Some companies might meet in person to brainstorm new ideas. Others may gather just to get to know each other better and play some serious team dodgeball. Truly, the reasons why distributed teams meet in person are as varied as the companies themselves.
Below, six remote company leaders explain why distributed teams meet in person.
1. It’s the only time the team can come together.
When your team is working all around the country (and the globe), it might be a virtual impossibility for them to get together. That’s why Chris Byers, CEO of Formstack, encourages his entire team to meet in person via an annual All Hands meetup.
“We started doing these meetups in 2013, and they have become essential to our growth as a team,” says Byers. “For some employees, All Hands is the only time they’ll ever meet certain team members in person, so we try to encourage new conversations and interaction between departments.”
Having a voice and a face to connect to emails and instant messages can go far in terms of collegial bonding.
2. It makes the team members more “human.”
Sure, your team knows that it’s comprised of people, not emojis and emails. But gathering the group together has a longer lasting impression than the retreat itself.
“You can get a long way with just online communication, but if you can build quality relationships in real-life between the people at your company, then that makes a huge difference when they disperse and go back to being distributed,” says Coby Chapple, product designer at GitHub, Inc.
“It means that even when you’re remote, you no longer just see someone as an avatar—you’ve built up some background context and empathy for that person and that means you’ll be much better at working together and helping each other out.”
When distributed teams meet in person, they are reminded of just that—they are all people, and not isolated remote workers.
3. It’s not always about the work.
Typically, remote companies create retreats or meetings for the entire company to not only help bond their employees to each other, but to focus on work and planned projects, too. But for TeamSnap, that’s not the case.
“Twice a year, the entire company gathers for a week-long retreat where we laugh, learn, review, and plan. Even though we haven’t seen each other in person for six months, it’s like seeing old friends and the excitement and joy is contagious,” says Andrew Berkowitz, co-founder and chief product officer.
“Over the years, we’ve actually gotten so good at working remotely that we’ve found less need to meet in person. Meeting in person is now mainly about bonding and connecting personally, and less about needing to get specific things done.”
Having a strong structure in place, plus a dedicated team that is already invested in the company’s culture and mission, means that get-togethers can be more about fun, and less about presentations and company politics.
4. It can help the new hires.
Even the most seasoned remote worker can benefit from an in-person meeting with his fellow team members. “Because our company always grows between retreats, it’s also a great opportunity for new hires to get comfortable with the team, and develop a rapport with their coworkers!” says Tom VanBuren, content manager of Edgar.
After all, being able to meet with your coworkers (and ask critical questions face-to-face) can help some shyer remote workers learn about the company—and come out of their shell, too.
At Fog Creek Software, new hires are often asked to come in to the company’s headquarters. “If we’re asking someone to come in for work reasons, we put them up for the full week. This happens typically in the case of a remote employee’s first week—we bring the new employee and his/her team to the office for training,” says Allie Schwartz, VP, People & Operations.
5. It’s good for team morale.
If productivity and profits are up, it’s easy for a remote company to think about skipping an annual retreat. After all, why rock the proverbial boat?
But having meetups is great for morale, according to Jon Lay, founder of Hanno. “Meetups in the past have happened in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Argentina, Brazil and Croatia, and we like to make a big deal and organise an amazing trip. It’s fantastic for team morale and every time we’ve met up, we’ve found ourselves that much closer by the end of the trip.”
So even if your company is doing quite well, taking the time to schedule a retreat can bring back even bigger dividends, financially and more.
6. It generates new ideas.
There’s something to be said for gathering your team in person for a mega brainstorming session that can’t quite be achieved on a video call.
“Most of our best ideas still come from us hanging out in person but we’re pretty happy about our ability to generate a solid action plan with limited face time,” says Anthony Thomas, CEO of Sticker Mule.
If you’re looking to breathe fresh life into a stagnating team, having a group gathering can help inspire new ideas and thinking, and also solve potential problems.
No matter what their reasons are, there’s no denying that distributed teams can greatly benefit from in-person meetings. So if your remote company hasn’t yet met, it might just be time to schedule an all-company or all-team meeting!