A recap of what worked (and what didn’t!) for our first ever digital all team “on-site”

January 18, 2020

Via Blogs

For the past 4 years, the Via TRM team has been fully remote: with our team members living and working top to bottom, coast to coast, across the U.S.

One key ingredient for making our remote environment successful has been our all team on-sites.

All team on-sites: Once a quarter, we gather our team together in a different city for 2-3 days. The goal is to create space for team bonding and collaboration, both in structured and unstructured settings. We book accommodations that allow for privacy, are within walking distance of coffee shops and restaurants, and give people the chance to connect organically outside of structured activities. The 2-3 day long events consist of team building activities (we’ve done everything from hiking, to rock climbing, and always make time for meals) in addition to time to work cross-departmentally and pair on some of the biggest challenges and opportunities we’re facing as a company.

With the pandemic, we weren’t able to have our quarterly on-sites. We knew, coming into the end of the year, that we needed to try to recreate some of what happens during them with a digital on-site to close out 2020.

Prior to setting the schedule for the on-site, we took a page from The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, by Priya Parker, and honed in on our purpose for the on-site. Park writes:

“As you are thinking about hosting virtual gatherings, don’t confuse your assumed activity with the gathering’s purpose. Your planning should always begin by asking first: What is the purpose now?

We identified the purpose for the on-site: to bring the team together outside of our typical meetings to allow for organic conversation, to laugh together, and to allow the “engineering side of the house” (those who build and enhance our digital product) to collaborate on real issues with our “business side of the house” (our sales, marketing and client success folks).

Our Operations Manager, Trevor, outlined and executed a clear agenda over the course of two days to meet this goal. (See the full agenda below.)

While preparing the agenda, Trevor paid special attention to:

    The time zones that team members were in. Our members on Mountain Time would join as early as 8:00 AM for some meetings, and our evening activities went slightly past 5:00 PM Eastern for those on the East coast.

    Allowing ample time between meetings for folks to get up from their desk, grab lunch, or respond to emails.

    Making sure there were a variety of mediums for team members to engage with the content and share their ideas

Opening Team Trivia: We opened up the on-site with team trivia played over Kahoot. Trevor asked team members for little-known facts about themselves to put together a trivia game that included questions like: “Which team member crossed a river in a dugout canoe?” and “Which team member once toured with a sketch comedy group?”

State of The Company: Our Founder & CEO, Samantha, set the tone for the on-site with a presentation on the state of the company that included a recap of 2020 and the strategy for where we are headed in 2021. She gave space for the team to ask questions and engage with the content.

Big Ideas Sessions: Cross-departmental meetings are not only important for our company culture, but also to get ‘fresh’ eyes on the work distinct departments do. For these sessions, we posed big questions and allowed team members to participate in a variety of ways, through unmuting and talking, through adding to the conversation through the chat feature, or through adding to the Jamboard (more on that below).

“Parking Lot It”: At this point, we also introduced the Parking Lot feature. During our in-person on-sites, we have stacks of post-its accessible and a designated wall or white board where team members can post thoughts/ideas that would be too tangential for the conversation at hand, but are important enough that they didn’t want to lose the insight. After our on-site, one team member sends an email with the Parking Lot items and we decide what needs action, and then (following the ARPA model) divvy up the tasks and next steps.

We adapted the Parking Lot for our digital on-site by utilizing Google’s Jamboard feature. We linked to the Parking Lot in each of the calendar invites for all meetings and reminded team members that it was available for them to add to over the course of the week.

Cooking Activity: We weren’t sure how this would go, but it turned out to be the favorite activity of the week. Our team is made up of foodies (one of our team members even goes by the nickname “Chef” because of his previous career). We asked Chef and Leslie to guide the team in a simple recipe – and we made crepes together. It was fun for everyone to have a change of scenery, and many of us learned to make crepes for the first time!

Activity: The next day, we started off the day by splitting into breakout rooms in Zoom and playing an online geography game, here.

Retrospective & Good Vibes: We end every on-site in the same way – and this digital on-site was no exception. We wrap up with a brief retrospective where team members shared what worked and what didn’t over the course of the week. And, perhaps most importantly, we end by giving good vibes. Everyone wants to feel seen in their work, and we set the stage by asking team members to share a specific example with their teammates about what they appreciated from that particular team member over the course of the week.

Free software for supporting digital events:

    Kahoot: Simple quizzes for desktop and mobile

    Jamboard.Google.Com: A great stand in for using post-it notes and white boarding ideas in a digital environment

    Seterra: Interactive geography quizzes

Organizational & event resources:

Did this digital event replace our in-person on-site? No way! Did it meet our goal of giving space for our team members to connect and collaborate, let’s see what some of our reflections say…

What about you? Has your team adapted to the remote work environment?

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