My reflections on our company retreat…
Our Newmeasures team is fully remote with team members in five states across three time zones. It’s my first experience with this type of work arrangement, and when I started in the fall of 2022, I wasn’t sure if it would work for me. I’m a “people-person” who thrives on strong connections with colleagues. Would I be able to build solid relationships with people using only video calls and IMs? After all, more than 70% of human communication is non-verbal and much of that is lost on video-conferencing platforms when non-verbal cues are misinterpreted or missed altogether.
I’ve had to be more intentional about getting to know my teammates than when working in an office. Casual conversations that make it easier to get to know the whole person happen more spontaneously in person. But after ten months of working at Newmeasures, I was feeling pretty good about the relationships that were forming over Zoom and Slack. Then I flew to Colorado for our annual company retreat.
While I’m already a big fan of company retreats, I didn’t realize how important they are for fully remote teams. Lee Stroud, President of Newmeasures, understands why in-person gatherings matter, and she took our retreat to another level. Not only did she think of every detail by using a well-crafted survey (of course she used a survey!), she created an itinerary with just the right balance of “work” and unstructured time. She also chose a setting that had physical spaces for organic water-cooler type connections and all-team gatherings.
According to Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering, meaningful gatherings don’t just happen. “It’s about creating a specific moment in which people have the social permission to come together at the same time and the same place and hang…so that people can actually connect, understand where they are, and feel like they belong.”
Our company retreat gave us permission to hang, to connect and to belong. In between our work sessions, we laughed and talked while making salad bowls, playing Catch Phrase, and hiking. The impromptu arm-wrestling tournament and line dancing lessons were lively, unexpected highlights.
In less than 72 hours, I learned more about my colleagues than in the previous ten months combined. Who we are on video calls is not the entire picture. Although one colleague is quiet on Zoom, she’s expressive and self-assured in person. Another colleague is all business on group calls and hilarious in person. And who knew another colleague could quietly out arm wrestle us all!
When we can be ourselves and feel accepted, that’s when we feel like we truly belong. When we feel like we belong, we let our guards down and we share our thoughts, ideas, and concerns freely. That’s when a team’s performance goes to the next level.
On the first Zoom call after the retreat, I shared my opinion about a potentially sensitive topic without editing it in my mind first. Why is that important? Because I felt totally comfortable with my two colleagues and trusted they would hear my opinion and give me the benefit of the doubt if needed. Why? Because I felt like they know me and care about me. Why? Because we were together in person—laughing, hiking, dancing, and sharing who we really are. It’s easier to assume the best intentions when you have positive shared in-person experiences with people. It’s easier to feel like you belong.