5 Things I Learned Planning Our First In-Person Offsite For a Remote Company

My role as Head of Operations is to make sure things are running smoothly. As a remote first company, we've built systems to work online and use oodles of apps that try to synthesize personal connections. 

But at the end of the day there's no replacement for being in-person when it comes to team bonding.

Accord has 13 employees in 8 cities around the world and up until recently many folks had never met. When we started as a remote first company, the plan was to get the entire company together twice a year. With everything that is happening in the world that obviously was not going to happen in 2020 or even most of 2021. 

Why Now? 

Given the current state of the world we had to think long and hard about getting folks together. An influx of people joined Accord over the summer, including brand new orgs. We were all trying to figure out who should own what and how folks worked. It was clear that meeting in person would help meld teams together and get some context around the way people worked. 

And then there’s the pandemic and we wanted to keep folks safe. I had personal conversations with everyone about vaccination statuses and their comfort levels -- what did “safe” mean to them. 

Everything came to a head when it was finally time to launch. We wanted to put Accord out there for the world to see, and what better way than to do that together. Launching was an emotional rollercoaster (highly recommend reading our Launch blog post for a funny story) and I am so grateful we were able to be together. It would have been so stressful and anticlimactic otherwise. 

And We’re Off

Finally, we picked a launch/offsite date in August 2021, found a location and rules that everyone at the company felt safe with, and hopped on planes to finally meet, do some serious team bonding... and most importantly get this company launched!

Running a full company offsite plus a launch, during a pandemic, with 12 people that had never met was certainly an exciting, but challenging event and I wanted to share what went well & what I will do differently next time. 

Again Again! 

  1. Stay Together, But Have Space 

We all stayed in one big house, but folks had time & space to retreat when necessary. This made many logistics much easier & gave us the flexibility to not have to plan every moment of every day. 

  1. Get Your Team Involved In Planning

We are a small company & still able to keep mostly everyone happy.  I sent surveys & spent a fair amount of time 1-1 with folks making sure I understood what everyone’s needs were. 

For example: 

  • Are you comfortable sharing a room? 
  • What would be a fun activity you would like to do? 
  • Location preferences? 
  • Would anyone like to cook for the group one evening? 
  • Who wants to pick a restaurant? 
  • Voting on final rental house

Remember, don’t ask the question if you are not prepared to follow up on it :). I truly cared about how folks were going to spend this time & wanted everyone to be comfortable and feel safe. Going to continue to involve as many people as possible for as long as possible. 

Tweaks For Next Time

  1. Keep It Simple

I was SO worried about the launch and did not know what to expect as far as the “work stations” at the house. 

Ended up over engineering a few things & brought: 

  • a portable wifi system
  • rented monitors & extension cords
  • those oversized sticky note posters and had notes on the walls all around the house 

Hardly used any of it. For the wifi, I do think we got lucky with a place that could handle everything we needed to do, but I was prepared for 12 computers all on zoom at once. 

  1. Structured Social Time 

Don’t expect your teams to automatically bond. We did a lot of “hanging out” which was great & there were plenty of activities at the house (games, volleyball, etc), but at the next one I am going to have some fun structured events for us to do. 

At a virtual offsite months ago, I actually created a trivia game made by fun facts about folks on the team. That got amazing feedback from the team & we all learned a lot about each other. 

Other ideas include:  

  • Escape Room
  • Organized game night
  • Personality tests/training 
  • Other ways for us to get to know each other  
  1. Make It Remote Friendly 

I know what you are thinking, the entire point is to be together IRL. Yes, but there will always be someone who is unable to attend.

We had one Accordion who was not able to make it, so we video conferenced them in on a big TV & could chat when needed. But I think we could have done a better job being intentional about making it remote friendly. 

Biggest Learning Yet

Running a remote first company has a plethora of pros, but we have to be super intentional about creating personal connections. Surprisingly, being forced to be intentional about those interactions is becoming a super power of ours. 

Can’t wait to share more about our learnings soon and please feel free to reach out with ideas or if you want to jam on offsites & remote-first companies!

- Dani, The happiest offsite thrower there ever was