teambuilding to run two mystery/escape rooms for us. As a team of developers most of us enjoy solving puzzles, so this was a fun experience as well.

Conclusion

Our first virtual team retreat was a success. We got great feedback from the team and were able to achieve our biggest goals: to work together on the important company items while also having time to connect with each other on a more personal level and have fun.

For 2022 we have already decided to go with a virtual retreat again. Because of the pandemic not everybody feels safe traveling. This time we have a process in place that worked and we can replicate.