I have a little confession to make. I've been the CEO of a remote business for 10 years and like to consider myself fairly unflappable at this stage. But, there's one thing that rattles me each and every year.
Our management team meets in person together annually. We're a growing team, which means there are new faces (and many familiar faces) each year when we meet. And here's the confession part: it's the one time of year that I get genuine, first-date butterflies in my stomach.
Excitement? Yes. Nerves? Totally! Why? Because meeting in person with my remote team is not just a nice company perk, but one of the single most important weeks we have all year. And--spoiler alert--we get no work done those couple of days.
Here are five tips for an incredible meeting with your remote team.
1. Talk strategy, but don't do any actual work.
When we first started doing in-person meetings, we focused a lot on getting things done. We locked ourselves in a room together and worked side by side on projects. Honestly, it wasn't much more productive than being in our home offices. And we all left wanting more.
Don't avoid work-talk altogether, though. Having some business-focused time helps to break the ice and gives people something to talk about if they don't yet know what they have in common. It's also an amazing opportunity to get the team excited about the business's future.
2. Go somewhere new and exciting that gets people a little out of their comfort zone.
Finding the right balance of adventure and comfort can be tricky. What is too over-the-top for one person might be commonplace for another.
Last year, we brainstormed locations as crazy as Bali or as commonplace as New York City. We settled on a happy medium: Mexico. Mexico was just far enough off the beaten path to appeal to the adventurous spirit of our team, but not so harebrained as to require 20 hours in flight and multiple vaccinations.
Going somewhere that was new to all of us helped foster teamwork. Just trying to figure out where to find an ATM or the difference between tequila and mezcal was a mini adventure.
3. Do silly, fun, corny, laugh-out-loud team-building activities.
I know, I know. It can feel a bit awkward and ridiculous to take everyone to a cave or do a cooking class. But there's a reason these types of activities work--they're fun!
Laughing together, creating together, and simply experiencing something new together is a great way for your team to build bonds. As the saying goes, "teams that play together stay together."
4. Celebrate accomplishments together.
On our last team trip, our human resources manager created a unique game. She called it, "tell me something good!" And, at different times throughout the trip, we paused, and each pulled out sticky notes and wrote down one awesome thing about each team member.
It was essential to take time to recognize and celebrate each other individually in that way. Everyone commented on how much they enjoyed reading their colleague's words. I kept my notes--and, truth be told, teared up a little reading them.
5. Plan, plan, plan--but adjust as needed.
Before we headed off to our last team meeting, our office manager had every last detail planned to a tee. And then, while we were in Mexico, she readjusted those plans at least a half dozen times. It would have been unbelievably stressful to try to wing it, so it was key to plan in advance while staying flexible.
On one of our first days, we unexpectedly passed by a remote beach on our way to see the Mayan ruins. We wound up eating fresh seafood while sitting on plastic chairs overlooking the beach. You couldn't possibly have planned that--but it worked out perfectly. It was a chance for the team to connect casually. It also allowed us to take advantage of a situation we couldn't possibly have anticipated: perfect weather, fishermen coming in with seafood from a recent fishing trip, and a welcome break from a bus that had been stuck in traffic.
As I mentioned, we purposefully don't try to get any work done during these meetings. But we solved one of our biggest business problems through an impromptu, unplanned bus chat on the way to a swimming cave. How's that for a win-win?