Nextmv has been a fully distributed team since day one. But being distributed doesn’t mean we fall into little silos and forego all face-to-face opportunities. We believe facetime matters for building a successful distributed company.
In the Before Times, we would have organized an in-person retreat (remember those?) to reap the benefits of working side by side and getting to know each other in three-dimensional, physical space. Since we’re not yet clear of the pandemic, we instead ran our very first virtual company retreat in April.
Over the past year, I think we’ve all learned that virtual retreats are different: you don't have the squeals of joy as people meet, the opportunity to further understand people’s mannerisms and sense of humor, and it can be harder to recreate the in between spontaneous moments where people connect over walks, coffee, or meals. That said, there are benefits to going virtual for retreats!
With a virtual approach, people weren't pulled out of their routines. They got to spend the evenings with their partners, tuck their kids into bed, and walk their dogs in the afternoon. Everyone could recharge on their own time. Additionally, our customers weren’t disrupted with team members being in new time zones or all-day sessions. And, of course, we kept people safe and healthy by not asking them to travel right now.
During our first remote retreat at Nextmv, we learned a few things. But, first, we’ll share our exact agenda for the week.
Our exact agenda for the week
Monday was the only day with dual tracks.
- Kickoff: We started the retreat with an all company meeting to align on the schedule and outcomes for the week, discuss our Q2 themes, and preview our goals for the quarter.
- Manager Meetup: A goal on our team is to make Nextmv a place where anybody can grow. As our first manager meetup, we discussed expectations for managers, our system for career progression at Nextmv, and 1-1s.
- Peer Masterminds: At the same time as the manager meetup, individual contributors were paired with someone they don’t typically work with for 1-1 conversations about both work and personal life. The same pairing will meet once a month for a 1-1 during Q2.
- Q2 Planning Focus Areas by Team: We asked team leads to come to this session prepared with goals for their function that aligned with our company focus areas for the quarter. Then, we discussed as a group and provided feedback.
- Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Survey and Discussion: We ran a D&I survey at the end of Q1. In this session, we reviewed and discussed the results. Then, we went into smaller breakout rooms to debrief our reactions and begin conversations on areas for improvement.
- Demo:30: This is an adaptation of an existing company ritual. Every other Friday, a team member demos a new feature, project, or system. Members from our product, decision analysis, and marketing teams gave sneak peeks of what they’ve been working on.
- Brunch/Lunch/Dinner: We headed off into breakout rooms by function - product, engineering, and operations - with strict instructions to discuss anything but work. We provided the groups with a few prompts such as discussing the origin of first or last names, and favorite traditions or holidays.
- Bonus Scavenger Hunt: We ended the retreat portion of the day with a quick scavenger hunt. We gave the team 5 minutes to find: The biggest book (longest page count wins!), the weirdest thing in your fridge, and something yellow. It was a fun way to get a peek into people’s lives as well as get people up and out of their seats.
- Personality & Work Styles Workshop: This was facilitated by [LifeLabs Learning](https://lifelabslearning.com/companies/workshops/). Our team found the session engaging and it gave us a shared understanding and language for how we each work. It was also nice to have a day where no one on the team was in charge of facilitation.
- All Hands: This is where we shared our Q2 Company goals and highlighted how each team and individual are impacting these goals. The Q2 Planning Focus Areas by team session on Monday helped us get here.
- Q&A As is always the case, we ran short on time for Q&A. Next time, we might start with Q&A or be more intentional about pausing for this time.
- It’s Game Night Somewhere: This is another pre-existing ritual. Every other Friday morning or afternoon, depending on timezone, our team gathers for game time. We made a special edition of Nextmv team member trivia for this week by gathering little known facts about our team and putting them into trivia format using [Quizizz](https://quizizz.com/).
- Book Club (optional): Before the retreat started, a few team members started reading *[Business of Belonging](https://cmxhub.com/the-business-of-belonging/)* together. We kept this session optional and invited anyone who wanted to discuss community building.
Nothing on the retreat schedule! We encouraged the team to take Friday afternoon offline.
What we learned
Over-communicate the schedule
We had a separate Google Calendar for the retreat, a page in Notion with the schedule and agendas for each session, a Slack channel for posting the schedule each day, and we kicked off the week with a meeting about the schedule for the week.
And, we still could have shared the agenda more. As with all things on a remote team, it is important to repeat yourself and give people as much context as possible. One suggestion a team member had was to send people notebooks ahead of time with the schedule printed on the first page.
Build in breaks
We kept our retreat hours short, just 2-3 hours each day. Because all of the sessions happened synchronously over Zoom, we built in 30-minute breaks each day for people to hop up, grab water, use the restroom, stretch, etc. When we ended sessions early, we also encouraged people to get up from their workspaces.
Keep timezones in mind and nudge team members
Our team is spread out across the globe with a 9-hour spread. This was another reason to cap the retreat at 2-3 hours per day. The sessions were late for our team members in Germany and early for our West Coast team in the US. We nudged people to shift their week around to account for the adjusted schedule so folks didn’t end up working extra time. This is something we could have repeated a few more times during the week.
Create space for silliness
One of the challenges of a remote retreat is creating opportunities for spontaneity and silliness. We tried a few new Zoom activities like our bonus scavenger hunt on Tuesday and we’re just getting to the size where breakout rooms make more sense. In the future, we’d like to experiment more with breakout rooms and the ability for people to move through breakout rooms based on topic (i.e., sports, kids, D&I, etc.).
Send a prop
Send your team some kind of silly prop that ties back to your company and culture. For us, that's bunny ears. They led to some fun photo ops and built connections through a shared physical object even when we're spread across the globe.
Amplify existing company rituals
A few of the sessions of retreat week were meetings we already have on a weekly or bi-weekly basis: all hands, demo, and game night. Including sessions that the team was familiar with was a nice way to connect the week to our current way of working.
Our team grew from 13 to 21 over Q1, so the timing for this retreat was special. It gave us all an opportunity to get to know each better as well as align on Q2 goals and objectives. Even though in-person retreats are on pause, it was important to create moments for the team. If you have any questions or suggestions for future retreats, continue the conversation on Twitter @getnextmv.