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Our Company Retreat for the End of 2019 (insent.ai)
68 points by rarjunpillai 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 80 comments

Somewhat related to the topic, but not necessarily the article:

I often see week long company retreats in far away lands listed as a positive/selling point on many company recruiting pages.

For many in their 20s, or single, it probably sounds great.

But there is definitely an unspoken pressure element to the whole thing for a certain class of individual.

Maybe I'm the only one, but I imagine if you have a family these retreats can actually be a negative. Perhaps they aren't mandatory, but surely it's not wise politically to miss them.

I feel like those with families might not want to spend a week away from the family in <insert-far-away-land>. For a variety of reasons.

Maybe some companies do a better job of catering for everyone/thinking about this. Perhaps it's not a problem.

But it just seems to me like at least some of them are another one of those "keep the company young" ageism tactics - whether on purpose or not.

Our startup[1] is 100% distributed and has in-person meet-ups roughly every 4 months. About half our team (including me) have kids and, to your point, when one of us travels it definitely puts an added burden on our partners back at home.

So we recognize this fact and try to mitigate it in a few ways:

- We structure the offsite week so that Mon - Thu is meetings and Fri is a fun day. This means attendees can leave on Thu night or Fri morning if they'd rather re-join their families sooner.

- We actively encourage our team to prioritize their families above their work and make it clear that attendance is preferred but optional. One of our colleagues just had a baby 2 weeks ago and no one would expect him to attend.

- We do what we can to make our meetups remote-friendly. If someone can join remotely, we use a Meeting Owl[2] to give them a better remote experience. It's not perfect, nor is it Cisco Telepresence, but it seems a lot better than everyone present jumping on a Zoom.

- We try to work around colleagues when possible. We recently held the meet up in my home town when my wife was in her third trimester and really needed me home!

For the rest of the year, we enjoy the benefits of being remote, among which flexibility is ranked high.

[1] https://gruntwork.io

[2] https://www.owllabs.com/meeting-owl

Your post reminded me that we've been planning on testing out Gruntwork for months now and never got around to it. Thanks for the comments.

Ooh, Meeting Owl. We used one in our company get together last week and they are great (also incredibly expensive, about £800 in the UK). But yes can second this one.

Meeting Owl is an interesting discovery for me.

Amazon reviews [1] gives good understanding of how the product works in combination with their demo video [2].

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Meeting-Owl-Conference-Automatic-Spea...

[2] https://youtu.be/N_duZc5DZ2c

> One of our colleagues just had a baby 2 weeks ago and no one would expect him to attend.

Will he actively be told not to attend? Often this sort of thing is implied to be mandatory.

People at our company would likely still be on parental leave so it wouldn’t be necessary to be explicit.

It would also be perfectly clear from context (and probably overt comments as well) that attending is not only not expected but would be looked down upon.

We repeatedly celebrate employees prioritizing their families over their work, and we make every effort to avoid taking on projects or commitments like 24/7 support that might threaten that. In short, we plan the company around our lives, not the other way around.

Of course, the counterpoint here is that people still need to add value and get things done. So we also very much celebrate shipping and moving the ball forward each week.

You're not the only one. I used to travel around Europe regularly with work and enjoyed most of it.

I've now got a 7 year old and twin 2 year olds. They're a handful and a half, even on a good day. They're my family, much as I like most of them my coworkers are not. My wife really struggles with the kids at times and we don't have much of a support network to lean on. She called me just yesterday from the other side of town because one of the two year olds was refusing to get into his car seat. I ended up driving there to help her.

I basically turn down anything that requires an overnight stay now. I get away with it but it definitely trades on what political capital I have.

> but surely it's not wise politically to miss them

This is something I have come to really despise about working in tech. It doesn't matter if it's office beers, or the board games group, or retreats, etc... It's something that I feel is almost inappropriate in regards to my personal time which is fleeting the older I get.

> "keep the company young" ageism tactics

Anecdotally, I've found it's less ageism and more building a "club" of who's in/out. If you're someone who wants to keep colleagues at arms length (ie: strictly business) it turns into a huge problem, and it will definitely come up in your 1-on-1's.

It plays out like this: "We're noticing you're missing team events - why is that? Is everything alright? We'd like people to be team players!"

To which I always want to respond: "Well Bob, at the end of the day we're all replaceable to those up the chain and I know it's 100% in my worst interest to blend my personal life and my work life. I don't want to drink with you, I don't want to share my personal opinions, and I am not here to 'make friends'. I want to keep work at work, and home at home."

I would never say the above because that's grounds for an instant conflict, ie: "I'm not here for the koolaid, I'm here for the paycheck". Best way I've found to address it is to outright lie and say you suffer from social anxiety.

Not directly in answer to your comments, but if you work for a remote company then meeting up 2 or 3 times a year for a week is part of the trade-off. The rest of the year you're at home for the partner/kids/pets.

I've traveled quite a few times for business since having kids. My brother-in-law travels even more than I do for business.

Business travel is both a personal preference and part of the bigger career direction tradeoffs that must be weighed when choosing an employer.

"I have a family" isn't something to hide behind when your job includes a small amount of travel. It's something that can be accommodated and planned for.

It really depends on your situation and job type. If you have a spouse with a demanding job, and no local family there really isn't much flexibility.

If I need to stay late a few hours after work than normal, it requires immediate triage. If my wife has a busier than normal week, it may mean I go in later to the office or come home earlier, at a minimum we will lose sleep that week on meal prep etc.

She did a retreat while breastfeeding and it require her to come home each night so our son could eat. She went on a work trip and I flew out with her and the baby and took 2 vacation days (still breast feeding)

Tbh, a non-local retreat i.e. more than an hour drive, and either of us would skip it.

Its just not a nessisary business practice and IMO is agist.

And I think that is totally ok. Not everyone can do everything. We've had execs and individual contributors who say, "can't make it." And that is it and it is ok. And the reasons vary from person to person. But it is not agist. There are folks of every age that either can or can't make company trips for many reasons. For the trips I've been on, we get close to 90% participation.

The fact that people give a reason and that you have 90% participation shows that people feel obligated to go.

Its hard having a family and having two working parents. Offsites make it harder.

If you are going to organize one, you should understand that while they have real value, they also have a real cost for participants and their time should be treated like gold.

It’s not strictly necessary like breathing and eating, but it can be an extremely powerful time to spend time together as a functional or leadership team and really hammer things out. We do it 3 or 4 times per year for 3-4 days at a stretch. I see it as part of the job and honestly look forward to them, even though they can be grueling.

A small retreat with just a few leaders of a publicly traded company is pretty standard. 3-4 times a year is kind of excessive from a cost perspective and is probably very taxing for some members of the team.

Overall, I'm not sure if you are organizing it, but if you are, you should be very sure that all those offsites are not too taxing on your team. I'd personally be very frustrated, and I know coworkers at other publicly traded companies I have worked for complain about offsites, but not to their managers.

i.e. you think they are helpful but secretly your team or coworkers are very unhappy.

Ours is one 2.5 day strategy meeting for all execs and then our LT (I’m not the top leader) meets 2 (or very rarely 3) additional times for 2.5-4 days.

They're horrible, but it's a tradeoff for full time remote I suppose. Myvwife despises them since she's stuck on fulltime childcare, I can't imagine how single parents do it.

The biggest issue is that it often is a week if pointless koolaid drinking, with a huge carbon footprint at that.

I've just been away on a non work retreat for 5 days and it was a big ask.

I can't imagine doing something similar for work. Are they paying you all the time you are away (after all, you are basically "at work" the whole 24 hours).

It just seems another way to squeeze more house out of people.

>can't imagine doing something similar for work.

That's the normal life for a lot of people who attend conferences etc. If that's not for you, that's fine. Just don't take that sort of job.

--> In most cases, this trip is completely funded by the companies on top of the regular salary which you will make anyway.

--> Many of them have fun elements to it to relax the attendees and give them a break. Infact, breaking the regular 'work more' pattern is the key aspect.

--> Any trip is always hectic - whether work or personal. If you can get more done during a 3 days trip which will help you to spend more time with the family once you are back, it is better in some way. Right :)

Work is different for an early-stage startup with purpose vs. established companies making way through day-to-day activities, churning through a list of tasks. It requires quite a bit of mind space and commitment to be part of an early-stage startup - and if you look at it that way, 5 days offsite for relaxation and collaboration sounds like a cool idea to me.

I've done these and I have a family. If you are sick, expecting, or have other obligations, it is unfortunate if you can't make it. It was fantastic to get to know a lot of folks who are typically just avatars on a screen or a face in a meeting.

Even before I had a family, the last thing I wanted to do was spend a week somewhere else with people from work. If I want to go somewhere magical, I'll save my money, plan the trip with people I know and like, and go - likely to have a far better and memorable trip with an agenda (or not) we set for ourselves.

Now that I have a family, the prospect would be a big fat "No" for me, unless we're all encouraged to bring our families.

We usually do a short retreat once per year. It starts around 9 am on a Friday, when we drive with a bus to our destination (usually 2 or 3h drive), and we come back on Saturday about 3 pm. All of that is "fun time"/team building. Of course that's a bit lamer than the topic, but since many of us have kids (I don't) they have a more realistic chance of attending. And for most them usually works out (but were quite small with ~50ppl).

My SO's employer went to Mallorca to party for a week when the company was smaller (200ppl?). I like our approach much more.

I see your point. A retreat need not always be in far off places or for 1 week. Infact, I think, most of the startup teams can achieve what they want in 2 or 3 days max.

In our case, there are team members who can't attend the retreat and we are fine with it. There is no evaluation/judgment happening. But we encourage them to be there to learn and understand faster

> I feel like those with families might not want to spend a week away from the family in <insert-far-away-land>. For a variety of reasons.

There is no obligation (ethically, or legally) for companies to accommodate everyone.

Certain groups, yes. But not everyone.

Vote with your feet.

There is also no obligations on us to not call out companies for being ageist.

"Shut up or leave if you don't like it" is a very bad form of argument imho.

What is ageist about a workweek-long company trip? I went on them in my 20s, my 30s and now in my 40s. I’ll do them in my 50s as well. I went on them when I was single, in a relationship, and married. I went on them before kids, with infants, toddlers, and now with elementary school age kids.

My fellow attendees at these events are in their 30s through 50s (and for all I know, some might be in their 60s or 20s).

I don’t see ageist discrimination around business trips to be honest. If business travel isn’t for you for whatever reason, there are an enormous number of jobs that don’t require or even offer business travel.

At the extreme, there are some jobs that are 75% (or whatever) travel to customer sites. Not my thing--though I travel quite a bit. But it's silly to suggest that such jobs shouldn't exist. Just don't take them if they aren't for you.

For distributed work, I actually think it's really important to budget and plan for F2F events. Again, if you prefer more of a 9-5 5 days limited travel job, maybe don't do that.

Requiring travel is not an ageist policy, it’s an attribute of a job. I know many people with kids who are on the road constantly with demanding jobs, this is a trade off they’ve made in order to provide their desired lifestyle for their family.

(I'm the same poster)

If you know ageism is rampant. Perhaps take this into consideration before selecting the tech industry?

There are other industries which are more family friendly. They might not pay as much, but that's the trade-off. You can't have both.

It's not an inherent trade-off tech is participating in -it's the result of insensitive policies.

It's not like doing retreats or other things people with families don't like is what causes it to pay more.

Also insensitive people, apparently.

People age- everyone does it. The industry is going to have to deal with that at some point. Telling old people to leave the industry at a certain point in their career isn't real advice.

There is no trade-off to be had, the industry should not be ageist, end of.

SendGrid famously had our annual full-company trips to Mexico. We kept this going for (I think) 7 years. Eventually, it became impossible to get everyone to the same place around the same time.

The goals were team building (esp. with folks you don't see every day) and company alignment. As we got larger, it was harder and harder to get to know everyone; however, the first couple of years, you came back knowing just about everyone in the company. This was great and helped interacting with people over chat and in meetings. As we continued to get larger, you just couldn't meet everyone, but you could strategically find folks from teams you work with from other locations. Getting aligned on the company direction for the upcoming year always stayed really solid. The trips were more and more jam-packed with meetings each year. Whole day meetings are hard, but it was nice to unwind with coworkers for a few hours each night.

Good times.

In a previous startup's offsite, we were attacked by a bear.

While this did lead to a significantly increased esprit de corps at the office, the risks are such that I wouldn't necessarily recommend it.

At one of my previous off sites someone had a 4x4 atv roll on them. Spent a month+ at a hospital before he could travel home and then had months more of recovery.

edit: Remember companies, always make sure there's insurance covering the event and activities.

I get this.

On an offsite for a startup, we went canoeing on a river. That can be really dangerous. My canoe flipped and sank. So I stupidly dived down to retrieve it and succeeded in putting my life at risk. You can get trapped under water in a river quite easily. I did but I was strong enough to get myself untrapped. I'd rather just program, thank you.

Less 200 people die canoeing in the US every year [0], so I don't think it is particularly dangerous. Surprised your canoe sank though, usually they are supposed to have air pockets so they float even if full of water.

[0] https://www.adventuresportsnetwork.com/sport/paddle-sports/w...

Canoes don't typically have air bags unless they're outfitted for serious whitewater but they certainly shouldn't literally sink even if they fill up with water.

I have trouble imagining the sort of canoeing I'd expect to see as part of a company outing being some life-threatening activity.

(That said, I'd probably avoid this sort of thing if I were organizing a company event. People have different ranges/types of activities they like and feel comfortable with and I wouldn't want to put pressure on people for what's ultimately supposed to be a fun event. I know whenever we've discussed doing anything along these lines as part of an offsite whatever ideas we come up with always get some percentive of strong "hell nos." Doesn't see worth the trouble.)

I actually got thinking about Grumman aluminum canoes which are obviously denser than the equivalent volume of water. Apparently they do have some flotation built in.

Please write more about the bear.

Yes, can you PM me the bear's LinkedIn?

Could you elaborate? That's horrifying. I'm guessing this was a camping trip then?

I think a bear attack _on_site would be quite the team building exercise around our office

> So we did an activity called ‘Flow of Life’ where each of us had to imagine our life as a river.

This would be a big no for me.

Why is it a no for you?(if you don't mind telling) #Curious

Not the original commenter, but I too would avoid participating in any event where I need to share so many personal details to other people who are neither close friends nor family.

>If there is one rule, then it had to be the ‘safety net’ rule. It just means that everyone is safe to speak their minds during the retreat. There will be many sessions on feedback about product, company, people etc. If team members are worried about repercussions, then retreats wouldn’t work at all.

Sounds great in theory, but what do you do when someone starts sharing sexist or biased opinions. Or starts to personally degrade another employee or team?

For a responsible company, there are always repercussions, it is disingenuous to lead employees to believe otherwise.

I'd still rather know, than have it lurking beneath the surface. Which is why knowing and supporting your colluages outside of work is so important.

There is strong moderation by an internal party or external consultant. If someone makes sexist, biased or racial opinions, why does it matter whether it is offsite or not?

We live in a world of freedom, but that doesn't mean you can abuse someone. It is the same in offsite too. You have safety, but not to be a jerk

To each their own, but company retreats are a gift that employees give to their employer, in the form of time. Keeping it light and encouraging team building makes sense. Hackathons seem aggressive, IMHO.

> Want to be part of our Insent family?

Also -> https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:Y6Au8W...

About hackathon -> people have different motivations. I have seen devs who find nirvana when coding. But for them, coding on the same product every day is bad. So they want to do something new, something that they love and wanna build for a long time.

So, if there are hackathons (or whatever you call it) where they build something that is not their regular stuff, they will get recharged.

About startup being a family --> I'm sure I can find 100 articles talking about why startups == family. All of us have different opinions on pretty much everything.

When I call my company as a family, I agree that we don't live upto ALL the values of a family. However, I want my team to feel that they are safe and each of us is looking out for the rest. It tells them that we are a people-first company.

It's sad that this kind of retreat is considered a perk, they're more like punishment to me. What's the point of joining a company, remote-first or not, if I then have to spend several full successive days with the same persons I see and speak to every day? They're not my family, and I consider this kind of "bonding" highly inappropriate.

I feel the same, business is business. I sell you my time and buy your money, or I buy someone else's time and sell them money. We can be polite and chit chat about non political stuff, but I'm not interested beyond that in a work environment.

There was a time when it felt inappropriate to share news beyond the immediate family. Then came social media. With all its shortcomings, social media has still managed to do some good things for the world.

Times change - if you feel safe in an org, you'd want to hang out, open up and share. The sad thing is - most of the orgs won't give us that environment.

This is my humble attempt to build an org where I love to work and share

Company Retreat


=> A company retreat is a better way to connect with your colleagues outside your official environment which helps your teammates to express themselves which helps the whole team, which is what you call as a company to prepare for the next small/big changes the company would be planning ahead.


  => It creates that bonding within your team and changes the perspective towards their project/work on a positive note. 

  => For eg, if you are changing your strategy or developing a new product/idea, (works very well for ideation I hop), a company retreat would be really useful to make sure that all are on board and aligned towards the goal. 

  => It improves the morale, better bonding, communication skills and especially the considerations & cooperations. 


  => Letting your ego's go would be a nice way to plan it out. Collective decisions and plan it out :)

Am I the only one who thought retreats are just a method for the company to force employees to work unpaid OT, cause well, where are they gonna go? Everyone's in some far away destination disconnected from friends/family so you may as well work for a week straight.

Have you been to one? In my experience it's discouraged to do actual work so that you can focus on the goals at hand. Also in my experience, a decent company will hold it during business hours/week. Or at least overlap that time.

Yea I’ve been on a few. Basically I felt that I got taken hostage (no key to the airbnb, no car rental budget, basically forced to stay with colleagues at all times). Meetings all day about company direction and architecture, then our normal programming work all night Hackathon style. I need time away from my coworkers to write productive code and I think other engineers do too.

The "the goals at hand" are also work, even if it's not normal day-to-day work.

There is no scenario where a work event of any kind is not work.

It looks like you didn't have a great company hosting you. I have never heard of unpaid OT during a retreat.

I run this small company and I take a lot of effort to find the right budget to give a good experience for my team. If I give a bad experience during the 3-4 days, then why would they come back recharged to the office?

Organizing a retreat takes significant time and money from the company. If someone is using that just to force a few team members to work unpaid, they really don't see the bigger picture. Get out of the place asap :)

Company Retreat is a great way for people working remotely to connect with their teammates from other parts of the world and for the founders to get everyone on the same page. It may not be so interesting if everyone works in the same office daily.

I agree.. being a "work from anywhere" company we have adopted an annual offsite as a key ingredient in establishing the culture we are looking to inculcate in the company.

We have folks in 5 different time zones and once a year the team meets for a week-long offsite. Agenda is managed and executed by an external agency. Includes work as usual + lunch & learns + collaborative dinner experiences.

In addition to our employees, key partners, consultants also participate.

That's cool. I have seen that involving a 3rd party consultant could be very important in keeping ourselves honest.

Liked how the team decided to play devil's advocate to their existing way of working. More often than not, one tends to lose focus on why they are doing it and if it makes sense. Equally important is creating a sense of security where everyone voices opinions without fear of judgement. Pleasantly surprised that despite working remotely, the team managed to split responsibilities for retreat amongst them instead of making it a one-person show!

If we don't disrupt ourselves, then some other agile company will do so. Doing the same thing everyday will not give us different results.

Zooming out is super critical, whether in startup or life

Interesting thread. Early in the startup phase, retreat could be a venue to openly address any strategic directional or operational misalignment, bring an external coach to help the executive team share their personal challenges in a relaxed environment. Because a lot of time, personal skill development or scaling up from a founder to CEO, or Engineering to an executive can be terrifying to a lot of people if you are doing it for the first time in a startup.

An startup office mayn't be able to address that challenges, retreats would be a way to address, while building the team comradeship building saying we all in this together, let's get our personal growth story aligned to comapny goals, let's hit them both would set a tone for company culture. If retreats well thoughts and used as a immersive exercise can pay itself forward in a lot of good ways.

There are ofcourse pros and cons of doing anything, time would be essence. Got to see if pros outweighs cons in a long run and make a go at it.

Definitely a great idea for employees working remotely.People who go to office daily may not be very appreciative about it though.

My startup ( Datahut) did the same a few months ago and it definitely helped the founders improve our relationship with the team members. Personally, for me it helped build a stronger relationship with those who don't directly work under me. The change is clearly visible before and after the retreat.

We need more startups to tell this story openly. Apparently, the flip side is stronger now (from the comments)

Spending quality time with your team is the focus here. If your extended tea break sessions, 2-3 times every week, serves this purpose then be it. If all of your key team members, including the founders are working remotely, then a week long focused retreat like this serves the purpose. This will also give the founders an opportunity to get away from the daily whirlwind, zoom out and have a fresh look at the why, how and what of the startup. If you have co-founders/key team members, who cannot make time for a week long retreat because of the family commitment, then they can be accommodated in the form of short focused sessions split in a week.

A company retreat is essential for any business, whether remote or not is what I think. Some times you get so held up with daily operations that you don’t see where the world is going or what exactly you are doing. It need not be a week long program or a an expensive one it’s all about how everyone sees it and that really depends on the company culture.

Very interesting read. Also it would be interesting to see how the company takes this initiative further when it grows. I remember my 300 member consulting firm flying the employees to Spain from Stuttgart for the 20 year anniversary. Keep up the good spirit .

Fun and Team building weren't first on the list. I hope they got paid for this.

A great way is to just not do one.

Startups need to stop pretending their employees are “friends” or “family”.

They are disposable cogs that will be replaced the very same day if they happened to pass away, for example.

I’ve never seen one of these be done where it wasn’t a) a party or b) eye rolling corporate propaganda.

In my case, I saw my engineering manager inhale co2 cartridges...

Don't be so opposed to the idea as such, friend.

-> Startups need to stop pretending their employees are “friends” or “family”. Startups can strive hard to build a company that looks out for the person on their left and right. Yes, it won't be perfect. Yes, it will get difficult when it grows. But those are not good enough reasons not to try.

--> Disposable cogs All of us don't see it that way. We have to part ways with our team members, but the key is to do it gracefully, in a humane way. Here is a video that I recorded about it -> https://www.linkedin.com/posts/rarjunpillai_founderhabits-te...

In US, coz of the fear of getting sued, companies are forced to blindfold, inhumanely fire people and get them out of the office in 5 mins. Around the world, companies don't fire team members like in US. There are enough places where there are conversations, notice period, performance improvement plans and then letting go.

-> I’ve never seen one of these be done where it wasn’t a) a party or b) eye rolling corporate propaganda. You have been to only 1 or 2 types of retreats. Our retreat didn't have a party. I have attended over 10, none of them had 'parties'. Did we have a good time? yes. But not the dance floor parties with all sorts of stuff inside you.

Give it a chance that there could be a good side of it :)

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