Our First Retreat
Working in a remote-first consultancy comes with many benefits, such as
- work from wherever you want 🏝
- work whenever you feel most productive 🦉
- no conference rooms 🤮
But after six months of working together, we thought it’s time to meet in person and have a fun week together. This happened in Paphos, Cyprus, early June 2018.
Planning a Retreat for 16 people from different countries
Planning a retreat for 16 people comes with it’s challenges; challenges which we were happy to accept! Cyprus is set in it’s ways when it comes to renting villas, and planning activities. Rarely can one make bookings online without having to call someone (Ugh, so 90s!)
We decided to invite significant others to the retreat because having a work-life balance is important to us. We also wanted everyone to have an opportunity to explore Cyprus with their loved ones, youngest of our new ‘family’ being a 9 month old baby. Some decided straight away to get a rental car and explore in their free time, while others made extensive use of the pool area. We’re happy everyone accepted the invitation and brought their partners. Cyprus is famous for it’s sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and beautiful villas. We wanted to have the entire party stay in one self catering villa to promote sharing and bonding.
Finding one villa with so many bedrooms was a real challenge though and it took several weeks of emails and calls to finally get everything confirmed. And it didn’t stop there. We wanted the location and villa to be a surprise so we didn’t tell anyone where we’re staying. That was quite nerve-racking for us and them until the last minute, but the surprise and excitement was totally worth it! Also, since we hadn’t seen the location before in person, we didn’t over/undersell the property. Once the accommodation was set, we also needed to arrange transport (flights, busses etc.) for everyone to get to and from the villa and schedule fun activities. We did this with a classic sheet, letting everyone vote for activities beforehands. We also prepared a calendar for the week in advance to set the expectations a little bit. Since this was a new experience for everyone we kept our calendar open ended.
Work, Life, Fun
We asked everyone of their expectations and wishes from the HC Retreat. For most of us it was the first time being part of such an event and we needed to synchronise and match expectations. We decided to split the week into 3 parts: Work in the mornings, then lunch and free afternoons, with further events in the evenings such as BBQs. Thursday we took the whole day for group activities (Jeep Safari with Andreas) and Friday was free for everyone. This worked out great and we got to discuss things we hadn’t got a chance to and everyone also got time to relax or explore Cyprus. A perfect mix.
By far the best day of the retreat we had with Andreas from Ecotour Adventures. Andreas and Louis picked us up early in the morning with two Land Rover Defender 4x4 cars and drove us off-road through the protected area of Akamas, explaining a lot about the flora, fauna, wildlife and history of Cyprus. Andreas and Louis both are friendly, entertaining and informative! The tour also included home made Mama’s Lemonade and Wine.
Significant Other Track
One of the challenges we faced was planning activities for significant others and making clear separations of work time / meetings / lunches. Most of the partners were quite flexible and happy to be lounging around the pool, which may have interrupted our motivation to get things done.
We didn’t mark team-only events clearly enough and caused some confusion especially when it came to lunch/dinner, since the partners didn’t know each other and couldn’t arrange alternatives. So in the end we were together most of the time, which wasn’t bad either. On our next retreat, a clear Significant Other Track will be scheduled, to make sure everyone can work undisturbed for a few hours and team-only events are for the team only (the time to have boring discussions about the latest framework or library that came out).
Retreat for our clients
Of course these retreats are not exclusive to team members. One of our clients decided to join us for a few days to stay with the team and have a short escape from grey office walls. We had a few meetings in the pool, had dinner together and discussed the critical parts of the project, next steps etc. No conference room or whiteboard required.
Beach. Pool. Crystal clear sea. A great villa. A week in sunny Cyprus. It’s hard to get that wrong. We all had an amazing time and it was incredible to spend time with everyone in such a setting. While it sounds tempting to just make the villa an office and do this every day, the special part about this was the time limitation. It wouldn’t be anything else than “going to the office”, if it would be permanent. So we’re all going back to the office of our choice, be it a co-working or a cafe near the beach. And look forward to the next retreat.