Team Retreat: How They Can Help Remote Teams "Click"

Remote work is a growing reality. In the 21st century, we have distributed companies that work 100% remotely, with team members scattered around the world.

While remote work has its benefits - diversity in background and experiences, access to an immense talent pool, cut down office costs to name a few - it also brings its challenges. And the biggest one is communication.

There are several pieces of software that aim to facilitate communication in a remote work environment. At OmbuLabs, we use Slack for our day-to-day conversations and Zoom for our calls. However, as a remote team, we don't get to meet our teammates face to face. We don't have "water cooler" chats or as many opportunities for casual chats as an office environment.

So how can we bring our team closer together? How can we build that team spirit that comes from seeing everyone and talking about our casual, social lives? Well, last month we had a team retreat. And it was great.

team retreat ombulabs

The Idea

A team retreat is supposed to bring the team together. We are a distributed team, with teammates located in four different countries. As such, while some of our teammates are located in the same country/city and have a chance to meet in person every once in a while, folks in different countries only communicate online.

Therefore, it was definitely interesting for us to bring the team together and give everyone an opportunity to interact. After all, we spend a great part of our day interacting with each other. We might as well put a "real world" face to the names.

The Planning

When putting together a team retreat, it is important to plan it well. What are the best dates? How about a location? Team members will be travelling from their home countries to the retreat destination to spend a few days with the team, it is important to take distance into consideration.

Additionally, it is important to plan for visas. What if a teammate's Visa is denied? What if the process takes too long? One lesson we learned is it is always better to plan ahead. At OmbuLabs, our goal now is to announce the retreat dates and destination a year in advance. This way, the team has a chance to get all necessary documentation sorted.

It is also important to have a retreat point of contact. Someone who will be in charge of planning and can answer questions regarding flights, accommodation, schedule, documentation, etc. This way, team members aren't lost seeking information.

The Agenda

Once the retreat is planned and everything is booked, we need an agenda for the event. After all, we only have the opportunity to bring everyone to the same location once a year.

We like to open our retreats with a talk from our CEO on the company's vision and mission. This way, we all know where we're going.

It is also important to plan your agenda carefully. A good way to get to great topics is to ask yourself "what challenges are we facing right now? And, of these, which ones impact us the most?". In a team retreat we have the opportunity to bring all heads together in the same room. It is a unique opportunity to foster discussion face-to-face, without the reservations we all have when interacting online. Therefore, make it matter.

At our team retreat, we talked about company culture, discussed our mentorship program, and gathered ideas to improve our systems and processes.

However, a good agenda must also include fun activities. A system we found effective was to break up presentations and discussions with fun team activities. This way, the day doesn't get boring and we can foster better discussions.

The Activities

When planning activities in a team retreat, it is important to think of the value they bring. We want activities that will bring the team together while being entertaining, that will serve a clear purpose while being fun and enjoyable.

Some activities we did include:

team retreat activities

team retreat activities

There is a great deal of flexibility with activities and lots of good games you can play with your team. Take advantage of it and choose games that will bring your team together.

Rules

It is not all fun and games. It is important to understand the whole team will be together in one location for a company event. Even though we all want to have fun, it is important to keep it professional and make sure nobody is made uncomfortable.

In order to ensure things went smoothly, we used the Contributor Covenant for inspiration to come up with a Code of Conduct that was shared with all teammembers. This way, we established procedures for team members to follow if they felt uncomfortable for any reason.

Time Off

We planned the retreat to include some time off during the week so team members could interact in an unstructured environment as well as enjoy the location and engage in activities that interest them.

We were away for a week. On Monday, we were all travelling in, so we didn't include any planned activities. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we worked on client projects during the morning and company activities in the afternoon. We left evenings out so teammates could enjoy the resort and interact.

Finally, we took Friday off. This gave everyone a chance to explore, engage on a more personal level and enjoy external activities of interest.

We found including time off during the retreat to be very positive. It allowed us to get to know each other on a personal level, foster better relationships and we also learned a lot about each other's background and taste in music.

Feedback

After the retreat, it is a good idea to get feedback. This was our first team retreat, so there is definitely room for improvement.

We shared a feedback form with the whole team giving people the chance to talk about our choice of destination, the activities and the experience itself. What was amazing? What could we do better? This feedback will help us plan better retreats and grow closer as a company.