Employee Post

How to Make Your Work Retreat 100% Awesome

WDS Camp is almost OVER! If you follow any of our resident dorks on Twitter, you’ve probably already seen us going nuts with the #WDSCamp hashtag–so you already know.

While I’d worked remotely before, I’d never been a part of a telecommuting team that prioritizes the face to face and certainly never worked for a company that insisted on having this particular kind of meet and greet. There are a lot of things that were done right, but here are the three that struck me as the most notable contributing factors that made for an amazing WDS Camp (and, if you want to make your work retreat just as incredible, things you should consider too):

An idyllic homebase

We’ve been posted up at a gorgeous spot in Wisconsin. The intrepid April Williams did extensive research to find a spot that could host our burgeoning team in full without compromising the homey, casual atmosphere that we’ve had at previous WDS Camps with fewer attendees. Due to her hard work and a little bit of luck, we scored a place that is pure divinity: a massive house adjacent to its own private lake and surrounded by lush fields.

Work retreat, WDS Camp, WebDevStudios

Our crew’s temporary home is absolutely dreamy (especially if your taste in decor is similar to the much-esteemed Carol Brady) and has served as the perfect stage for our retreat. We got really damn lucky.

Picking such a peaceful place allowed us to set aside our busy lives and focus on each other. While we’re all a bunch of social media/technology obsessives, vying to be quickest at the smartphone draw, getting some distance from our typical day-to-day allows us to really be present–even as we’re shooting goofy pictures of each other eating fire around the firepit.

A flexible schedule with lots to do

We’ve previously talked about the value of hallway talk at conferences; while presentations are educational and absolutely worthwhile, the conversations that take place between structured spaces carry an incredible value. The presentations provide fuel for the creative spark and connection that happens between sessions. Our execs wanted to make sure we had that experience with each other, so we’ve mostly had long stretches of unstructured time.

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Our schedule has included a very basic structure: breakfasts and dinners are on the schedule (folks signed up to cook for the group and clean up afterward, although that has fluctuated with folks often jumping in as needed) and group presentations each day. Otherwise, it has been open.

There has been no shortage of things to do. So far, our group has:

  • Spent extensive time on the lake paddle boarding, kayaking, sailing, fishing, and swimming
  • Played games: board games, video games, bocce ball
  • Roasted marshmallows over the fire pit (and proceeded to debate the best marshmallow roasting technique, in detail, and then creating s’mores)
  • Gone running together
  • Explored the creepy cornfield down the road in the middle of the night
  • Gone on touristy adventures outside of the house
  • Filmed a horror movie
  • Partied late into the night
  • Coded together
  • Worked. A little.

One of the things that surprised me the most was how we have managed to create our own team building activities without the facilitation of awkward icebreakers or forced recreational activities.

WebDevStudios, WDS Camp, work retreats,

Whether it’s trying to push an upside down boat back across a lake after it capsized and sunk both of its riders, helping unhook a crazy big fish from the line, showing each other how to make our computers speak Taylor Swift lyrics, teaching each other how to sail, timing kayak races on a makeshift course, walking everyone through how to eat fire straight from a flaming marshmallow, or the simple stuff–pouring each other’s coffee, opening each other’s beers, showing each other how to cook whatever, or just having a great conversation, there has been no shortage of opportunities for us to do exactly what most stilted team building activities strive for–teaching, learning, bonding, and becoming better through a non-work related activity.

WebDevStudios, WDS Camp, work retreats,

Most of this may have never happened if we were busy doing some sort of mandatory activity. Instead, we invited each other into these activities through encouragement and enthusiasm, rather than dragging someone begrudgingly along (and ruining it for everyone in the process, because who wants to be forced to do something and pretend they are having fun while doing it?). Most of these were utterly accidental.

When you have folks who love to learn as much as they love to teach, who come to the world with a generosity of spirit (yes, even our resident curmudgeons), and who are generally passionate about participating in the world around them in every capacity (virtually and otherwise), the best team building activities are spontaneous.

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Close quarters with plenty of space

While our cabin space is beautiful, it can just barely fit our crew. Before showing up, we had some reservations: Would we be able to make everyone comfortable? Would this work?

While it is a little cramped, what with a bunch of our dudes crashing on bunk beds in one room and a few folks on air mattresses in the living room, for the most part, it hasn’t been too overwhelming to deal with. There’s enough space that we can all crowd into the living room for presentations or socializing, and the property itself is big enough that alone time is possible. If a little solitude is needed, it’s completely accessible, meaning that our work-from-home introverts are able to be present without completely losing their minds.

I’m sure there will be more to say once we get home; these are just my immediate takeaways. A lot can happen in a few days! Making sure your company retreat is awesome relies so many different factors, but if you keep the three things above in mind as well as create a team relying on one of the core tenets that the WDS team was built on (“Work with people you like.”), it won’t be hard at all.

Have you gone on a retreat before? What parts did you like? Have any questions about the mysterious (and wildly hilarious) WDS Camp? Shoot ’em here!

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