About once a year here at WebDevStudios (WDS), we all get together in person for our annual retreat for the entire company. This is referred to as WDS Camp and it often takes place in a larger house for the week or at a resort. It mostly just depends on what works best in a particular year with the timeframe, location, and logistics of it all. Having a group of 30-plus people makes this no easy task at any level, that’s for sure. Thankfully, we have a planning team that does the vast majority of the work and they always do a fantastic job sorting out every detail and accommodating all the needs of the 30-plus team members. Since this is a once-a-year opportunity, I wanted to share some of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years to get the most out of a company retreat, whether it’s at WDS Camp or your own.
In full disclosure, I’ve not always done a great job of these things myself, but over the years I’ve definitely gotten better at some of them and I also have to remind myself sometimes to be better at others to keep improving. This is important personally for me as well as making sure I’m helping contribute to others having a good experience when we all get together. A lot of these are just suggestions and my experiences, so yours may vary, of course.
Get off the computer
I think one thing I learned very early on was to try and not always be on the computer. At first, this feels a little unnatural given our profession but try and limit how much time you spend behind one during the week if you can. Computers are amazing, fantastic, and so many other adjectives. However, when you work behind one every day for eight-plus hours around 250 days or so a year, it’s good to close it up sometimes and put it away. Check out some of the activities outside that might be available, like the WDS Olympics, cornhole, pool time or even just a walk on the beach (if you’re lucky enough to have beach access at your retreat!).
When we work from home remotely, it’s easy to get caught up behind the screen and tune out all distractions. When you and your team only get together once a year, it’s super important to try hard to minimize time behind the computer. That being said, of course, there’s a bit of time scheduled for small group chats, technical talks, or just hacking together. One great piece of advice is that when you do break out the computer, take the time take a stab at new things or program with other devs to learn something new. Or, work out solutions together to problems together. This is not something we get to do very often, so it’s a great way to maximize the time together behind the computer.
Whether behind the computer or away from it, try to engage, interact, and make an effort even if you’re super introverted by nature. If you struggle with this, I suggest just try talking to some of the people you talk to most often during your daily team chats. This will help to build your confidence and make it generally more comfortable for you during the week at your retreat when hanging out.
Along those lines, it’s good to try and connect with everyone on the team, even if it’s only briefly. Sometimes we all tend to chat the most with the people we work with most often, but it’s good to also branch out and chat with other coworkers who you may not talk to very often. Get to know them as well. You never know what you might learn or discover if you don’t. Maybe they have a family or pets that you never knew about or had an interesting path on their journey to the company.
Alternatively, maybe just join a table during a meal with a group that you may not chat with as often and if joining right into a conversation isn’t your thing, listening can be just as valuable as engaging. If you see a teammate kind of on their own to the side hanging out, try reaching out. Maybe they’re newer and haven’t been apart of the company for a long time, so they’re a little more shy at first and that kind of reaching out might go a long way for a fellow teammate.
Take time for yourself whether it’s a nap or just time to read or chat with your family. When you work from home, it can be a lot of extra effort to suddenly spend your whole day talking and interacting with your teammates. Everyone’s a little different, so it’s important to respect that some need time to escape and recharge the batteries, so to say.
Help out. Lend a hand. Be a team player. Every retreat is different and it does depend on where it’s being held at, but generally, there is always set up and tear down or clean up of some kind, whether that be meals, snacks, presentations even just moving chairs and tables. Don’t be afraid to get up and lend a hand. If you see a can sitting around, empty cup, wrappers, etc., just grab it and put it in the trash. I know this may sound trivial, but sometimes it’s the small things that matter. If no one does them, it would be weird right sitting around in piles of trash, right?
Keeping with that theme, at WDSCamp, we usually have a prep team and a cleanup team. Just because you’re not scheduled doesn’t mean you can’t help out. Obviously, if there are ten people cleaning, it might be too much. But you know if you see one person doing the bulk of the work, try and hop in if you can. It might seem weird, but during prep, cooking or clean up is a great time to chat with fellow teammates and can lead to conversations that are often insightful, interesting, and organic.
Generally speaking, try and stay positive. In large group settings, it’s a real balancing act trying to schedule activities, events, and meals for a large number of people. Sometimes they’ll be things some enjoy but others do not. It’s tricky, but by staying positive, you might open yourself up to a nice surprise. If it’s still not your cup of tea, know that it might be someone else’s and that’s okay. Typically, anything scheduled only lasts an hour or two at the most, so if it’s really not your thing, it’s only a small sacrifice in the broad scheme of things.
If there’s something that you’re not super into or don’t really feel comfortable doing, don’t be afraid to speak up. You don’t have to participate if something just isn’t for you. Again, planning can be tricky for large groups, and the idea is for everyone to get the most out of a once-a-year retreat. So with that being the top priority, it’s totally okay. There’s usually still something for everyone to enjoy or do at any given time.
Enjoy the talks
Over the last couple of years, at WDS we switched from a formal presentation WordCamp-like format to Ignite Talks, which I think has been a really great addition and is really the only sort of thing we’re asked to absolutely participate in, aside from some meetings in small groups. With our Ignite Talks, there are no predetermined topics that we’re required to talk about; it is up to us what we’d like to share. There are some really great results that come out of this and a wide range of topics. Some are funny, some are serious, some are work-related, and some are personal or a combination of all or a few of those ideas.
This year, in particular, it seemed like everyone hit their stride with the talks. They were all fantastic and I learned a lot about each and every team member from their talk no matter the topic. Whether that was actual information or just insight into their lives at home or family or even just more about their personality, it was really, really good stuff. There were too many great topics to list out so shout out to the entire team here at WDS for bringing it on with the topics this year!
Getting the most out of a company retreat can be both a lot of work and a lot of fun. If everyone goes into it knowing both of these things, it will typically lend itself to a great week for everyone involved. Following some of the tips above will also help create a positive experience for both yourself and others and that’s always been the case here at WDS. Everyone having each other’s backs helps to make events like this a tremendous success. It’s why it feels like family and that’s just another awesome part of the WDS culture!