Mikael Cho
Dec 20, 2018 · 4 min read

We just got back from our 6th annual Unsplash retreat. Like always, it was a special time.

Our team is 19 people distributed across 8 cities. This is one of the rare times we get to be with each other in person. Some teammates get to meet for the first time.

Why we do retreats:

🕺We get to know each other better beyond work.

👋 People who don’t work together as often get to spend more time together.

🌲 Change of scenery refreshes mindset and thinking. Slow down to go fast.

💡 Makes time to reflect on why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Bill Gates has taken Think Weeks since the early days of Microsoft. He takes a week away in a remote location to focus on understanding the big shifts or strategic moves that can escape the day to day of operating a company. Our retreats are like a Think Week for our company.

Execution matters. But choosing what to execute on matters more. Retreats have been one of the best ways for us to create moments of reflection. To consider our actions for the first part of the year and make sure we are still pointed in the right direction going forward.

When we started building a company 6 years ago, we did a retreat as an experiment. The purpose was to create a kind of artist retreat. Similar to going to Wyoming to create an album or a writer going into the woods to write a book.

The result was the creation of our first product for our business at the time. That retreat also led to the mindset that led to the creation of Unsplash two months later.

Some of our biggest decisions, ways of thinking, and projects over the years trace back to retreats. Time together in a different setting has consistently made a big impact.

As our company evolved, retreats became less about needing to create a big project and more about reflecting on what we’re creating together.

We keep the structure of our retreats open. We do work and make time for other activities too.

One thing we make sure to do is eat meals together daily.

Each retreat we do one team activity we think could have the biggest impact on our daily decision-making.

Last time, everyone pitched Unsplash.

This time we did a Q/A session each night. Anyone could ask any question for any project going on in Unsplash. The team leading the project was responsible for answering. But anyone could jump in and answer.

Another thing we added this time was more emphasis on physical wellness. This included time for stretching/mobility, workouts, and conversations about healthy habits. We have plans to expand this further to mental wellness in the future.

Each retreat lasts about 7 days. We do one retreat every 7 months. Over years of experimenting, this amount of time and spacing feels right. Retreats are important but too often and they can feel disruptive to flow or other parts of life. Not enough and you can feel disconnected.

A full team retreat is one of the many benefits of being deliberate about keeping a small team. Pound for pound, nothing has been more effective for bringing our team together, creating new ideas, and aligning us all on how our daily work fits into the bigger picture.

Of course, the best photos from our retreat are all freely available to use however you want.

Unsplash Blog

Behind the scenes building the open photography movement at Unsplash.

Mikael Cho

Written by

Founder/CEO @unsplash @mikaelcho

Unsplash Blog

Behind the scenes building the open photography movement at Unsplash.

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