As we say in French: loin des yeux loin du coeur.
Human relationships are already complex. When you add in the fact that we (at DNSimple) work in different countries and in different time zones, it can become a recipe for a lack of motivation.
After a few months apart, we often feel a little bit disconnected and begin to lose sight of both our company and personal goals. This is why, every three to four months, we organize a team meetup.
These meetings are a way for us to review what we've done as well as decide (together) what comes next. They are a pit stop for our product development, they are a time to check how everybody is feeling. Some of the questions that Anthony asks us are sometimes really surprising. For example: "how is your job serving you?".
There is also an important human aspect to holding these team meet-ups. That is not a term that you use a lot in business but for dnsimple, one important goal is to make memories together and connect in a different way. We hold a Summer family meet-up as well, where the team is welcome to bring their significant other and children. I believe that it is the most important one for the well-being of the team. The team members are put in their day-to-day situation, just as if they were at home. Everyone is taking care of the kids and taking care of themselves. This gives everyone another perspective of their colleagues, and seeing how they behave in a group situation is informative and interesting.
Another important aspect of this family meet up, partners and/or children see why the team members are working so hard at home. They can physically see and interact with the people you spend so much time online working with. They can see "for real" who Joseph, Mak, or Sebastian are. Seeing and meeting the other team members helps each family to more easily accept all of the time the team members spend working instead of spending quality times with their family because now the families actually know the other members of the team.
On the other hand, it also a way for the company to respect the team members and to acknowledge that they have a family life, that family is more important than work, and that they should never sacrifice this aspect of their private life regardless of them having kids, no kids, partners, or no partners.
Step 1: Picking the location
Because our team is both in the North America and in Europe, we take turns alternating the location of our meetup between the two. We have to take our budget into consideration. For instance, getting the entire team to Asia would be too costly so we stick to Europe and US for now.
It's often Anthony who comes up with an idea for where to hold our meetings, but the team has also had some ideas and have given some input when choosing the location. So far, we have picked places based on where one of the team members lives, thus making it easier to organize. Since someone knows the area, it is easier to choose restaurants and the right neighborhood to stay. Our first meetup was in Pomas, it was only 6 team members. We chose Pomas (south France) because it is where we (Anthony and I) live. It was convenient and cheap. Not only was the lodging inexpensive, but I also cooked most of the meals so it was not too much of a strain on the limited budget we had at the time. From experience it's not because you stay in a expensive place that the experience with the team is better.
We often choose a place where there are things to do: we are here at the team meet up to work but also to discover things together. So be aware that is important to find a place where there are touristy things to do. Learning together about something completely different than the internet is a wonderful experience. Visiting the Haribo Factory (candy factory), having a picnic near Pont du Gard, wine tasting, going to the outdoor french market together, or visiting a brewery in Sheboygan are just a few of the fabulous outings we took together. So many good memories that we share now.
Step 2: Finding the right place to accomodate the team
Once you choose a geographical location, you must then find a hotel, a bed & breakfast, or house to stay at. My first criteria is the internet, the connection is never perfect but you have to be able to work. Then for me personally, the most important is to have access to a good, well-equipped kitchen and to be able to have space where we can all eat together. I loved the kitchen we had in Honolulu (Hawaii) or the one in Avignon. We had a huge table where everybody could sit outside. During our last meetup, a family meeting which took place in Sheboygan (WI), it was difficult to have a meal together. We had to rent three villas and we did not have a communal space to just eat together or spend time together in one place. Sheboygan had a lot of restaurants so we did manage to have a few experiences of eating all together at least a few times. Enough space for everybody to be comfortable/good kitchen/good internet it seems like an easy combo…but not so much. It takes a lot of research to find a good place.
Being French and having 4 children, I am of course biased. I prefer the family retreats in France, especially the one we did near Avignon two summers ago.
Step 3: Creating the schedule
During the retreats, we have work to do and a detailed agenda of all the topics that we want to discuss. We take breaks to cook together or to go to a restaurant. We also visit local sights or try to meet with interesting artisans that make a living from their passion. Preparing dinner, snack, or lunch is always a nice experience which everybody can pitch in with their own little specialty. I'll never forget Aaron's madeleines and coffee from our last retreat.
We tend to trust VRBO and TripAdvisor for housing and tips on restaurants.
We're currently in Lanzarote (Spain) and we were lucky enough to find a wonderful villa for us to stay in, along with tips for the restaurants and the sights from two members of our team.
Of course there is something that goes wrong or something that is forgotten, but you grow from your mistakes. Something to think about is food allergies or special food requirements. Are team members vegetarian or vegan? Are there members that snore really loudly!? Also, it is important to ask what the team members dislike eating in order to make it easier at restaurants or when you prepare foods (mushrooms are always tricky!). And before getting together try to remember what their favorite soft drinks and snacks are, it makes it really personal. Putting this type of thought into preparing the retreat will make a world of difference.
Finally the best part of the retreat is being able to talk about anything and everything with people that you care about.