Team Retreat during a pandemic
Our company culture was not extremely affected by the pandemic. As a well-established remote team, we didn’t have to rearrange ourselves during the lockdown. What we did notice, however, was the distance and the fact that our team is international. As a remote team, we are extremely dependent on meeting in person from time to time. This proved to be quite difficult during a pandemic. Nevertheless, we managed to hold a team retreat. Was it a success?
Our last retreat was in January 2020 in the beautiful Swiss Alps (Zermatt, Switzerland). We had planned to meet up again in June for WordCamp Europe in Porto. This was to be where the whole team would meet our new colleague Corina in person. But as you all know we were hit with a pandemic and all travel was halted.
As the end of the year was slowly drawing near we wanted to try to keep our tradition of an end of year retreat. Due to the travel restrictions we wanted to meet up somewhere close. Also it should be out in the nature and not in a big city, where we could focus on us and not to be distracted by a city. After evaluating options in Germany, Austria and Switzerland we came to the conclusion that the two chalets run by Swiss Escape in Grimentz, Switzerland were the best fit for us. A few weeks after finalising the booking the Canton Wallis announced that all restaurants will be closed till December 2020. Also, Switzerland got placed on Germany’s list of high risk countries, which meant our colleges from Germany could not make it in person 😢.
Preparing for the team retreat
Previously our team retreats have been long weekends away or in combination with a conference. Which meant food was either organised or we would decide spontaneously. This time, with everything apart from supermarkets closed, we had to plan ahead. We set up a Notion Board to organise the days as a team effort. We put basic schedule into place with daily lightening talks and discussions and activities planned in the morning as well as anti-social time in the afternoon. In between of course, delicious meals: The quicker recipes were planned for lunch and things that took longer were planned for the evening.
The recipes then laid the foundation for the shopping list. For that we used the Migusto “Add to shopping list” function which adds the ingredients directly to the Migros App, our supermarket of choice.
Corona protection concept
Apart from food, we had to organise how we got to the location and how we would handle the Corona situation. We decided that half of the team should travel by train and bus and the other half who went shopping should arrive by car. Concerning the pandemic we chose to book both houses from Swiss Escape so that everyone had their own bedroom and bathroom and we bought face masks, Söder soap and hand sanitizer made in Zurich. The hand sanitizers where positioned at the entrance of each house, and as in every workplace everyone had to wear a face mask when we could not keep enough distance.
Due to the pandemic some teammates had to stay in Germany. In order for them to feel like a part of the Company Retreat, we prepared a package with self-designed recipes and some ingredients for them to be able to join us remotely while cooking.
Team Retreat is on!
Day of arrival
Monday, November 30th: Grimentz does not have a regular bus service and it did not line up very well with the train service. Both Velthy and me (Ulrich) were unsure which connection to take. Some had long wait times. Somehow we ended up taking the same connection and arrived in the early afternoon to sunny Grimentz. Karin offered to come by car from Zurich so that she and Corina could do the weeks worth of shopping. The first night we made home made pizzas which came out really good. Based on the suggestion from Corina we even had bananas on part of one. 🍌😆
First Snow & Lightning Talks
Tuesday, December 1st: We all woke up to a snow covered Grimentz. With breakfast starting at 9 am and then with our first talk at 10 am we had a relaxed start of the morning. To include our German and Bangkok based colleagues we set up a zoom call that they could join. We connected the iPad to the TV so that we could see them as if they were sitting in the room together with us. Simon started off with his talk on “Freshjobs & Content Creation”. The discussion afterwards took a bit longer than expected and so we broke up for lunch, oven roasted vegetables.
After lunch Karin taught us one by one how to use her really heavy fancy coffee machine. Fueled by coffee, we listened to Karins lightning talk on Feedback Culture. With the theory in mind each of us in Grimentz was paired up with someone who was joining in remotely and we went out for a short 1:1 walk, weher we practiced our new feedback culture.
With that our day was coming to an end. We all retreated back to our rooms for some alone-time before starting to cook dinner. Making Ramen together with Paschi and his family over zoom was a lot of fun and both Ramen turned out deliciously. Unfortunately, it was quite hard to get a the real feeling of cooking together, because it was hard to position the iPad in a way that everyone could be seen and heard. As an improvement for another time we would set up a microphone and a 360 camera.
Skipped cooking lunch for a walk in the sun
Wednesday, December 2nd: Like every morning we got up and ate a hearty breakfast with smoothies by Velthy and coffee made by our in house barista Karin. The first lightning talk started off with Velthy introducing the topic of uninterrupted work. The discussion that ensued was extremely interesting, as we told each other our setups and how we like to work best. After airing the room thoroughly, Corina talked about the impact of surfing on the web on the environment. We discussed how we can improve our best practises even more in order to create more sustainable websites.
Due to the location of Grimentz in a valley, you can only see the sun for 2 hours between 12 and 2pm. Therefore, we decided to change our plans and have a picnic in the sun. The afternoon we spent working on our focus project. After a short nap 😴, we started preparing our dinner: Bibimbap – Corina’s favourite Korean dish. After dinner Karin showed us how she makes her bread which she picked up during the lockdown. We made two batches of dough, which needed to rest for around 18 hours.
Freshly baked bread
Thursday, December 3rd: After breakfast, we got started with lightning talks from Dominik and Ulrich. Dominik started off with “7 Fehler beim
Backen von Plätzchen entwickeln eines Themes”, in which he covered seven places which can be improved across our projects. Ulrich gave an introduction to the experimental Front Site Editing (FSE) feature in Gutenberg. We will be posting more information in the future when we start to play around with this feature more. During the talks, Karin baked the bread so that it would be ready for lunch with the salad. In the afternoon we caught up with a bit of client work before having salmon and leek lasagna for dinner.
Friday, December, 4th: On the last day, Paschi built upon the talk from Velthy and showed us how he manages his notifications. This spurred further discussion how we can improve the information overload and also how we should handle the catchup after holidays. Karin presented her bread making technique to whole team with videos and photos taken the day before while making the bread.
In the afternoon, after having Poke Bowls for lunch and another 1:1 feedback session, we all started an online game of Monopoly. It was a lot of fun and interesting to be in the same room or in a zoom call while everyone played on their own device. For our final meal together on this retreat we had Raclette from a local cheese shop in Thun.
Day of departure 😢
Saturday, December, 5th: Velthy and Ulrich got up early to catch the bus so that they would arrive home at lunch time. The night brought heavy snowfall, so before Karin and Corina could leave, they had to dig out the car. But it all went really well and we arrived back safely to our respective homes.
Before going on on the trip, we were quite unsure how it will turn out. Not only did the regulations concerning Corona change all the time, but also was it the first time we were trying to include everyone remotely as well in our day-to-day activities. Working together and having discussions worked very well, even though due to the distance-keeping rules, it was hard for the people sitting at home to hear what the ones being in one room together were saying. Even though it was unfortunate not everyone could be there, it was very nice to be able to include everyone during the week.
Check out our Instagram stories of the trip and follow us. We will be posting our learnings from the lightning talks and the discussions in the near future.