Maybe your remote team has worked across the country (or the globe) for awhile now, but you haven’t yet had the pleasure of gathering together in person. As of this writing, I’m looking forward to flying several hours to meet one of my remote colleagues for the first time. After working together for over two years, it seems like we’ve already known each other for awhile, but I believe that adding a third dimension to our working relationship will only serve to build a stronger bond.
Convening a virtual team has its fair share of challenges, of course; there are schedules to iron out, and, often, budgetary constraints to be managed. (If money were no object, you’d all be spending a week in a massive overwater bungalow in the Maldives, right?)
Determining exactly what will be ideal for your distributed team requires some perspective.
Here are some insights on how to approach your first face-to-face team meeting—from the initial planning stages to building an itinerary that will help your colleagues bond with one another:
If you hail from a larger distributed organization, it might make the most sense, both financially and logistically, to invest in single team or department retreats. With employees distributed across the globe, the folks at Buffer have figured out the many advantages of the ‘mini-retreat’ approach. Several of their internal teams have opted for these week-long meet-ups, which they try to space out from the company-wide retreats, so that teams are getting together about every six months. Some key points they share include planning early and sharing objectives beforehand and setting aside ample time for focused strategy work.
Consider DIY Dining
Like strong Wi-Fi, satisfying one’s appetite factors prominently on remote workers’ Hierarchy of Needs. Your teammates may have various dietary restrictions due to allergies, health conditions, religious beliefs, or pregnancy that can make choosing a restaurant a thorny obstacle. Why not remove these potential issues altogether by renting a place with a fully equipped kitchen? This way, your team gets the added bonus of eating or drinking whenever they feel like it, and those who love to cook can share their favorite dishes, which is a fun way to build rapport and make memories together.
Mix Professional Development and Fun
Though you may have a limited amount of time, it doesn’t mean that your face-to-face gathering should be all work and no play. Depending upon where you’re traveling, there are likely a bevy of enriching activities you can enjoy as a group—from glass blowing classes to guided nature walks, archery lessons, calligraphy sessions, or karaoke, it’s likely you’ll find something fun to share. (Bonus: these can be specific to the local culture of the place you’re visiting, too!) Another great idea is to spend a few hours volunteering in your field; maybe it’s teaching area teens a bit about coding, or helping a local nonprofit with some brainstorming on their marketing challenges. Motivational activities like these will keep skill sets sharp and solidify your connection with colleagues.
Focus on People, Not Location
While New York, Paris, or Tokyo might sound like an interesting locale for a first time meet-and-greet, it might not be the ideal backdrop for a meet-up. Why, you wonder? If your objective is to focus on work, then the gravitational pull of a big city’s attractions may serve as a major distraction. If the distance is much greater for some of your colleagues to travel, they may have to deal with unintended challenges, such as finding suitable caregivers or pet sitters while they’re away. Also, teammates with physical disabilities or other limitations may need specific accommodations that are harder to come by in some destinations. When seeking out a location for your first meeting, keep the comfort of your team in mind first.
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